Sunday, March 21, 2004

Bengals stunned Sapp-less


Despite near-deal with team, star DL goes to Raiders

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Warren Sapp is a Raider less than 24 hours after coming close to signing with the Bengals.

The Bengals' whirlwind courtship of Sapp, which captivated Greater Cincinnati sports fans in the midst of the NCAA Tournament, ended Saturday as quickly as it started when he agreed to terms on a seven-year deal with Oakland.

Sapp, 31, will receive a bonus of $7 million to sign a contract worth $36.6 million.

Worse yet for the Bengals, Sapp is going to the team believed to be most interested in trading for sorely disgruntled Bengals running back Corey Dillon.

The Sapp deal is believed to have a first-year salary cap number of $5.2 million, which could eat space that might be used to take on Dillon's $3.3 million salary in 2004.

The Raiders were an estimated $2.2 million under the salary cap before agreeing with Sapp, though - unlike Cincinnati - they have a history of getting creative with player compensation.

"The bad news is I won't be back with the Bucs," Sapp told the Associated Press in a telephone interview Saturday from Miami. "The good news is I'm a Raider."

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis declined to comment Saturday on how an imminent deal with Sapp on Friday night fell apart Saturday afternoon. Sapp agent Drew Rosenhaus did not return phone messages Saturday.

One theory is that Sapp never was interested in playing for the Bengals and used them as leverage to increase demand for his services. Another theory is that there was a difference of opinion among Bengals officials on Sapp's value.

The Bengals' offer to Sapp - believed to be $16 million over four years - was said to be twice as much per season than any other team had discussed previously with Rosenhaus. Oakland was the first team to talk with the seven-time Pro Bowl tackle and swept back into the picture with a better offer. Early Saturday, on his Web site, qbkilla.com, Sapp listed only the Bengals, Saints, Ravens and Giants as possible destinations.

The Bengals apparently did not want to go past four years on their offer to a defensive lineman in his early 30s.

A Sapp signing would have done more than bring in a player to lift the Bengals' 25th-ranked rush defense.

As a celebrity bigger than the game, Sapp signing with Cincinnati would have been akin to Reggie White signing with Green Bay in 1993. Signing White gave the rebuilding Packers credibility and helped to attract other top players.

Sapp would have been the Bengals' most important free agent acquisition since NFL free agency started 11 years ago, and would have given them their first national personality since Boomer Esiason in the late 1980s.

Though the Bengals' reputation and level of play have improved since Lewis' arrival 14 months ago, there is still a stigma attached to the franchise as result of 13 consecutive non-winning seasons.

Sapp, though his skills have declined since he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1999, is the kind of A-list, big-name free agent the Bengals have not been able to sign.

Under the Lewis, the Bengals signed productive free agents a year ago in defensive tackle John Thornton, linebacker Kevin Hardy and cornerback Tory James. Sapp would have been a different kind of acquisition - a superstar.

Lewis last fall said he considered Sapp and Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis as the two most dominant defensive players in the NFL.

Even as local college basketball teams Xavier, UC and Kentucky marched into the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Sapp discussion dominated the first 40 minutes of Alan Cutler's sports talk show Saturday afternoon on WLW-AM.

The inability to finish the Sapp deal comes on the heels of the Bengals' failure to sign Troy Vincent, the veteran cornerback they most wanted in free agency. Vincent chose Buffalo instead of the Bengals on Monday. Then Vincent's former Philadelphia teammate, cornerback Bobby Taylor, left Cincinnati without a contract later Monday and now appears to be on the verge of singing with Seattle.

The Bengals will begin their 14-week offseason strength and conditioning program Monday, and Lewis and new starting quarterback Carson Palmer are scheduled to hold news conferences.

Sapp's stats

YearTeamGTotalTcklAstSacksIntYdsAvgLgTDPass Def
1995Tampa Bay 162616.0103155.0514
1996Tampa Bay 155141.0109000.0000
1997Tampa Bay155847.01110.5000.0002
1998Tampa Bay 164428.0167000.0002
1999Tampa Bay 154127.01412.5000.0004
2000Tampa Bay 165243.0916.5000.0003
2001Tampa Bay 163628.086000.0000
2002Tampa Bay 164740.077.5200.0002
2003Tampa Bay 154336.075000.0003
TOTAL140398306.09277351.75120
* NFL.com

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E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com




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