7-27-04, 5:20 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Blanked in rookie signings Monday, the Bengals still did business when they claimed the Vikings' Eddie Johnson off waivers to make it a three-man punting derby at training camp.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press has reported that Johnson probably won't be ready to kick until early in training camp as he recovers from minor, non-football surgery.
It's believed the Bengals moved closer to some rookie deals Monday and the few agents who chose to talk indicated
it is doubtful their clients probably won't hold out come Saturday's first practice of camp even though the talks are currently stalled.
According to a list of AFC draft signings on ESPN.com Monday night, only about 50 draft choices are signed and one of them belongs to the Bengals as they try to sign their 10 remaining picks before the festivities begin this weekend at Kentucky's Georgetown College.
Some lower-round picks adjoining the Bengals' choices are already in the fold, which could help move things along. The pick before Matthias Askew in the fourth round is in, as are the picks above and below Robert Geathers, selected three picks after Askew in the fourth.
Plus, the agent for seventh-rounder Casey Bramlet indicated last week his client is going to be at camp on time.
Some of the hangups could be more over structure, rather than the signing bonus that is used as the slot. For instance, the agent for third-rounder Landon Johnson, the 96th pick, and the team have been staring for weeks at deals at 93 and 94, and were apparently still trying to smooth out issues Monday. Andy Simms had no comment Monday, but remained confident of a pre-camp deal.
Although some believe the Bengals face a tussle getting first pick Chris Perry in on time because the tough negotiating team of Eugene Parker and Roosevelt Barnes has three other first-rounders, there are some parameters in place.
The Rams signed the first running back taken in the draft Monday when Steven Jackson received a five-year, $7 million deal that included a $4 million bonus. Jackson was taken at No. 24, two slots ahead of Perry, the second back selected, at No. 26. No. 27, Western Michigan linebacker Jason Babin, has been signed for nearly a month with the structures of an option-bonus and voidable years that the Bengals have reached with their last three first-rounders.
The Bengals continue to put heat on incumbent veteran punter Kyle Richardson with the claim of Johnson. Johnson, one of the top punters in the nation when the Vikings drafted him in the sixth-round in 2003, joins one of the top punters in the 2004 class in Nebraska free agent Kyle Larson.
Johnson, 23, also has a chance to become the first Idaho State Bengal in history to make the NFL Bengals' all-time roster as the first player from head coach Marvin Lewis' alma mater.
Johnson was pushed to the bench in Minnesota for the last two games of the season and the playoffs when the Vikes opted for Leo Araguz. Johnson finished 13th in the NFC in net average (32.6) and 12th in overall average at 39.1 on 56 punts. Richardson finished 10th in the AFC with a net average of 33.5 yards and overall on 49 punts in 11 games.
The Vikings thought enough of Johnson to keep him on the roster with Araguz at the end of the year. One of his biggest problems seemed to be just holding on to snaps in a season he finished with two fumbles.
Minnesota did eventually go out and sign 39-year-old former Pro Bowler Darren Bennett.