7-9-02, 12:45 p.m.
Updated: 7-9-02, 4:15 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Darnay Scott departed the Bengals Tuesday with no harsh words. Just a warning.
"I don't think they want me playing in the division," said Scott shortly after the Bengals released him. "I can catch and I'll tell you what. I can still run. I'm a ballplayer, you know that. I'm not the kind of person to speak bad about anybody. I had a wonderful time. Just tell the city, 'bye,' for me."
Scott, who caught Jeff Blake's first touchdown pass and Boomer Esiason's last touchdown pass and 384 other balls as Cincinnati's pure speed receiver for eight years, did object to some of the reasoning. He said Jim Lippincott, director of pro/college personnel, told him he failed his physical at the May 3-6 minicamp.
Lippincott had no comment. The office of Scott's agent said Tuesday night that Rocky Arceneaux would make a statement about the release Wednesday morning, which could pertain to the injury. Arceneaux said two weeks ago his client was healthy enough to play.
But Scott wasn't cleared medically to participate in minicamp because of soreness in the shin of the left leg he broke on Aug. 1, 2000. Scott insisted last week that he was healthy as he rehabbed back home in St. Louis, but he never responded to the club's calls to return and get the leg checked before training camp opens July 25.
"Maybe that's why they did it, but we've been sending reports back there every week on how I've been doing," Scott said. "The doctors said I was fine, but that I tried to do too much too soon and that I just needed to rest it. So I did and I've been back into it."
In what amounted to a trade in their bid to get linebackers Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons contract extensions, the Bengals exchanged former Redskins wide receiver Michael Westbrook's $1.5 million salary cap hit for the $3 million Scott would have counted if
the Bengals hadn't released him Tuesday in the hours after Westbrook signed his three-year deal at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals had hoped to lower Scott's salary ($2.5 million) plus his roster bonus ($500,000) to Westbrook's $1.5 million range. But the club was rebuffed back in February when the first move was made.
"That's between my agent and them," said Scott, when asked if he would have played for less than $3 million. "I'm going to play for what it says on the piece of paper."
Even though Westbrook found out how sapped the market is for receivers so close to training camp, Scott said he's not worried about the possibility of making only the minimum this year in the $750,000 range.
"I'll play for what it is and then I'll prove myself," he said.
Scott, who turned 30 Sunday on the same day Westbrook turned 30, had fallen on the wrong side of the Bengals' new offensive regime, a young depth chart, and the club's salary cap. Plus, Westbrook becomes a rarity as a 30-year-old Bengals' receiver. Scott is the fourth-leading receiver in club history, but of that foursome only Isaac Curtis stayed around long enough to catch a pass after turning 30.
Scott stayed true to form and didn't show up for May's four weeks of voluntary workouts. Coaches in the past have tolerated Scott's absences while he was catching 11 touchdowns passes of at least 50 yards in his first six seasons.
Scott said last week he would show up "when I have to show up," and that he would be ready. But this time the Bengals couldn't get a true reading on his health and new offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski wasn't as tolerant with a stable of young receivers behind him.
After missing all of the 2000 season with a left leg broken in two places, Scott returned last year and made some of his signature big plays. He averaged 92 yards in the Bengals' six victories and ended the season with a monster 152-yard game in Tennessee.
But he also had a career-low two touchdowns and failed to catch a 50-yard pass for the first time in his career.
"I'm going to miss him as a guy to be around and he had some tremendous moments here," said receivers coach Steve Mooshagian. "But this is a business and you have to do what you feel is best for the team. I have no doubt he'll be picked up and he'll continue on with his career."
Quarterback Jon Kitna will miss Scott's playmaking, but he is excited about Westbrook's size and approach to the game.
"I still think we have the best receivers in the league one through six," Kitna said. "As the only veteran receiver last year, there was a tendency to look for Darnay during crunch time, but the other five guys are reaching that point and Michael Westbrook has played at a high level. It sounds like we don't lose anything physically.
"From all that I've heard about (Westbrook) it sounds like he's a pro's pro and that he runs a tight ship," Kitna said. "I think that's going to be great for our young guys. I never had a problem with their focus on Game Day, it's just that sometimes they had to learn about doing it Monday through Saturday. It sounds like he can help."
Scott left his stamp on the franchise that took him in the second round of the 1994 NFL Draft. In his rookie season, Scott and Blake nearly orchestrated an upset of the defending Super Bowl champion Cowboys in Blake's debut. They lost, 23-20, but Scott caught touchdown bombs of 67 and 55 yards in the first half on his way to leading the AFC with 18.8 yards per catch as a rookie.
He also caught Esiason's last NFL touchdown, a 77-yarder in a 16-14 victory over the Ravens Dec. 21, 1997 at Cinergy Field, and scored the last Bengals' touchdown at Riverfront/Cinergy on a 52-yard pass from Blake Dec. 12, 1999.
But Scott has never been the sentimental type and he certainly wasn't Tuesday when asked if he had one special moment.
"Memories mean nothing," Scott said. "I played there, now I'm gone, and that's it. I had fun. It's over."
The similarities with Westbrook and Scott are striking. Not only do they share the same birthday, but they also had 57 catches last year. Scott got 819 yards out of them while Westbrook's 57 led the Redskins for 664 yards and four touchdowns. While Scott sat out all of 2000 with the broken leg, Westbrook's 2000 season ended when he tore his anterior cruciate knee ligament in the season's second week.
In seven seasons, Westbrook has 277 catches for 4,260 yards for a 15.3 average and 24 touchdowns. In seven seasons, Scott has 386 catches for 5,975 yards for a 15.5 average and 36 touchdowns.
On Tuesday, the transition took place. Westbrook spent an hour with Mooshagian and some more time with Bratkowski in film sessions. Westbrook left Tuesday afternoon, but planned to return Friday to find a place to live and to pick up tapes of the May workouts.
"We're working to replace a veteran receiver with another veteran receiver," Mooshagian said. "We haven't had a guy since Carl (Pickens) who can go up and wrestle the ball away like Michael can. And yet he's got that track speed like Darnay has, so you can look at it like he gives you two kind of guys."