Saturday, March 1, 2003

Neal's gone, and Spikes could be


With free agent Barber set to visit, Bengals might let LB go

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Bengals said goodbye Friday to Lorenzo Neal, one of the two major players they had hoped to keep in free agency, and prepared a contingency plan in case they decide to let the other - linebacker Takeo Spikes - leave town.

Neal, the Bengals' only Pro Bowl player in 2002, signed a three-year deal worth $4.5 million with San Diego. The Bengals apparently would not meet Neal's demand of $1 million a season - a level the Chargers surpassed.

"The fullback was able to go. That was his right," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said late Friday, toward the end of the first day of veteran NFL free agency. "He's from California. It's a great deal for Lorenzo."

Nicolas Luchey, Neal's backup and another unrestricted free agent, is scheduled to meet next week with the Bengals.

"It's something we always wanted to get done," Lewis said when asked if re-signing Luchey has taken on more importance because of Neal's departure.

There were indications Friday the Bengals also might be willing to part with Spikes.

Lewis and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier both spoke to the agent for Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Shawn Barber.

Barber, a fast, five-year outside linebacker, was the Eagles' second-leading tackler last season with 119. He had one sack, two interceptions and three fumble recoveries.

"I spoke to both Coach Lewis and Coach Frazier, and they are both very interested in Shawn," said Brian Mackler, Barber's agent. "Shawn is going to Kansas City and St. Louis, then Cincinnati."

Frazier, hired by Lewis in January, was the Eagles' defensive backs coach for four seasons.

"It's possible," Lewis said when asked about a Barber visit.

Spikes, designated by the Bengals as their transition player, did not return calls Friday. Neither did his agents, Todd France and Lonnie Cooper.

Barber and Spikes are considered two of the top four linebackers in free agency. Both play on the outside.

But the transition tag, which allows the Bengals to match any offer sheet Spikes would receive while guaranteeing him a one-year salary of $4.85 million in Cincinnati, was expected to subdue initial interest in him. Chicago's Roosevelt Colvin and Indianapolis' Mike Peterson, neither of whom has a binding designation tag, are expected to attract more attention early in free agency.

Barber, at 6 feet 2, 237 pounds, played his first four seasons with the Washington Redskins.

The Bengals have at least one other free agent visit scheduled. Former Ravens and Texans return specialist Jermaine Lewis will be in Cincinnati Monday. He and Marvin Lewis were together in Baltimore.

The Bengals also are expected next week to entertain Eagles guard Doug Brzezinski. At 6-4, 305, he has been a top reserve for the Eagles after starting 16 games in as a rookie in 1999.

Brzezinski's agent, Jonathan Feinsod, declined comment about the Bengals' interest when reached Friday night.

Marvin Lewis said the Bengals won't schedule visits "unless we're serious and, more important, they're serious."

The Bengals also were busy Friday talking with agents of defensive linemen.

Former Seattle, Baltimore and Oakland defensive tackle Sam Adams won't visit Cincinnati - but early indications are he might sign with the Bengals.

Adams, who also has drawn interest from Washington and Buffalo, is interested in a reunion with Lewis - his coordinator on the 2000 Super Bowl winning Ravens.

Angelo Wright, Adams' agent, said he talked to Lewis and other Bengals officials Friday morning and was expecting to begin talking with team executives Katie and Troy Blackburn - who negotiate contracts - later in the day.

"We're not going to do many visits," Wright said. "We were in Cincinnati last summer. Sam knows Marvin. The bottom line about Sam is when you buy him you know what you're getting. Nobody is going to dominate him on the line."

The Bengals also expressed formal interest Friday in Washington Redskins defensive linemen Daryl Gardener and Carl Powell. Both played last season for Lewis - Lewis' only season as Redskins defensive coordinator - and Powell was a member of the Super Bowl champion 2000 Ravens, although he did not appear in any games.

Powell, who is 6-2, 273, signed with the Redskins before last season just to play for Lewis. He reportedly turned down a three-year offer earlier this week to stay with the Redskins and wants to come to Cincinnati. Powell's position coach last season in Washington, Ricky Hunley, is the Bengals linebackers coach and is another draw for Powell in Cincinnati.

The Bengals did execute one minor transaction Friday, claiming safety Brian Leigeb off waivers from Indianapolis. He played college ball at Central Michigan.

E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com




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