Trades percolating?

4-18-02, 4:20 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

With less than 48 hours to go before the first pick in Saturday's NFL Draft, the storm clouds are approaching and the trade winds are starting to swirl about the league. And the dust is starting to kick up around Paul Brown Stadium.

ESPN.com reported Thursday that the Patriots and Bills are again working on a deal for New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe, but this time both sides think it can be completed by Saturday. The Bengals made the first bid on Bledsoe back in March, but got turned down when the Pats wanted a first-round draft pick in return.

Bengals President Mike Brown has indicated his last discussion with the Patriots was more than two weeks ago and all he would say Thursday is, "our talks with New England never got off the ground."

Brown wouldn't confirm reports that the Redskins called Cincinnati looking to trade up from No. 18 to the Bengals'

spot at No. 10 in exchange for Washington's second-round pick, the 52nd overall.

But it's believed the Bengals don't think they can get an impact player that deep in the first round. Plus, Washington is no doubt trying to trade up to get Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington, a player the Bengals are also mulling.

Cincinnati isn't shutting the door on trading down, but it probably has to be with a team above Washington and it most likely hinges on when the run of defensive tackles start. But even then, the Bengals are pondering sitting at No. 10 and taking one of those defensive tackles themselves.

It appeared the Bengals' biggest obstacle in getting Bledsoe, besides last month's reports that his agent told the Bengals he didn't want to play in Cincinnati, was the trade's price tag.

Sources have indicated the discussions never got as far as Bledsoe re-structuring his contract to fit under the Bengals' salary cap. The one advantage the Bills have over Cincinnati is they can fit Bledsoe's full Pats' salary of $5 million for 2002 under their salary cap.

Since March, reports have people close to Bledsoe denying that he wouldn't play in Cincinnati and Bledsoe himself has apparently told people close to him in Boston that he would consider the Bengals.

That appears to be all moot now, but the story isn't over. If the trade comes off, Bledsoe, naturally, makes his Bills' debut against the Bengals in the Aug. 9 pre-season opener in Buffalo. Which is also where the Bengals end the regular season Dec. 29.

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