3-12-01, 11:50 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals remain interested in re-signing their top two free agents, but defensive end Reinard Wilson and cornerback Artrell Hawkins continue to tour other teams.
After a stop in Minnesota, Wilson headed to Indianapolis Tuesday night to visit the defense-starved Colts Wednesday. Also Wednesday, Hawkins, a Johnstown, Pa., product, visits the hometown Steelers, and may be headed for an interview in Oakland.
Indications are the Bengals are stepping up their efforts to lock up their first free agent of the season. On Tuesday, Jim Lippincott, the club's director of pro/college personnel, gave Jaguars left defensive end Renaldo Wynn an offer. Brian Levy, the agent for Bears cornerback Walt Harris, hopes to get an offer from the Bengals Wednesday or his client will look more closely at an inquiry from the Carolina Panthers.
Wilson, coming off a career-high nine sacks, had fruitful talks with Vikings head coach Mike Tice during his visit. David Levine, Wilson's agent, said his client was told the club
sees Wilson as a candidate to play all three downs at right end. Keith McKenzie is also in the mix, but the Vikes are apparently first trying to sign a linebacker and at least one other position before settling on a right end. Levine declined to say if Minnesota offered a contract.
The Bengals would like to re-sign Wilson as a pass rusher, but he sees himself as a more lucrative three-down performer. Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn talked to Levine Tuesday as the club continues to keep in touch, but Levine told her they still want to exhaust all options.
The Colts' defense is under construction by new head coach Tony Dungy. Indy allowed a NFL-high 486 points with the third-worst total defense in the land.
Peter Shaffer, Wynn's agent, said Tuesday that the Bengals' offer is "below the bar." The Packers also talked to Wynn Tuesday and he could be headed to Denver for a visit, but the sides have agreed to keep an eye on each other.
Levy made it known Tuesday that Harris isn't going to be cheap. He sees him in the market with the recent signings of Eric Warfield and Aaron Beasley that were in the $3-4 million per year range.
The Bengals allowed that they could sign both Harris and Hawkins, considering their other starting cornerback, Rodney Heath, is in the middle of a questionable rehab from a severe torn hamstring.