3-23-01, 10:00 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
In a somewhat surprising move, Packers offensive lineman Ross Verba turned down the chance to play left tackle and opted to sign with Cleveland Friday morning.
The Bengals courted Verba heavily Thursday with the lure that he would play left tackle, the position he said he favored when he visited Cincinnati two weeks ago. He's projected as a right tackle in Cleveland, which has Roman Oben at left tackle.
"We bargained with him," said Bengals president Mike Brown. "In the end, he chose to go elsewhere. So we're going to keep trying."
According to CBSsportsline.com, the Bengals were on a par with Cleveland's bid because it took him until Thursday night to decide on the Browns' four-year, $16 million pact that includes a $5 million signing bonus.
The Bengals will now probably turn to former Viking left tackle Todd Steussie, but that 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.