6-27-02, 4:40 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Michael Westbrook is encouraged by Cincinnati's new offer as well as his discussion with Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and he's looking for a final push in the next three business days.
And it appears he has a shot at getting something done by Tuesday. On Monday, Duke Tobin, the Bengals director of pro/college personnel, confirmed he has an appointment with Westbrook agent Steve Zucker for Tuesday afternoon in suburban Chicago.
"They came back with some more and that's always a good sign. They showed the faith," Westbrook said Thursday from Detroit. "I'd like to have it done by Tuesday. I'm not saying anything has to get done one way or the other by then. We're still apart, but we're also still talking."
Tobin, a Chicago native, will be there visiting and both think a meeting will help.
"Anytime you can get together face-to-face, you figure it can't hurt and we hope it can help," Tobin said.
Zucker, who has been a prominent Chicago attorney for years, remembers Tobin's exploits as a prep quarterback at Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, Ill. He led the school to a state title his junior year.
The Bengals disputed a report on Profootballtalk.com Thursday that said they were backing off Westbrook because of concerns of Carl Pickens-like toxicity in the locker room. But the club not only raised what appears to be the only offer on the table for Westbrook, they also like the way he keeps in shape and has knowledge of Bratkowski's system. Those are elements they didn't always get from Pickens or get from Darnay Scott now.
Westbrook admitted Thursday he may have to reconcile living with a June market value that except for Keenan McCardell hasn't been kind to thirtysomething wide receivers. But his competitive nature won't let him give in to certain numbers. Except, there is no
question he wants to continue playing as he stands less than two weeks from his 30th birthday.
"Any team would throw the market in your face now, I understand that," Westbrook said. "I'm not going to walk away from football at this point when I feel like I'm on top of my game, but I don't want to play for peanuts."
Asked if the Bengals had gone from peanuts to chocolate with their offer Monday, Westbrook said, "it's not chocolate yet."
But Westbrook did have a meaty phone discussion with Bratkowski in which Bratkowski emphasized he felt Westbrook could give the Bengals' lowest-rated big-play offense in the NFL a boost down the field.
"He was talking about using me the way Norv (Turner) used me in Washington my big year," Westbrook said of his NFL-leading 18.3 yards per catch in 1999. "Put me on the weak side, go long, and then come back on some underneath stuff. Get me one-on-one. It's ridiculous when teams try to put me on an island. We did it in Washington and it didn't matter who was on me. Champ Bailey, Tom Carter, any of those (cornerbacks) we had. I just feel like I'm going to beat one-on one coverage."
The Bengals also know they can use that big-play swagger that has been missing since Pickens was surgically removed before the 2000 season. The Bengals' deep ball in 2001 was better than 2000, when wide receivers caught just 15 balls of 20 yards or longer.
But they still went killing stretches without a big play down the field that could have swung close games last year. In the three straight losses to the Buccaneers, Jaguars and Jets by a combined eight points, their longest pass completion was 19 yards.
"(Bratkowski) told me that's how he would use me, getting me down the field," Westbrook said. "I think that's what I give this offense. And I was telling him that it doesn't matter where I play (split end or flanker). When you have the (Pro Bowl) running back, it doesn't matter what side they put you on. At some point, they've got to leave you one-on-one. And he was telling me that this scheme is pretty similar to what Norv ran, which mans I can step right in because that's what I ran for five years."
Westbrook knows he's been knocked for his inconsistency, but he feels like if he gets in a system that looks to get the ball down field every game, he'll become sharper and more consistent
Some are still bringing up his celebrated practice brawl with Stephen Davis five years ago, but the Bengals aren't concerned. Five years ago makes it about as relevant as "The Hindenburg." During his visit to PBS, he didn't dodge the issue.
"(The fight) might have had its reasons, but you have to have some type of sense about you," Westbrook said. "Knowing the repercussions of your actions and having an understanding about that, which I didn't. I was doing things my way, but I figured it out. Even if in my mind I had a valid reason to do what I did, it doesn't make it right. I was young."