Wednesday, February 10, 1999
Browns save money for free agents
Cleveland picks Gibson, Thompson from Bengals
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The Browns stockpiled cash while the Bengals couldn't give salaries away in Tuesday's expansion draft.
Which means more of a bear market in Cincinnati and a longer ride on the bull for Cleveland when free agency opens Friday.
In picking 37 players, the Browns spent $18 million of their $57 million salary cap room. After budgeting about $10 million for rookies, they'll be left with almost $30 million available to sign veteran free agents.
The Browns picked the two cheapest Bengals of the five Cincinnati players available during Tuesday's draft in Canton.
With the fourth pick, Cleveland took second-year wide receiver Damon Gibson and his $199,500 salary cap figure and then waited until the third-to-last pick to take third-year defensive tackle Mike Thompson ($196,000).
So the Bengals gained less than $400,000 against the cap, meaning they are still in the $2.5-$3 million range under the cap, according to their projections.
The Battle of Ohio in the AFC Central has already tipped to the Browns.
We knew that Cleveland was going to drive the free-agent market, but we didn't know it was going to be as much as this. I said $30 million a few months ago and I thought that would be the high end, said Bengals President Mike Brown.
We thought they would get about 12 (veteran free agents). Now they can get as
many as two dozen. They could easily get 12 starting players. It gives us a strong competitor in our division from the very beginning. They should be the best-manned expansion team in history.
Brown has a more modest prediction for the Bengals in free agency. He says they can sign one free agent while keeping some of their own.
We'll lose a couple of our own, so we'll be looking at the draft to replace them, Brown said.
As the Browns did all day, they spurned the older, more expensive players, meaning the Bengals couldn't get rid of 30-year-old outside linebacker James Francis' $1.8 million cap number. Francis is the most likely to soon be released.
The one Cincinnati surprise came after the Browns picked Gibson. The Bengals chose to protect long snapper Greg Truitt, even though the 33-year-old is coming off his worst season. They left unprotected 26-year-old linebacker Tom Tumulty, a starter before he injured his knee last year and needed reconstructive surgery.
You need a long-snapper and we don't think (tight end Steve) Bush is quite ready yet, Brown said. We figured they wouldn't draft Francis because of their pattern of not taking players with much salary, and we figured they wouldn't take Tumulty because of his knee.
Tumulty spent Tuesday's draft shooting pool at the Private Smoking Club in Mount Lookout. He checked the TV every now and again, and when Truitt got pulled back he thought he might be gone.
The Browns challenged Tumulty's name on the expansion list because they didn't think his knee would be ready by this summer. But an independent doctor cleared him Monday and he stayed on the list.
At the end, I was hoping it wasn't because I didn't want to move and I've heard what comes out of the coaches' mouths and I know they like me and wanted me back, Tumulty said. I've got to show them I can still play. I'm just glad it's over and I know where I'm going to be.
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