Scramble for slices

7-24-0, 8:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

After giving him contract offers of three years and one year, Cincinnati doesn't figure to win the Sam Adams derby in a negotiation that underlined Bengals President Mike Brown's view of the NFL salary cap.

Adams' agent told the Bengals Wednesday he's not happy with any of his offers from teams and plans to sit back for a week before making his next move. Brown, who had the most money on the table for Adams, figures "that ship has sailed" as the club moves past Adams to try to sign linebackers Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons to contract extensions.

"We had the best deal out there for Adams of anybody," Brown said. "But we're also trying to get our linebackers done and there is only so much money available in this system."

Along with Simmons and Spikes, Katie Blackburn, the Bengals chief negotiator, has been juggling other elements of the salary cap that Brown calls "pieces of the pie." Blackburn spent much of Tuesday and Wednesday trying to secure a deal for first-round draft pick Levi Jones while she waited to find out if the Adams deal went down and how that would affect the Spikes and Simmons extensions.

Meanwhile, Mike Sullivan, the agent for second-rounder Lamont Thompson, said he's not close to a deal and isn't optimistic his client will be at Friday's first practice. Purdue punter/kicker Travis Dorsch, the fourth-rounder, signed a three-year deal Wednesday that leaves Jones and Thompson the only unsigned rookies.

Blackburn plans to talk to Jerrold Colton, Simmons' agent, Thursday morning. Colton has been adamant about not wanting to negotiate until after practice starts, but said Wednesday night he's willing to talk if progress can be made.

"It's all coming from the same pot," Brown said. "That's the way the system

has been collectively bargained. All that's left to decide is who gets the big pieces and who gets the little pieces. It's a balance. If you give it all to one, you can't give it to the next guy."

With several key signings staring at the club, Brown has pounded that theme this week in several interviews as well as in remarks at Tuesday's media luncheon, where he called on the NFL to institute a NBA-like wage scale for rookies to prevent holdouts. Since 22 Bengals are in the last years of their deals, it's a topic that won't go away during the season.

The Bengals have made offers to Spikes and Simmons in which they can fit both under the salary cap. But they fear agreeing to one of their proposals precludes signing the other.

With first-round pick Levi Jones and second-round pick Lamont Thompson unsigned and looking to be no-shows at Thursday's check-in at training camp, the Bengals figure to have about $2 million left to sign rookies and about $2.5-$3 million to sign veterans.

That's why the Bengals walked a tightrope with Adams. It appeared the Bengals were trying to steer clear from a deal for Adams that would count more than $2 million against this year's cap, leaving them little for Spikes and Simmons. They were reportedly prepared to give Adams a three-year, $9 million deal that would have counted for about $2 million.

They even tried to work a one-year deal with Adams Tuesday, but they still had to walk a narrow line. For example, a $500,000 Pro Bowl incentive on top of bonus and salary counts against the cap because it is "likely to be earned," by the two-time Pro Bowler.

The negotiations with Ken Zuckerman, the agent for the club's first-round pick, have been frequent but futile. As of Wednesday evening, Jones looked to be the Bengals' second straight first-rounder to miss Thursday's camp check-in. But Zuckerman and Blackburn have talked so much in the past month that there looks to be no repeat of Justin Smith's 51-day holdout of last year.

The Jones' negotiations have been hampered by the lack of signings around his 10th slot. The closest Wednesday evening was No. 3 pick Joey Harrington in a quarterback deal that can't be compared. Then there isn't a deal until the 20th pick. The speculation is both sides are reluctant to do a deal until others come in.

"I'll do a deal if I feel comfortable," Zuckerman said. "We're going to keep talking. We plan to talk later tonight."

As for Jones, he's anxious to get going and doesn't want to miss a snap.

"If you miss anything, one day, you're behind," Jones said Wednesday night. "I know where the numbers are and what they have to be. I just think the biggest hangup is that there are no deals after the top five all they way to 20. There is nothing to base it on."

It's believed that money isn't as much the issue as guaranteed money and play-time incentives are.

Money appears to be the problem in the second round, where Thompson is looking at the second holdout of his brief career. He didn't come to minicamp or participate in on-field voluntary workouts in May because the Bengals wouldn't give him injury protection.

"Both sides believe strongly in their points and that's the business end of it. It's really out of my hands," Thompson said Wednesday night. "I believe in Mike and what he's doing. I really believe it will be resolved in a couple of days."

Sullivan struck a deal Tuesday with another second-round safety, Stanford's Tank Williams, selected four slots behind Thompson. In order to fit Williams in the NFL's rookie pool that didn't expand from last year, the Titans gave him an option bonus of $1.45 million. That means he gets a portion of the bonus after this season when the club exercises the option.

"The Bengals have rejected that concept of the option bonus," Sullivan said.

Dorsch, represented by his father, took a deal Wednesday that Steve Dorsch said was slotted for his 109th spot.

"It was appropriate for where he was drafted in the round," said Steve Dorsch, who wouldn't divulge terms "He got more than the guys behind him and less than the guys in front of him."

The deal was complicated by the fact that the player in front of him, David Garrard, was a quarterback who signed a four-year deal, and the player behind him, cornerback Mike Echols, also signed a four-year deal. The Dorsches wouldn't reveal the numbers, but he probably got a signing bonus in the $350,000 range.

"The money was superceded by Travis' desire to get into camp on time," Steve Dorsch said. "The Bengals were fair and open and it just came down to the fact that Travis wasn't going to lose any time in the competition for a spot on the roster."

Brown wishes all rookies would do that, but he knows they won't until a wage scale is created. There won't be any this decade with the CBA in place.

"Teams are going to camp. Who is this helping? Why do we have this problem? Those were things that I thought were worth talking about," said Brown at Tuesday's luncheon. "It doesn't make any sense."

On Wednesday, Brown wondered why Jones and Thompson were involved in big money deals like Spikes and Simmons.

"It just doesn't make any sense that unproven rookies get paid all this money for not doing anything yet," Brown said. "It's back to the piece of the pie. You give a rookie all the money that ties up your cap in the future and it hurts you when you try to sign a veteran that deserves it."

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