Spikes mulls Bills' offer

3-6-03, 3:45 a.m. Updated:
3-6-03, 2 p.m. Updated:
3-6-03, 11:55 p.m. Updated:
3-7-03, 12:20 p.m. Updated:
3-7-03, 3 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bills gave Bengals linebacker Takeo Spikes a contract proposal Friday and are waiting to see if he signs the offer sheet.

Barely hours after Buffalo cleared $5 million of room under the salary cap by trading franchise free-agent Peerless Price to Atlanta for a first-round pick, Bills President Tom Donahoe confirmed he had given Spikes a proposed deal.

"We'll know here pretty soon," Donahoe said. "They either walk in, shake hands, and leave, or they walk in, shake hands, and we say, 'Talk to you in a week.' We could have put together an offer sheet (for Spikes) if we didn't make the trade but, yes, there is more room."

If Spikes signs, the Bengals have seven days to match and Donahoe fully expects Cincinnati to take the whole week because the offer sheet counts on Buffalo's salary cap.

"Teams tend to do that, so you have to prepare for it," Donahoe said.

Spikes' status officialy took center stage Friday, which marked the end of the first week of free agency. After hosting a spate of defensive players, the Bengals turned back to offense Thursday. The Bengals confirmed Friday that Falcons tight end Reggie Kelly and Eagles guard Doug Brzezinski visited.

The 6-3, 255-pound Kelly, a second-round pick out of Mississippi State in 1999, is known primarily as a solid blocker capable of pushing people off the line, a trait the Bengals need badly at tight end. With Alge Crumpler the go-to-guy in the passing game, Kelly caught 14 balls last season.

Kelly, who visited St. Louis Monday, told "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution," that he is attracted to Cincinnati because head coach Marvin Lewis has won a Super Bowl.

In other free-agent developments Wednesday, the Bengals don't have a corner (back) on the market, but then nobody else in the NFL does, thanks to the Lions' much maligned deal with Rams' off-and-on starter Dre Bly.

The best shot for a free-agent deal as Wednesday turned to Thursday remained a reunion with fullback Nicolas Luchey that would give him the No. 1 job in place of the departed Lorenzo Neal in a deal that could come together by week's end.

Thornton visited Arizona Thursday, one of the teams that agent Harold Lewis thinks will aggressively court his client because of their salary cap room. He also thinks Detroit will make a big move for him for the same reason, but that visit is scheduled for this Sunday and Monday and Lewis is hoping they will have a good idea where they were headed by Friday night.

The Bears have also expressed, but there is one constant.

"Marvin (Lewis) is still talking to us. We talked to him today," Harold Lewis said. "The attraction to Cincinnati is very real."

Reports out of Dallas said the Bengals gave linebacker Kevin Hardy an offer before he left Paul Brown Stadium Thursday. Since he left town, the offer was probably less than $4 million per year. That's how much his option was worth for 2003, but the Cowboys didn't exercise it.

Asking prices remained ambitious for clubs as they typically do in the first week of free agency. Their talks with Thornton simmered Wednesday even while Thornton visited New England after spending Tuesday in Cincinnati. There was enough progress that Thornton cancelled a trip to Minnesota. But there wasn't enough for him to call off trips to Arizona and Detroit.

Complicating matters is that Lewis has apparently told the Titans he'll give them a chance to match offers, according to "The Tennessean."

Following Thornton into Paul Brown Stadium Wednesday was Hardy, Broncos cornerback Denard Walker, and linebacker Mike Peterson of the Colts. Peterson figures to be in the pricey neighborhood of the newly-signed Shawn Barber's $4.2 million per year deal in Kansas City, but Hardy might be another story.

He may be looking for the $4 million option the Cowboys chose not to exercise for the '03 season, and the Bengals were apparently close enough in their parameters that he was put on a plane after a flurry of talks late Tuesday.

The biggest gap could be among the corners. They hosted Walker Wednesday, Oakland's Tory James Thursday, and are trying to set up a visit with Green Bay's Tyrone Williams, and there is no deal in sight.

The Bengals are probably looking at the deals the Chiefs gave Dexter McCleon ($2.2 million per year), and the Saints gave 32-year-old Ashley Ambrose ($1.5 million to sign), while the agents and players are no doubt looking at the deal Bly coaxed out of the Lions at $6.5 million to sign with a $4.9 million average.

"There's a little bit of a discrepancy," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "You've got one team that did (the Bly deal) and it leaves everybody else in a bad way."

There is a middle way between Bly, who hasn't started most of his career, and McCleon, a nickel back who had started 58 of 91 games with the Rams. But a guy like Walker, who has 87 NFL starts in six seasons, has to think that counts for something.

The 5-11, 193-pound Williams is said to be looking for a big number and the Bengals are probably looking for a medium-range deal in the $2.5 to 3 million per year range. Dick Davis, his agent, said Wednesday, "I think the Bengals are still deciding what kind of guy they want to pay. If they're looking for a lower end guy who they're going to pay as just a stopgap for a year or two, that's not Ty."

Davis said he has talked numbers with the Bengals and is still working on setting up a visit.

All indications are that the Bengals first want to solve their situation at defensive tackle and/or linebacker before dropping a semi big number on a corner. Word is they are not only high on the 6-1 Walker, but they also like the size of 6-2, 190-pound James.

Frazier likes his corners big and physical and James fits that bill, although in seven season he's coming off his most starts with 13 for the AFC champion Raiders.

Things are pretty much at a standstill with James' teammate in Oakland, defensive tackle Sam Adams. Adams heads to Buffalo Thursday for a visit and agent Angelo Wright anticipates the Bills giving Spikes and offer sheet, but he said his client won't wait the seven days to see if the Bengals match before he does something.

"If Takeo goes to Buffalo, that makes it a very attractive place for Sam," Wright said. "But I'm a moving target. We won't wait. If he gets his number before then from anybody, that's where he's going."

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