3-6-03, 4:15 p.m.
3-6-03, 8:45 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Once upon a time, Carl Pickens danced off the field singing that his career in Cincinnati was over and Corey Dillon said he would rather flip burgers than play for the Bengals. And they still ended up with lucrative long-term deals.
But that was a different era. Now head coach Marvin Lewis has been entrusted to set the tone for the franchise. And no one knows if linebacker Takeo Spikes' relatively mild comments are enough to make Lewis spurn him in his desire to form a roster of players who want to be Bengals.
"I have no comment on what Takeo says or thinks," said Lewis when asked if Spikes' comments in Buffalo Thursday influences his contract situation.
For the umpteenth time this season, Spikes said he wanted to change teams. This time the setting was Orchard Park, N.Y., during his visit to the Bills' facilities. Asked by the Western New York media what his mind frame would be if the Bills offer him a contract that the Bengals match, he said, "I'm crossing my fingers."
"I think change is good," Spikes said. "Change is good for everybody. For my point right now, I think change would be more than welcome."
Welcome to this game of two-card stud, with Lewis and Bills President Tom Donahoe wearing the poker faces in front of stakes high enough to be one of the NFL's best linebackers.
The only guy not wearing a poker face is the pot himself.
"I'm very impressed with everything I can see," Spikes said in Buffalo. "Just how organized it is. And the commitment to winning in the organization, From the top, Mr. (owner Ralph) Wilson, all the way to the bottom and the water boy. It's very impressive. It's the little things that are done right around here."
The scuttlebutt is that the Bills plan to give Spikes an offer sheet as early as Friday, giving the Bengals seven days to decide if they want to match. But Donahoe said late Thursday afternoon that the club could do it now, or in a week, or two, or never. And he said the conversation he planned to have with Spikes' agent Thursday were only "preliminary."
"It's possible," Donahoe said of a moving time frame. "Two things have to happen. First, you have to get him to sign the sheet. If he does sign, then you're at the mercy of Cincinnati."
Or, will the Bengals be at the Bills' mercy? The Bengals have about $8 million under the salary cap, which is really $4 million because the draft picks cost $4 million.
The Bills reportedly have anywhere between $5 to $7. 5 million. But the Bengals should be in good shape cap wise because Spikes is already counting $4.8 million against the cap. For instance, if the Bills try to drive up the first-year cap figure to say $6 million, that would only cost the Bengals $1.2 million.
The big question is going to be bonus and the Bengals have a track record of doling out huge sums every summer for their first-round draft picks. But will $10 million be too much for a linebacker who has said he wants out?
"We have a plan," Lewis said, "and we're going to stick with it. We'll be all right."
Actually, it appears like they have several plans. Are they trying to do one major deal (defensive tackles Sam Adams or John Thornton? Or cornerbacks Denard Walker or Tory James?) before getting the low-down on Spikes? Then, if they match Spikes, are they done on the defensive side of the ball in free agency? Or, do they decide they need to fill as many holes as they can, don't match Spikes, and go get four or five solid guys who aren't top tier?
One thing is for sure, and not surprising. Spikes impressed the Bills' brass and media Thursday. After Spikes had dinner with several Bills' players Wednesday night, Donahoe met with him Thursday and ate lunch with him in the Bills cafeteria.
"He did a very good job presenting himself," Donahoe said. "He's a positive guy and everyone got a good feeling for him."
But Spikes isn't all that positive about the last five years in Cincinnati.
"It was tough coming in as a rookie and don't know what to expect," said Spikes of the losing. "But in years three, four and five expectations are there and when you played in a winning program like Auburn as I did, that's just unacceptable."
Spikes gets a bonus if he goes to Buffalo. Donahoe expects to hear from former Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau early next week that he's accepted a job to assist the defense. LeBeau was the defensive coordinator who helped pick Spikes in the first round in 1998, and was his head coach when he emerged as the defensive captain.
"If it does happen and I come here, I'm not going to be Superman and put on a cape," Spikes said. "But I feel my style of play will help this team elevate to the next level."
Adams, the defensive tackle who has drawn interest from the Bengals, arrives in Buffalo Thursday night. Agent Angelo Wright has been told the Bills can sign both, but also said the Bengals are still in the mix and he said he has continued to talk to Lewis.
"I'm a moving target," Wright said. "Hit that number and that's what it takes."
The personable Spikes had what it takes Thursday. He was his usual outgoing self and made a favorable impression on the Bills' press corps. After the news conference, he came back into the interview room with a disposable camera and had his picture taken with the media contingent.
How much is that picture worth in the Bengals' archives if they match?
"I'm taking it one day at a time," said Spikes of the possible match."