Simmons, Spikes on deck

7-25-02, 11:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _Brian Simmons walked through his dorm room Thursday here at Georgetown College and, fine middle linebacker that he is, instinctively diagnosed the play.

"The air conditioner isn't working," he said.

But that was really the only thing bothering him on check-in day. This business about not having a contract extension has stopped heating him.

"Now I don't care about it. I'm just going to play. No matter what, good things are going to happen this year. The best thing I can do is go out and have the best year I can."

Which is how agent Jerrold Colton wants him to handle it. Colton didn't want to negotiate after Friday's first practice and send Simmons off into free agency. But he also wants to hear what the Bengals have to say after they signed all their draft picks Thursday.

"I'll always listen, but the time for haggling is over," Colton said. "The Bengals have to move significantly and quickly, but they have indicated they would evaluate the facts, so I'm not ruling anything out. And I realize they have been busy with their draft picks and that's understandable given the time frame. But since we haven't talked, I can only assume there hasn't been any progress."

Simmons hasn't been bowled over by the Bengals' offer to extend his deal. They've also made a bid on his partner in the middle, Takeo Spikes, and he also isn't ready to make a deal.

The Bengals fear that if they sign one of them to what he wants, they won't be able to sign the other because there won't be enough room under the salary cap.

"I disagree," Simmons said. "All I know is Pittsburgh gave four guys over 20 million each. I don't know how they

did it, but they did it. If you want to get a deal, you can get it done."

The Steelers gave long-term deals to their two outside linebackers, Jason Gildon and Joey Porter, their defensive end, Aaron Smith, and their guard, Alan Faneca, by pushing money into future years with big bonuses. That's one element of free agency the Bengals have refused to warm up to for fear of tying up the future.

"I'm not upset over their offer," Simmons said. "But I'm not going to jump all over it. I don't think it's enough to forget about free agency."

Spikes, the emotional defensive captain, downplayed his status. He breezed into camp, low-profile, with sun hat and shades.

"What will be will be," he said. "I'll either end up signing a contract that keeps me a Bengal probably for near my whole career or I'll go to another place and do some different things than I did as a Bengal. What will be will be. I'm just ready to play football."

Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn spent most of this week securing a deal for first-round pick Levi Jones, which was sealed Thursday afternoon. She indicated Thursday night she'll now turn her attention back to the linebackers and the club's offers could be different with free-agent defensive tackle Sam Adams seemingly out of the picture and that it may take more than a few days.

"I guess that's what we get to find out over the next couple of weeks," Blackburn said.

She'll probably touch base with Colton Friday after the last few days before camp were enveloped by the Jones' negotiations.

"I found it interesting that (Bengals President) Mike Brown said the other day that negotiations used to be done during the offseason," Colton said. "That was our desire. It was the Bengals' inactivity that has put us here."

The Bengals argue they had to do deals with free agents and draft picks so they could get done before Friday, and that they've made solid offers to Spikes and Simmons.

"It's a gamble," said Simmons of not taking a deal and opting for free agency. "Maybe I won't get as much out there on the market. Maybe I'm wrong. It's a gamble. But right now, I'm willing to take that gamble."

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