Sunday, April 20, 2003
QB Palmer still the Bengals' choice
By Len Pasquarelli
The Cincinnati Bengals might now be confronted by a scenario they had hoped to avoid.Cincy still wants Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer, but the Bengals are hung up over differences involving the so-called "backside" issues of a contract, those elements that dramatically inflate the value of a deal if the prospect reaches predetermined performance benchmarks. And Cincinnati is heading into the final days preceding the draft without an agreement in place with the first overall selection. Despite rampant speculation the Bengals have some surreptitious plan to select a player other than Palmer, there are pretty solid suggestions that the Southern California quarterback is still their preference. And this weekend has only added to that body of circumstantial evidence. Team officials apprised the agents for all three players with whom they are talking about being the first pick -- Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich and cornerback Terence Newman of Kansas State, along with Palmer - and added that they planned to proceed quickly with the hope to finish a deal over the weekend. But there were no substantive talks Friday night. Expecting to resume negotiations on Saturday at some point, Leftwich's agent, Tom Condon, had still not heard from the Bengals by mid-evening. The team dispatched an e-mail to David Ware, who represents Newman, informing him they were in draft meetings and would pick up talks with him Monday morning. That left the possibility that the Cincinnati tag-team of executive vice president Katie Blackburn and director of business development Troy Blackburn, her husband, were deep in negotiations with David Dunn, the agent for Palmer. Even if that is the case, the Blackburns have young children and, thus, some likely Easter festivities. More important, from a negotiating standpoint, are the problems that all sides are having in addressing "backside" elements. The Bengals want to be more restrictive on those components of a deal, to perhaps delay until later in the contract elements like "escalator" clauses, and related enhancements. The importance of "backside" elements: The deal signed by last spring's first overall selection, Houston Texans quarterback David Carr, is a base contract valued by the NFL Players' Association at about $21.5 million for seven years. But with the "backside" enhancements, the union appraises the deal at as much as $47.25 million for six years, or seven years at $58 million. Citing the "flat" rookie pool, which means teams will only be able to invest as much on their 2003 rookie classes as they did a year ago, the Bengals have been adamant about using the basic Carr contract as a model. But it is believed they want to adjust some of the "backside" details. What is also notable is Cincinnati has made no firm contract offers to Leftwich or Newman, and the simple explanation is: Both players are apt to quickly accept a proposal, rather than be drafted a bit later in the first round, where the financial payout will be less. If Leftwich isn't the Bengals' choice at the top perch, for instance, he could slide all the way to the 10th slot in the first round. In the 2002 draft, the 10th spot paid, on average, 40 percent less than top one. So the odds are good that Leftwich and Condon would take the Carr deal, if just tweaked a bit, enough to permit them to demonstrate they received at least a modest increase. Even applying a 25- to 30-percent discount that the Bengals would expect from Newman, because he does not play quarterback, he would probably jump at a reasonable offer and the opportunity to have the prestige of being the first player off the board. But, at least for Newman and Leftwich, there have been no firm offers from Cincinnati officials. Ware was asked last week to submit a proposal dealing with "backside" issues. Condon on Thursday sent the Bengals a complete proposal but the Bengals have yet to respond to it. Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.