Sapp to Raiders

3-19-04, 5 p.m.

Updated: 3-19-04, 7:45 p.m. Updated:
3-20-04, 12:45 a.m. Updated:
3-20-04, 6:15 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Raiders took Pro Bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp away from the Bengals at the last hour Saturday when NFL and media sources said he took a seven-year deal for $36 million.

Sapp didn't even list the Raiders as an option earlier Saturday on his own web site (qbkilla.com) on a list thst included the Bengals, Saints, Ravens and Giants in a poll titled, "Where Should I Play?"

It's not Cincinnati even though indications are the money was probably about the same at about $5 million per year as the Bengals missed out on their biggest free-agent signing ever. But it probably came down to the way it was structured. The Bengals almost certainly didn't offer the 31-year-old Sapp a seven-year deal and probably tried to limit it to four. And apparently they were uncomfortable with Sapp's age and the number of younger players they might have to cut to make room under the salary cap.

But the Bengals weren't commenting Saturday and agent Drew Rosenhaus couldn't be reached for comment.

The Bengals pursuit of Sapp energized fans that were supposed to be wrapped up in the NCAA basketball tournament and his potential new teammates.

"When I'm watching a game, the only two tackles I watch are him and La'Roi Glover," said defensive tackle John Thornton, the man who would have played next to Sapp.

"You really learn something from watching a guy like that. I think everybody pretty much patterned their game after him the way he rushes the passer. He'll help any team he goes to because he brings so much attention to himself on and off the field. There was a little shock value to it because it was such a big name, but you also know Coach (Marvin Lewis) is trying to get those impact players."

At 31, and after seven Pro Bowls, Sapp isn't the young guy who once had 16.5 sacks in a season. But new Bengals middle linebacker Nate Webster, who played with Sapp the past four seasons in Tampa Bay, says he still causes offensive lines nightmares.

"He's like a coach on the field and I don't care how old he is," Webster said. "He's still the best defensive tackle in football. Watching him is like watching a basketball game the way he leaves those guys hanging with his moves."

In order to make room for Sapp and what may be a contract bordering on $4 million per year, the Bengals would have had to cut at least one $1 million player and maybe two. And maybe more if they structured it differently. The Bengals were also out of the market for Eagles cornerback Bobby Taylor. His agent, Jason Medlock, said Friday night that his client is "going in a different direction," which most likely means Seatle.

While the Bengals hashed it out with Rosenhaus Friday, they had enough salary cap room Friday to finish off a one-year deal with Redskins wide receiver Patrick Johnson. He becomes the team's sixth veteran receiver and fifth Johnson, and he's confident he can push the starters. He's confident, period. He expects to become the team's top kick returner despite just 31 career kick returns. And he feels he can be a Pro Bowl returner. P> "This game is just a matter of opportunity," Johnson said. "I know if I get a chance, I can do the job."

The 5-10, 196-pound Johnson, 27, a seven-year pro, feels like he just needs a chance anywhere. He has caught just 82 balls, but his All-American sprinter's speed has allowed him to average 15.3 yards per catch. He returned 13 kickoffs last year, most since his rookie year of 1998, when one of his 16 went for a touchdown.

"My rookie year in Baltimore I ran kicks behind a Pro Bowler in Jermaine Lewis, and it was the same kind of thing last year in Washington behind Chad Morton. I was a blocker there," Johnson said. "I think if I get a chance, I can show people what I can do. And it's the same thing playing receiver. If you're on a running team, or you don't get thrown the ball very much, it's circumstances. I didn't drop all those balls. In Baltimore, they liked taller receivers."

Johnson thinks he's come to the right place to shed his image of a sprinter who plays football. He says he's actually a football player who just happens to run fast. He thinks the Bengals' desire to go down field, along with being re-united with Marvin Lewis is going to jump-start his career. Plus, he gets a chance to play the Baltimore team twice a year that he says didn't play him because he wasn't tall enough.

"I think the familiarity was a big thing for me in Cincinnati," Johnson said. "People know what I can do. Marvin saw me every day in practice for four years in Baltimore and knows I'm a good player. Chip Morton was a strength coach in Baltimore, Darrin Simmons was a special teams coach there, and my receivers coach (Hue Jackson) was my offensive coordinator in Washington last year. I really feel comfortable there."

Johnson joins Pro Bowler Chad Johnson, starter Peter Warrick, third receiver Kelley Washington, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, special teamer Kevin Walter, and free agent Adam Ziesel, in the receiving corps. Houshmandzadeh, a restricted free agent, missed almost all of last season with a hamstring problem. He has visited the 49ers and has interest from other teams, his agent said Friday. But the Bengals also have a history of keeping six wide receivers with offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski.

Also Friday, special teams co-captain Reggie Myles signed a one-year deal as he heads into his third season.

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