3-23-01, 10 a.m.
Updated: 3-23-01, 1:50 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Ross Verba said it came down to the wire Thursday night.
He said the Browns and Bengals were "pretty equal across the board." Coaching. Facilities. Money.
"I just went with my heart," Verba said Friday after his somewhat surprising move in which he turned down the chance to play left tackle in Cincinnati and signed with Cleveland as what is projected to be a right tackle.
"I based my decision on where I thought the best place was for me and my family," Verba said.
The Bengals courted Verba heavily Thursday with the lure he would play left tackle, the position he said he favored when he visited Cincinnati two weeks ago.
CBSsportsline.com indicated the proposals by both clubs were close to the final four-year, $16 million deal with $5 million to sign. Verba said the Browns made their offer earlier this week than the Bengals.
"That had something to do with it," Verba said. "It wasn't a big thing. But you take everything into consideration. It came down to the wire."
The Bengals will now probably turn again to former Viking left tackle Todd Steussie, a player they pursued earlier this week and a player to whom the Browns apparently didn't make an offer.
But Steussie could be slow going.
After making him a multi-year offer, the Broncos are saying they won't move on it again until after next week's NFL meetings.
The Verba signing doesn't take the Browns out of the Corey Dillon derby, either. The $5 million bonus indicates a salary cap hit of less than $2 million for this year.
If Steussie doesn't pan out, the Bengals figure to step up the search for a cornerback, wide receiver and defensive lineman. The agent for former Redskins defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield said Thursday the Bengals are still in the mix.
And if Steussie goes to Denver, the Bengals could still get a left tackle with the draft's fourth pick, although they are still trying to decide who has the edge between Leonard Davis of Texas and Kenyatta Walker of Florida.