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NFL

Bengals: Top pick will be signed

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 23, 2003

CINCINNATI -- Coach Marvin Lewis insists the Bengals will have the top pick in the draft signed to a contract before the first round begins Saturday.

The agent for quarterback Carson Palmer arrived in Cincinnati on Monday for negotiations. The team and agent David Dunn reportedly were at odds over how to structure a deal.

Dunn didn't return phone messages Tuesday.

"We've had very productive discussions," Lewis said.

Although they have singled out Palmer for face-to-face discussions, the Bengals are keeping in touch with the agents of quarterback Byron Leftwich and cornerback Terence Newman.

David Ware, who represents Newman, talked to the Bengals on Tuesday. He declined to characterize their discussions.

The Bengals had the three players in Cincinnati for interviews this month and had preliminary contract talks with all three last week before settling on Palmer, considered the front-runner all along.

If the Bengals reach a roadblock in talks with Palmer, they could turn to one of the others to try to get a deal. The Bengals were interested in trading down, but haven't found a suitable partner.

Last year, the Bengals were mocked during ESPN's broadcast for taking tackle Levi Jones with the 10th overall pick instead of trading down and trying to get him at a lower spot.

Lewis, who got the Bengals' job in January, is aware of the team's reputation for draft-day ineptitude. He doesn't want ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman making jokes at his team's expense this weekend.

"I guess Chris can make jokes about somebody else," Lewis said. "I think we will displace another myth here. That's good. Come September, we'll displace some other ones."

In other news, fourth-year receiver Danny Farmer re-signed, agreeing to a one-year deal.

NEW GM TAKES OVER FOR FRIEND: A.J. Smith knew this day would come, just not under these circumstances.

Smith was promoted to general manager of the Chargers, 11 days after longtime friend and colleague John Butler died of cancer.

"There's only 32 jobs like this, and it's pretty special when you're named the general manager of a team," Smith said at a news conference during a break in preparations for this weekend's draft.

"I'm standing here with the San Diego Chargers, which makes it very, very special for me because I get an opportunity to continue the work of a dear friend of mine for a long, long time, John Butler."

Smith and Butler worked together for 21 seasons, starting with the USFL's Chicago Blitz in the early 1980s. Smith was Butler's right-hand man with the Buffalo Bills and the Chargers.

Butler, 56, died of lymphoma on April 11. He was originally diagnosed with lung cancer July 4.

Considered one of the NFL's best talent evaluators, Butler helped build Buffalo's four Super Bowl teams of the 1990s. After his eight-year run as GM ended in a money dispute with owner Ralph Wilson in December 2000, he took over a Chargers team that had gone 1-15. Under Butler, the Chargers went 5-11 and 8-8.

Butler brought Smith from the Bills as assistant GM and director of pro personnel.

"John built the foundation for the Chargers, no question about that," Smith said. "And what I hope to do is build something very special on top of that foundation."

MORE CHARGERS: Starting quarterback Drew Brees had surgery to remove calcium deposits from his right leg and is expected to be out of offseason workouts for 4-6 weeks. Brees had surgery Monday, but the team didn't announce it until a day later. He is wearing a protective boot on the leg.

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