BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. Quarterback Akili Smith arrived here tonight at his first NFL training camp with the studious look. A chic pair of tiny glasses was quite symbolic of his offseason classroom work and he was looking ahead at a locker room without Carl Pickens.
"As far as his vendetta against the Browns and Bruce (Coslet), I really can't talk about that," Smith said as he checked in here at Georgetown College. ""We've got some of that cancer that went on between them out of the locker room and we're trying to move on. It's definitely a youth movement going on and it's becoming my team, along with guys like Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons."
The small group of players who arrived in preparation for Friday's 10 a.m. check-in seemed relieved they wouldn't have to deal with the Pickens question, which has been hanging since last December when he rocked the locker room with criticism of management and Coslet. Pickens made no bones about his unhappiness with the Bengals the past two seasons, and it had clearly stirred problems in the locker room.
"Obviously, it's going to help the locker room," said Spikes, the third-year defensive captain when asked if the path was now clear for him and Smith to make it their locker room. I think it was pretty much clear regardless if (Pickens) was going to be in there or not, that i was the type of person, Akili was the type of person who was going to say something regardless. I think it's mostly clear for the guys who were kind of scared and kind of on the borderline and they were scared if they even thought about saying something, they were scared that something might jump down their throat. It's a good thing for both parties."
Pickens felt relieved, too. His agent, Hadley Engelhard, reported that five teams had expressed interest in the first 30 minutes his client was on the market.
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"He's glad it's finally over," Engelhard said. "Believe me, he's not going to have trouble finding work."
The Bengals' front office wasn't as relieved as their players when it came to the settlement with the NFL Players Association that triggered Pickens' release. They showed how tired they were of the three-month quagmire with the union when they decided not to push Engelhard's on his desire not to sign a waiver preventing Pickens from suing the club.
"We have no plans to do that now," Engelhard said.
The NFLPA brought a grievance against the Bengals and three other teams back in January, arguing they should lose their franchise player designation tag in free agency because they secretly agreed to multi-year deals before signing a one-year contract. In today's settlement, the Cardinals, 49ers and Packers were allowed to keep their franchise tags this season. Only the Bengals lost their tag, but they'll get it back after the 2001 season.
Bengals President Mike Brown said the club's case was different because after the club signed Pickens to a one-year deal last season, they sent a letter to Pickens' former agent outlining where they were in negotiations for a long-term deal.
"We wrote that we did not arrive at a contract and put down what was needed to get a deal agreed upon and there were some points not yet cleared up," Brown said. "The union takes that as evidence that we agreed upon enough to establish an understanding. Our position is until we agreed on everything, we had an understanding on nothing."
But Brown went for the settlement because he didn't want to go to arbitration, "because it's basically a coin flip," and risk losing the tag for the duration of Pickens'contract at five years.
"The whole thing is overreaching in my mind by telling teams that they can't go up to the line when the union goes up to the line all the time with what it does," Brown said.
But Brown and Pickens'ex-teammates tried to make tough situation less bitter. Brown told his people to tell the media, "we wish him well." Spikes said, "He got his wish and I wish him luck."
"I actually had a good relationship with Pick," Smith said. "We talked some times and he had his perspective on things. He told me about things that happened in the past, stuff I can't control. We went about our own business."
Today, Pickens and the Bengals did business by going their own way.