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Friday, May 31
Bengals could cut Scott loose

By Len Pasquarelli

The names of the veteran wide receivers who will become post-June 1 salary cap casualties -- Derrick Alexander of Kansas City, Keenan McCardell of Jacksonville, Green Bay's Antonio Freeman and Herman Moore of Detroit -- have been so often-repeated in recent weeks they are likely known by heart.

Darnay Scott
But here is one wide receiver who has not been mentioned at all among those on the endangered species list and who could be released within the next week or so: Darnay Scott of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Team officials will huddle, possibly as early as Friday night or Saturday morning, to discuss players in whom they might be interested in the next round of free agency and also to mull over Scott's future with the franchise. Some might be surprised that Scott, the fourth-leading pass catcher in Bengals history, could be in trouble. But he hasn't helped his own case by missing the last two weeks of organized offseason workouts, without phoning the club to explain his absence. Plus his $2.55 million scheduled base salary could also be a factor.

Add that to the fact Bengals coaches really like their corps of young wide receivers -- guys like Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Peter Warrick, Danny Farmer and Ron Dugans -- and it could be a recipe for a pink slip.

"I think these guys are ready to play," said owner Mike Brown of his young wide receivers.

That remains to be seen, of course, particularly in the case of Warrick, a disappointment in his first two seasons. Warrick began practicing this week wearing the contact lenses club officials have been begging him to get and the early results are promising. If the Bengals do terminate Scott, the chance to afford their young wide receivers the playing time they need will be a bigger factor than the finances involved with such a move.

Scott experienced pain earlier this spring in his left leg, the one he fractured when he missed the 2000 season. The specialists who examined him felt there was no lingering problem, but there has been no sign of Scott since then, just some relayed acknowledgements that he is working out on his own in St. Louis and taking care of some personal business.

The fleet, eight-year pro has 386 career catches, an impressive lifetime average of 15.5 yards per, and 11 touchdown receptions of 50 yards or more. None of the other receivers on the roster has a reception of longer than 46 yards. It would be difficult for the Bengals to dump Scott but, of the three wideouts who rank ahead of him on the team's all-time receptions list, just Isaac Curtis ever caught a pass in a Cincinnati uniform beyond the age of 30.

In addition to his base salary, Scott is owed a $150,000 workout bonus and a roster bonus of $500,000 that is payable on Sept. 1. The team could save itself a lot of money, and only have to carry a charge of $700,000 on its 2002 cap for a prorated signing bonus share, but has to decide if the young receivers are prepared to move forward without the group's lone graybeard.

For now, it appears Scott will survive, but it might be a close call. And if he doesn't, he will be another veteran wide receiver who will generate plenty of interest in free agency from teams seeking a long-ball playmaker.

Around the league

  • The Cincinnati coaches have been particularly impressed with Farmer, who was claimed on waivers from Pittsburgh in 2000, and who has been a regular at offseason workouts. The former UCLA standout, selected by the Steelers in the fourth round of the 2000 draft, is beginning to flash playmaking skills. Farmer has great size (6-feet-3, 215 pounds), and will never run very fast, but he knows how to use his body and positioning to gain some separation from cornerbacks. He caught just 15 passes in 2001, and has only 34 catches in two seasons, but the Bengals offensive staff suspects he could be poised to really make a contribution in 2002.

  • One more reminder on the post-June 1 releases. The rule stipulates that a club receives a break on its salary cap if it jettisons a player after June Saturday, the end of the league business day. But there are no league waivers over the weekend, so any players released Saturday evening or Sunday will not appear on the official NFL transactions until Monday afternoon. There are teams that will begin recruiting players over the weekend -- who are we kidding, some clubs already have been in contact with potential cap casualties, and know precisely how much it will take contractually to lure them -- but they can't officially sign them to a deal until Monday at the earliest.

    Charlie Batch
    A number of teams will likely be pursuing Charlie Batch as a backup.

  • Most of the attention surrounding the post-June 1 cap casualties is on the veteran wide receivers who will go into the market. But we can't imagine that two younger players who have solid resumes, Detroit quarterback Charlie Batch and New Orleans linebacker Keith Mitchell, won't attract multiple offers. Both players are only 27 years old, still at the point of their careers to have productive futures, and are veterans who have performed well at times in the past. Mitchell, in fact, went to the Pro Bowl just two years ago and has averaged 15 starts over the past four seasons. Batch owns 46 starts and has a career passer efficiency of 76.9, along with more touchdown passes (49) than interceptions (40). His passer rating over four years is better than that put up by 11 starting quarterbacks in the 2001 season. Just two years ago, the Lions signed Batch to a six-year extension that included a $10 million signing bonus so, clearly, someone felt he could play. The only negative for Batch is that he may have to take a step backwards in his career in order to eventually move forward again. There are no starting jobs available now, so Batch might have to sign a one-year deal as a backup and then go into the unrestricted free agent market again next spring.

  • Despite amicable discussions between Green Bay negotiator Andy Brandt and agent Joel Segal, there appears to be no truly viable middle ground on a deal that would keep Antonio Freeman with the Packers. So look for Segal and Freeman to push for an early release, rather than dragging things out on a restructuring that isn't going to be achieved anyway. Segal knows that Keenan McCardell and Derrick Alexander will be whacked quickly by the Jaguars and Chiefs, respectively, and the bidding for the pair will not take long to escalate. Neither he nor Freeman want to be left in the wake when the waters start churning on the other cap casualties. They want to be able to toe the negotiation starting line when the other wide receivers do and, to accomplish that, they need an expeditious resolution to their talks with Packers officials. Look for Freeman, by the way, to get big-time interest from the Baltimore Ravens. Alas, the Ravens are still in salary cap jail because of an inability to restructure the contracts of linebackers Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware. By the time Baltimore clears cap room, Freeman could be signed elsewhere.

  • Only time will tell if the New Orleans Saints made a sage move in trading offensive left tackle Willie Roaf to the Kansas City Chiefs. But certainly the subtraction of Roaf, a seven-time Pro Bowl performer and one of the best left tackles in the league over the past 20 years, has translated into the addition of depth this spring. With the signing of former San Diego starting center Kendyl Jacox earlier this week, New Orleans has now brought aboard four veteran free agent linemen, all of whom have started in the NFL. And they have done so with only a modest financial investment. In fact, in terms of 2002 payouts to the four linemen -- Jacox, center Bubba Miller (Philadelphia) and tackles Victor Riley (Kansas City) and Spencer Folau (Miami) -- the Saints actually saved money over what they would have invested to keep Roaf around for another season. Roaf was scheduled to earn a base salary of $1.825 million and the Saints also owed him an option payment of $4 million, a $225,000 workout bonus and $100,000 in incidental incentives. That's a total of $6.15 million. By comparison, New Orleans will pay a total of $2.95 million in 2002 for the four free agent acquisitions. Riley signed a two-year deal worth $2.075 million. But he got a signing bonus of just $300,000 and a 2002 base salary of $525,000. His cap number for 2002 is only $675,000, the compensation for this year is $825,000, and the second year of the contract voids if Riley plays in 60 percent of the offensive snaps this year. Folau signed a two-year contract totaling $1.65 million, with $750,000 of that payable in 2002. He got a signing bonus of $200,000, a base salary of $525,000 for '02 and a $25,000 workout bonus. He is scheduled to earn a base salary of $875,000 for 2003, of which $525,000 is guaranteed. Miller, who missed the entire 2001 season after breaking his ankle in an exhibition game, signed a one-year deal for $550,000. To protect themselves against Miller not being fully rehabilitated, the Saints made the year a "split" season, meaning Miller will earn only $225,000 if he is on injured reserve. Details of the Jacox contract aren't yet available, but the five-year deal voids to two seasons, includes a $300,000 signing bonus and a base salary in 2002 of about $525,000.

  • The four deals not only saved the Saints money and created depth, but also set up some intriguing battles for starting positions. Second-round draft choice LeCharles Bentley of Ohio State is favored to fill the right guard vacancy created by the departure of starter Chris Naeole as a free agent but will have to fend off Folau among others. Jacox will get the chance to unseat either left guard Wally Williams or center Jerry Fontenot. If he beats out one of those players, the loser could be jettisoned to create salary cap room. Right now, the only two offensive line positions seemingly settled are the tackles spots, with Kyle Turley on the left side and Riley on the right.

    James Stewart
    James Stewart and the Lions are getting closer -- they say.

  • Detroit Lions president Matt Millen and tailback James Stewart both used the term "close" this week to describe where the two sides are in negotiations to restructure the contract of the veteran runner. But, as usual, "close" is a very relative qualifier. Fact is, the sides are no closer to an agreement that would grant the Lions salary cap relief than they were the night before the draft. Why? Because the Lions have demonstrated no urgency to close a deal. As noted in this space last week, the Lions last month suggested a restructuring in which Stewart would reduce his 2002 base salary from $4.15 million to $2.5 million (with $1.5 million of that guaranteed), and drop his scheduled 2003 base salary of $4.9 million to $3 million. Dye countered with a deal in which Stewart would get a $1.5 million signing bonus, a base salary of $1.5 million for 2002 and $3 million for 2003. The counter left the sides just $500,000 apart over two years, but Dye has yet to have a substantive discussion with Lions officials since then, and it isn't for lack of trying on his part. One reason might be that Lions vice president Tom Lewand, who is working the deal, has been busy with details over the team's new downtown stadium. Another is that Lewand hasn't been able to pin down Millen on how he wants to structure a deal. There seems to be a basic desire to keep Stewart in Detroit, but the Lions need to get something done. By the way, in response to a note last week, Lions vice president Kevin Warren phoned to say that the team did make a contract proposal to free agent tailback Robert Holcombe, who signed instead last week with the Tennessee Titans.

  • While the Lions keep running in cement with the Stewart negotiations, it appears there is solid progress in terms of completing a restructured deal for defensive tackle Luther Elliss. He is due a base salary of $4.4 million for 2002 and carries a lofty cap value of $6.628 million for the year. If his deal is reworked, and it seems it will be, Elliss will become the second member of the Detroit front four to provide the team some salary cap relief. Last month, ESPN.com reported that defensive end Robert Porcher restructured his contract, and also extended the deal by a year (through 2004), dropping his cap charge from $6.749 million to $4.582 million.

  • Tight end Jay Riemersma wants to remain with the Buffalo Bills but there are limits to the accommodations he will make to his contract to provide the team cap relief. Coming off the best statistical season of his career, the five-year veteran is scheduled to earn a base salary of $2.525 million in 2002 on a deal that runs through 2003. Agent Jack Wirth and Buffalo general manager Tom Donahoe have discussed on several occasions a new, four-year contract, but it would mean reducing Riemersma's compensation this season to about $1.6 million. The Buffalo proposal calls for a two-tiered signing bonus, in which the Bills would have to pay Riemersma a second signing bonus next spring to exercise the option on the 2003-2005 seasons. Riemersma and Wirth, though, are opposed to such a structure and the talks are now at an impasse. Since new offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride relies heavily on two-tight end formations -- Riemersma would play the classic position with free agent acquisition Dave Moore as an H-back -- it's likely the Bills will not release Riemersma to help their cap situation. To do so might be a step backwards for a team on the rise, particularly since new quarterback Drew Bledsoe likes to throw to the tight end so much, as evidenced by the big years Ben Coates once had in New England. Should the Bills decide they can't afford Riemersma financially, however, he probably would find pretty good interest even in a bad free agent market. Miami and Cleveland are both said to be closely monitoring the Riemersma situation. The Browns, at least under their former football regime, pursued Riemersma ardently in the free agent market two years ago. In fact, Cleveland made a better offer than the one Riemersma eventually signed to remain with the Bills.

  • The New York Jets gambled earlier this spring that brittle offensive guard Dave Szott, whose once-superb career has been marred by injuries the past few seasons, would stay healthy. This week, the dice came up snake-eyes when Szott sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament, an injury that will sideline him for the season, and at age 34 could well end his 12-year career. New York signed Szott to a three-year, $4.6 million contract and, counting the signing bonus and base salary, is on the hook for about $1.5 million in 2002. That's hardly good news for a team tight up against the salary cap. More significant, it further thins an offensive line unit already unsettled. Szott was to have filled the vacancy at left guard created with the exit of Kerry Jenkins (to Tampa Bay) in free agency. That spot will probably now be taken by the untested J.P. Machado. At center, Kevin Mawae continues to rehabilitate from recent shoulder surgery, and might not be ready for the start of training camp. The experiment at tackle, with Jason Fabini moving from the left side to the right and second-year pro Kareem McKenzie inheriting the left tackle spot, still looks a little shaky. And, of course, this is a line being counted upon to protect quarterback Vinny Testaverde, coming off foot surgery at age 38. Add to all of this one forgotten bit of information: Offensive line coach Bill Muir, one of the best in the NFL at his position, departed during the offseason to go to Tampa Bay.

  • Some eyebrows have been raised because of the absence of St. Louis starting strong safety Adam Archuleta from offseason workouts. None of those eyebrows, however, belong to Rams coaches. One reason the Rams chose Archuleta in the first round of the 2001 draft was because of the conditioning work he did with his personal trainer. That work has continued during the offseason and a coach who recently saw Archuleta described him as being in "fabulous" shape. There are no offseason workout bonuses in Archuleta's contract so he isn't blowing off any incentive money. Archuleta flew to St. Louis on Friday for a weekend camp and will probably stay a few weeks.

  • Look for the New York Giants to sign free agent defensive tackle Christian Peter, released by the Indianapolis Colts earlier this spring, sometime before camp begins. The five-year veteran played the first four seasons of his career for the Giants before signing with the Colts last spring. His return to New York after a one-year absence would provide the Giants a solid performer for their interior rotation. Almost as important, it would give the team some flexibility in the event the Giants decide to release defensive end Kenny Holmes, one of the biggest free agent disappointments of the 2001 campaign, to create some much-needed salary cap room. Dumping Holmes, who had just 3½ sacks in '01, isn't likely right now. But if New York subsequently decides to do so, it probably would precipitate the move of tackle Cornelius Griffin outside to right end. And that would make Peter even more significant in the grand scheme of things.

  • Two weeks ago in this space, we suggested the Chicago Bears would pursue a veteran defensive end, preferably one with proven upfield pass-rush skills. This week Chicago made a solid move in signing free agent Keith McKenzie, who played the past two years with the Cleveland Browns, to a two-year contract worth $2.85 million. McKenzie will probably be a situational, third-down player, and he has demonstrated the ability to come hard off the edge and compress the pocket. He's a good insurance policy in case starting left end Bryan Robinson suffers any complications in his rehabilitation from the two fractured wrists he recently suffered when he tripped over his dog. He also provides the team some time to develop young pass rushers Karon Riley and Alex Brown without having to rush either of them. But there is this caveat: McKenzie missed considerable playing time in 2001 because of an ankle injury and at least one team which visited with him in recent weeks failed him on its physical exam.

  • Baltimore has quietly contacted the representative for free agent running back Dorsey Levens, yet the latest sign that personnel chief Ozzie Newsome won't get caught minus a veteran backup to Jamal Lewis this year. The Ravens also have some interest in Ricky Watters, but the veteran tailback remains adamant that he won't play in 2002 for just a minimum base salary of $750,000. Levens also remains on the radar screen for Eagles coach Andy Reid, who is in no hurry yet to replace Correll Buckhalter, who will miss the entire '02 season following recent knee surgery.

  • There has been plenty of debate about the Carolina Panthers' decision to select North Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers over cornerback Quentin Jammer of Texas in the first round of this year's draft. And with the recent one-year suspension of Carolina cornerback Rashard Anderson for a repeat violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy, the rhetoric is sure to grow even louder. But this reminder: Panthers rookie head coach John Fox, as the New York Giants' defensive coordinator in 2000, helped take the team to Super Bowl XXXV with a starting cornerback tandem comprised of a declining Jason Sehorn and mediocre Dave Thomas. No small accomplishment there. Yeah, the Panthers cornerbacks are pretty bad. But as a schemer and designer, Fox is pretty good, so perhaps his defensive doodlings will compensate for the deficiencies of players like Terry Cousin and DeRon Jenkins. Wishful thinking, maybe, but Fox has worked mini-miracles before.

  • The season-ending knee injury sustained last weekend by Tampa Bay Bucs reserve quarterback Joe Hamilton, while playing for the Frankfurt Galaxy in the NFL Europe League, prompted a call to ESPN.com from agent Brooks Henderson to laud the Kansas City Chiefs for their treatment of an injured client. Wide receiver Dave Klemic, playing for the Barcelona Dragons, suffered a compound fracture of his leg several weeks ago. The injury was so severe, Klemic was unable to endure a flight home, so the Chiefs sent their team doctor to Barcelona to supervise the surgery. "I can't say enough good things about how the Chiefs organization handled things," Henderson said. "They were first-class all the way with Dave and we're very appreciative."

  • The Bailey family of Folkston, Ga., has already turned out one first-round choice in Champ Bailey, the top pick of the Washington Redskins in the '99 draft and regarded now as one of the NFL's premier cornerbacks. But the family could double its fun and its fortune next spring with another first-round possibility. Boss Bailey, who plays at the University of Georgia as did his brother, is the top-rated senior linebacker prospect in the country, according to the ratings by National Football Scouting, Inc. He is rated slightly ahead of E.J. Henderson of Maryland and Syracuse's Clifton Smith and, at 6-feet-4 and 218 pounds displays great athleticism. Bailey missed all but one play of the 2000 season after blowing out his knee, but bounced back in '01 to have a solid campaign, notching 65 tackles, a sack, two interceptions, five passes defensed and 10 quarterback pressures.

  • The University of Hawaii could have a first-round prospect for the second year in a row. While his name hasn't appeared on any of those early "draftnik" lists yet, the top-rated senior interior offensive lineman by National Football Scouting is Vince Manuwai, a very strong in-line blocker about whom Rainbows coach June Jones raves. "He is easily the best lineman I've ever had, at any level, better than anyone we had when I was the head coach in Atlanta (1994-96)," Jones told ESPN.com. "Because he's a guard-center player, he probably won't be taken in the top half of the first round, but he's going to be in the first round somewhere, believe me." Hawaii wide receiver Ashley Lelie, of course, was a first-round choice, by Denver, in this year's draft. Jones said he feels the Rainbows might have as many as six first-round prospects in the next three years.

  • No, that wasn't a misprint you saw in the "transactions" sections of your local sports page on Friday morning. The Washington Redskins did indeed sign wide receiver Leslie Shepherd, a seven-year veteran who hasn't played in the NFL since 2000, to a one-year contract. But the contract was just a technicality, signed so that Shepherd, who enjoyed some solid seasons in Washington before moving on the Cleveland (1999) and Miami (2000), could officially retire as a Redskins player. Yeah, the Redskins are still looking for one more veteran wide receiver before camp. But it won't be Shepherd.

  • There figures to be quite a battle in the Oakland Raiders' training camp for the No. 3 wide receiver spot behind starters Tim Brown and Jerry Rice. The team would prefer that third-year veteran Jerry Porter, a second-round pick in the 2000 draft, seize the job and he will be afforded every opportunity to do so. But the spot won't be handed to him, that's for sure. Still onhand is speedy but inconsistent veteran James Jett. Plus the Raiders recently signed veteran free agent Matthew Hatchette. And in the NFL Europe League, young and talented wide receiver Marcus Knight is among the leading pass catchers. Knight doesn't run very well but makes some acrobatic catches and is beginning to gain lots of self-confidence. Brown, by the way, has twice agreed to minor restructuring of his contract this spring to help the team's cap situation.

  • Punts: The Rams are still seeking to add a pass-rushing defensive end and veteran Chris Slade appears to be the favorite to fill that spot. Slade is no youngster anymore, at age 31, but he still has some quickness and moves well on artificial surfaces. ... Free agent Tony Banks recently underwent surgery on his hand and, while relatively minor, that's not a good thing for a quarterback looking for work. ... Don't look for San Francisco to cut veteran defensive lineman Junior Bryant, who probably will never play again because of a neck injury, in the first wave of post-June 1 cap casualties. In fact, Bryant may be kept on the roster into the season. ... Linebacker Jamir Miller, coming off a Pro Bowl season, has been skipping the Cleveland Browns "voluntary" workout sessions. Team officials surmise that Banks is protesting the refusal of the team to upgrade his contract. ... The Redskins may re-sign offensive lineman Matt Campbell, released this week by Houston. Campbell started five games for the Redskins in 2001 but was plucked by the Texans in the expansion draft three months ago. ... Vecepia Towery, the $1 million winner in the latest "Survivor" series, is the aunt of Dallas Cowboys first-round safety Roy Williams. ... Redskins coaches like the work of former University of Florida wideout Jacquez Green in the team's offseason program. But they are privately raving over the performance of Kevin Lockett as well. ... Redefining refurbishing: The Jacksonville roster now includes only 11 players who were with the team for the 1999 AFC championship game.

    Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

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