Sunday, March 7, 2004

Bengals retain Braham


But they still seek CB help - maybe from Vincent

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Starting center Rich Braham has reached a contract agreement and will re-sign with the Bengals as early as Monday, a source close to the situation told the Enquirer on Saturday.

[img]
Starting center Rich Braham will re-sign with the Bengals.
(Jeff Swinger/file photo)
Braham, 33, started 15 games for the Bengals in 2003 and played 1,016 of a possible 1,078 offensive snaps.

A 10-year veteran, Braham is considered an important contributor in the development of first-year starting quarterback Carson Palmer.

"That's good news for the Bengals," Jon Kitna, last season's starter, said. "If I were the starter, I would have told them, 'You have to sign Richie.'

"He does more than the media and fans will ever understand. Carson won't have to make the calls (on defense arrangements). Richie will do that. He is invaluable."

Braham is an unrestricted free agent and visited the New York Giants on Friday. He has started 115 games in 119 NFL appearances and is considered one of the toughest players on the roster.

He will be the first of the Bengals' eight unrestricted free agents to re-sign.

In the first four days of free agency, the Bengals signed two probable defensive starters - middle linebacker Nate Webster and safety Kim Herring - and re-signed kicker Shayne Graham.

Graham, a restricted free agent, signed an offer sheet with Jacksonville Thursday. On Friday, the Bengals matched the sheet, turning it into a five-year, $6.5 million contract.

"No question Shayne stabilized the position," coach Marvin Lewis said Saturday. "He's got a great demeanor. He's well-adjusted. Obviously, it was a great deal for him. We liked everything he did last season."

And now Braham will be back. His return will help to fill a void in the middle of the Bengals' offensive line; starting right guard Mike Goff signed a five-year contract Friday with San Diego.

"You're happy for Mike Goff," Lewis said. "He did a good job for us. He's being rewarded for his hard work. He was never unappreciated here."

The Bengals also have confirmed a visit from Giants free agent center Chris Bober, and other sources said Eagles free agent guard Bobbie Williams would be visiting this week.

The Bengals will audition two of their own offensive linemen - fourth-year guard-center Victor Leyva and second-year tackle Scott Kooistra - at right guard.

Attention now seems to have turned to cornerback. In spite of a flurry of signings, the Bengals are believed to be zeroing in on at least one veteran corner.

Negotiations continued between the Bengals and Troy Vincent's agent, Linda Bodley, on Saturday. Vincent, who had three interceptions for Philadelphia last season, is believed to be mulling offers from the Bengals and Buffalo, and considering additional visits.

If a veteran cornerback of their liking can't be signed, the Bengals won't reach in the free agent market just because the position is one of need. The draft class of cornerbacks is deep this year, and the Bengals could use a first-day pick on the likes of Virginia Tech's DeAngelo Hall or Southern California's Will Poole.

Lewis said the team would not go too deep down a list of possible players at any one position.

Despite national reports that the Bengals are tight against the NFL's salary cap of $80.5 million, the organization is expected to continue to pursue free agents. Two longtime Bengals, cornerback Artrell Hawkins and defensive tackle Oliver Gibson, had contracts terminated last week, saving the club approximately $1.3 million in each case.

It's not inconceivable that more veterans with bigger salary cap numbers might be released.

Lewis gave the impression Saturday that the Bengals were preparing for a big week.

"I'm happy with what our personnel people have done," he said. "We've seen what's out there and what other teams are doing. We're still talking to players and looking for the best fits for us."

FREE AGENCY: Day 4

Bengals free agent action Saturday:

BENGALS CONFIRMED: The Bengals will not confirm any weekend visits until they are obligated to turn them in to the NFL office Monday.

OTHERWISE CONFIRMED: The Bengals are discussing a contract with Eagles free agent cornerback Troy Vincent.

ON THE RADAR: Eagles guard Bobbie Williams and some free agent cornerbacks coach Marvin Lewis declined to mention by name.

STAYING: The Bengals have reached an agreement on a contract with starting center Rich Braham, who had been an unrestricted free agent.

GOING: Bengals free safety Mark Roman will visit the Packers today. Running back Brandon Bennett is believed to be visiting Cleveland.

---

E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com




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