Team Notes: Cincinnati Bengals

--Tennessee's salary cap problems continue to benefit the Bengals and could pay another dividend in the near future. The Bengals on April 3 filled a major need by picking up fullback Mike Green on waivers from the Titans.

Green's waivers didn't expire until April 7, but the Bengals are the team with first priority on waived players so no other team could have gotten him.

The release came April 2, only hours after he had participated in a workout at its Nashville complex. Green, a three-year pro who played in 15 games last season, should jump to the top of the Bengals' depth chart at fullback -- ahead of Terry Witherspoon and converted linebacker-tight end Chris Edmonds.

The Bengals lost their top two fullbacks, Lorenzo Neal (Chargers) and Nicolas Luchey (Packers), in free agency.

"It's a good situation for me because of the guys they lost," the 250-pound Green said Thursday night from Nashville. "Cincinnati is a team on the rise. They wore us out when we played then and they always got after us."

Green, who played college ball at Houston, is 26 and was a seventh-round Titans draft pick in 2000. He started two games in 2002, rushed 21 times for 71 yards and had seven receptions. He is more than a blocker.

In 2001, he was the offensive MVP of NFL Europe when he rushed for 1,057 yards on 183 carries for Barcelona. Green said he would come to Cincinnati on Sunday and have his physical and begin working out April 7.

Last month, the Bengals signed free-agent defensive lineman John Thornton, a former Titans starter. And now it appears the Bengals are seriously interested in former Titans starting center Gennaro DiNapoli.

DiNapoli, 27, started all 18 of the Titans' regular season and playoff games in 2002 but was released in a Tennessee roster reshuffling. At 6-feet-3, 287 pounds, DiNapoli can play center or guard. He originally was a fourth-round 1998 draft pick by Oakland from Virginia Tech.

Rich Braham, the Bengals incumbent starting center, is an unrestricted free agent, though the Bengals hold first-refusal rights. The backup is Brock Gutierrez.

--Seattle has some interest in Bengals restricted free agent kicker Neil Rackers, to the point where Rackers might visit the Seahawks.

The Bengals have offered Rackers a $605,000 one-year tender and have first-refusal rights. The Seahawks appear to be unwilling to make an offer but would be more interested in signing Rackers were first released by the Bengals.

--Coach Marvin Lewis' first Bengals team will be severely tested in their first five games of 2003. The regular season schedule, released April 3 by the NFL, has the Bengals opening at home against traditional AFC power Denver.

The Bengals then head to Oakland to play the defending AFC Champion Raiders, who finished 11-5. Bengals teams have lost 39 games in a row on the road to club with winning records, a streak that dates to December 1990. Next will come a home game against defending AFC North champion Pittsburgh, a trip to Cleveland to play the arch rival Browns and a reunion trip to Buffalo. The Bills now employ former Bengals linebacker and defensive captain Takeo Spikes, former Bengals defensive line coach Tim Krumrie and head coach Dick LeBeau -- assistant head coach to Gregg Williams.

Oakland, Pittsburgh and Cleveland all were in the playoffs last season, and Denver and Buffalo just missed.

"We've been presented with the chance to earn respect right away," Lewis said. "Our first five games are against some very tough opposition."

The Bengals were 0-4 in September last season, en route to a franchise worst 2-14 record. The Bengals are a combined 9-36 in games played before Oct. 1 since last making the playoffs in 1990. The Bengals' 12-year playoff drought is the longest in the parity-driven NFL.

-- Vaughn Booker's three-year run with his hometown Bengals came to an end Tuesday when the team terminated his contract.

Booker, 35, started 27 of the 29 games he played for the Bengals. Knee ligament and rib cage strain limited him to six games in 2002. The defensive end said he was healthy, except for a "mystery" back pain. He also said he would like to sign with another team but would retire after nine NFL seasons if there is no interest.

"No, I'm not surprised," Booker said of his release. "I knew how much I was due to make and how the economic system works in the NFL."

Booker was to make an estimated $2 million base salary this coming season. The Bengals will save $667,000 against the salary cap by cutting him. Booker had signed a five-year, $11 million contract before the 2000 season, including a $3.3 million signing bonus. The Bengals acquired defensive linemen John Thornton and Carl Powell in free agency last month, making Booker's release more probable. End Justin Smith and tackle Tony Williams are top returning defensive lineman. Long-time starting tackle Oliver Gibson is rehabilitating a torn Achilles' tendon. Versatile defensive lineman Bernard Whittington, an unrestricted free agent, remains unsigned, but the Bengals gave his No. 97 to Thornton.

Booker played previously for Kansas City and Green Bay.

-- Peter Warrick averaged almost 13 yards on 18 punt returns as a senior at Florida State.

As a Bengals rookie in 2000, Warrick returned seven punts and averaged 17.6 yards with an 82-yard touchdown against Jacksonville. He has since returned 22 punts for a 5.9-yard average. Warrick lost the job after fumbling a punt at the 5-yard line in the fifth game last season at Indianapolis.

Now, new coach Marvin Lewis wants to give Warrick another chance, and special teams coach Darrin Simmons is committed to a blocking scheme on punt returns that could benefit Warrick.

The Bengals will double-block the outside coverage gunners, which should give Warrick more room to run.

"Give me time to shake some tackles," Warrick said. "I'm doing what I love."

Said Lewis, "I think that would be great. Peter's excited about it. It's a good thing."

Team Skinny: Author: TSX



The Bengals have signed four potential starters on defense and two possible offensive starters in free agency.

NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES: The Bengals top three needs are defensive line, cornerback and the interior of the offensive line. The defensive line and cornerback have been addressed, to a point, in free agency. The team was thin on the defensive line, especially at tackle, where the return of starter Oliver Gibson is unsure because of Achilles' tendon surgery. Cornerback has been a problem area for several seasons, and despite the development of Artrell Hawkins, the signing of former Bills/Colts cornerback Jeff Burris last season was not successful. There are concerns about the health and durability of center Rich Braham, and right guard Mike Goff was pushed around in more than one game last season. The Bengals appear to have put themselves in a position to draft the best player available with the first overall pick, even if that player needs a year on the sidelines to develop.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: S Jason Perry, safety (late-season pickup to replace safeties on injured reserve; new coaches have no interest in bringing him back); OT Jamain Stephens (under-achieving former first-round pick sees days of easy paycheck with Bengals coming to an end); DT/DE Bernard Whittington (valuable, intelligent swing man is entertaining interest from other clubs but won't rule out a return to Cincinnati).

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: C Rich Braham (team has refusal rights and would like to keep him at reduced price); WR Ron Dugans (tendered at $605,000 with 3rd-round pick as compensation; improving receiver, key special teams player); WR Danny Farmer (tendered at $605,000 with 4th-round pick as compensation; plays well when healthy, injury-prone, could be let go by Lewis) PK Neil Rackers (tendered at $605,000 with 6th-round pick as compensation; revived career with strong third year, will be back).

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: LS Brad St. Louis (RFA; $605,000/1 yr); LB Armegis Spearman (RFA/matched Packers offer; $2.675M/3 yrs, $550,000 SB; 2003 cap: $541,667).

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: LB Kevin Hardy (UFA Cowboys; $14.4/4 yrs, $3.5M SB; 2003 cap: $2.975M); CB Tory James (FA Raiders; $13.575M/4 yrs, $3.6M SB; 2003 cap: $2.9M); TE Reggie Kelly (UFA Falcons; $6.8M/4 yrs, $2M SB); DL Carl Powell (UFA Redskins; $1.73M/2 yrs, $500,000 SB; 2003 cap: $780,000); DT John Thornton (UFA Titans; $22.5M/6 yrs, $$3.75M SB/$1.25M RB; 2003 cap: $2.875M).

PLAYERS LOST: DE Vaughn Booker (cut); QB Gus Frerotte (UFA Vikings; $1.9M/2 yrs, no SB/$700,000 base guarantee); S Cory Hall (UFA Falcons; $12.25M/5 yrs, $2.75M SB); FB Nicolas Luchey (UFA Packers; $6M/6 yrs, $1.1M SB); FB Lorenzo Neal (UFA Chargers; $4.2M/3 yrs, $1M SB); LB Takeo Spikes (TFA Bills; $32M/6 yrs, $9M SB/$1.5M option bonus '04); OT Richmond Webb (cut).

MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.


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