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Season for talking

6-12-02, 4:20 p.m. Updated:
6-13-02, 4:30 p.m.


The Bengals and the agent for Michael Westbrook don't expect a deal this week.

But the club still has plenty on its negotiating plate as talks with No. 1 pick Levi Jones are expected to crank up in the next few days.

The Bengals are also talking contract extensions with linebackers Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons in discussions that are not quite in high gear yet.

"We have been having more philosophical discussions than talks about hard numbers," said Jerrold Colton, the agent for Simmons. "They've been cordial and we'll keep talking."

Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn returned from out of town Thursday and expects to touch base with Jones agent Ken Zuckerman next weeek in an effort to get the Arizona State left tackle into training camp on time July 25.

"Katie told me when she got back that they would call us and that's good because we're thinking the sooner we start talking, the sooner there will be a deal and we're on the same page with Katie on that," Zuckerman said.

Zuckerman thinks Jones' deal as the 10th pick in the draft will be more clear-cut than the negotiations that led

to Justin Smith's 51-day holdout last year when the Bengals and agent Jim Steiner struggled over a contract for the fourth pick.

According to national reports, last year's No. 10 pick, Green Bay defensive end Jamal Reynolds, got a five-year deal with a $6 million bonus that includes a $2 million club option at the end of the first season. The issue of guaranteeing the option, which was one of the stickier points with Smith, doesn't appear to be a problem here.

Only 14 draft picks are signed (including two Bengals) and only one in the first round, where No. 1 pick David Carr agreed with Houston before the draft.

"We're probably going to start out doing the structure and get that done first and then go back and plug in the numbers as we see fit," said the Beverly Hills-based Zuckerman.

Zuckerman also has the advantage of a client with a good head for figures. Jones regularly aced his high school math courses on the way to being No. 7 in his class.

" "Out of all my clients, no one has mastered the revolving interest rates of credit cards better than Levi," Zuckerman said. "As everyone knows by now there, he's a very intelligent guy and he knows numbers. He understands finance."

The agent for Westbrook also thinks he has a pretty good handle on his client. Steve Zucker said he's had very few holdouts. But two of them Westbrook and Deion Sanders ended up as his two best deals.

"Michael's a very patient guy and he knows the season doesn't start tomorrow," Zucker said. "He knows that it's late, but he also knows and he has known for the past three months that he's one of the top receivers on the market."

Zucker said Westbrook doesn't have any trips planned, but he may visit Jacksonville next week. He said that Westbrook feels a measure of loyalty because the Bengals brought him in for his free-agent workout, where he was able to let it be known he ran a 40-yard dash clocked on one watch at 4.35 seconds.

The Bengals feel like they have given Westbrook an offer that is in concert with Keenan McCardell's four-year, $10 million deal in Tampa Bay and Derrick Alexander's $1.7 million per year deal in Minnesota. Zucker doesn't think his client should be perceived as merely a June bargain, so the wait is on.

Joel Segal, the agent for Packers wide receiver Antonio Freeman, said Thursday the Bengals have called and his client is intrigued by what he calls, "an up and coming team," in Cincinnati.

"Right now Free is taking it slow and looking at all his options," Segal said. "There is time to weigh what he's going to do and he's going to take that time."

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