Simmons won't trade his defense

4-4-02, 1:40 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Brian Simmons laughed.

"Hey," said some guy in the Bengals locker room this week. "They're not sending your mail to Foxboro yet?"

No, the Bengals middle linebacker hasn't been shipped to New England yet in a trade for quarterback Drew Bledsoe. But since Simmons has been velcroed to Bledsoe since the rumor mill surfaced two days after the Super Bowl, he can't help but keep his eye on the Bengals' quarterback situation. After all, a Bledsoe trade would not only impact this season on the field, but next year under the salary cap when Simmons becomes a free agent.

"The team is going to go where the quarterback takes it," Simmons said. "Look at the playoffs. They might not be so-called Pro Bowl players throwing for 300 yards. But they throw for 200 yards and keep the turnovers down.

"I think we've got guys here who can do it, they just have to go out and do it," Simmons said. "If we can get play out of there and at the other positions around him, and our defense gets a little better, we've got a chance to win even if we don't do anything else in free agency. Nobody is burning it up in free agency."

There was no change on the Bledsoe front Wednesday. The Bengals are preparing to use the 10th pick in the draft and not trade it to the Patriots. And with no talks Wednesday involving veteran free-agent Gus Frerotte, indicators point to the Bengals waiting to see what the April 20-21 draft yields for quarterbacks before pursuing a veteran.

Simmons' only wish is the Bengals don't draft a quarterback in the first round and that they opt for a guy who can help them right now. Because he thinks management's commitment to keep the same defensive cast, along with potential firepower on offense, 2002

could finally be the year it won't be about re-building.

"I would think at this point right now we're not going to draft a quarterback that's better than what we've got right now," Simmons said. "I'm thinking about this year. I'm not thinking about two or three years down the road. The players have to think that way. We've been building, but I think that was just being optimistic and another way of saying we didn't get it done. But you've got to be realistic. It comes down to having more wins and losses if we want to get to the playoffs."

Simmons is certainly realistic about his contract situation. He knows if the Bengals have about $1 million to spend and feel like they have to cut and paste to fit Bledsoe under the salary cap, he figures they can't re-up him or fellow linebacker Takeo Spikes at the moment.

"I'm looking at it realistically," Simmons said. "Everyone wants to sign, but looking at the cap the way it is, I know it's not going to be able to get done until another time. I'm not going to sit there and wonder about it and complain about not getting a deal because I know it's not possible. I'm focused on playing well and winning because then the contract will take care of itself."

Jerrold Colton, Simmons' agent , theorizes that the longer the Bengals go without signing one of their linebackers, the harder it will be to keep both of them. But Simmons is heartened by the re-signings of cornerback Artrell Hawkins and defensive end Reinard Wilson, as well as the signing of eight-year corner Jeff Burris.

"I don't know that much about Burris," Simmons said. "I hear he's a good player that knows the game real well and he'll be kind of a tutor back there for those guys. The biggest factor with Artrell and Reinard coming back is that the whole defense is back and that rarely happens. That shows a commitment. We should be better just because of that, but we're trying to get a lot better. We want to finish 1-2-3 in the league, in that neighborhood."

At least for now, he'll be in the middle of it.

"Everything will work out," Simmons said, "If we win and I play well. That's the only thing I'm concerned about."

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