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Bengals Designate Franchise Player

February 12, 1998

CINCINNATI (AP) _ The Cincinnati Bengals designated defensive lineman Dan Wilkinson as their franchise player Wednesday, a move that upset the former No. 1 draft pick.

Wilkinson, the top overall pick in the 1994 draft, wanted a multi-year contract to stay in Cincinnati. The Bengals’ decision means he will stay another year for less than he had sought _ the club was required to offer him $3 million as its franchise player.

The decision also restricts his freedom as a free agent. Another team can offer more, but would have to give up two first-round draft picks to lure Wilkinson away _ a prohibitive price.

``He wasn’t happy about it and really doesn’t want to discuss it any further,″ said James Gould, Wilkinson’s agent.

The move came one day after the Bengals agreed to a five-year, $15 million contract with receiver Darnay Scott. Gould said the Bengals had not talked to him about Wilkinson’s contract for 12 days.

Gould thinks the Bengals chose to use their leverage rather than negotiate.

``I think the tag is extremely harmful to Dan and the club because it creates ill will,″ Gould said. ``It sends a very bad message to other people considering coming in to play in this town.

``My feeling is this is a very bad thing for the club. I don’t view it the way (team president) Mike Brown does. What everybody’s got to realize is this is a very significant, calculated risk on their part.″

Katie Blackburn, the Bengals’ general counsel, said the team views the franchise tag as an opportunity for Wilkinson.

``I think it’s a sign you want to keep the player around. Basically, that’s why you do it,″ she said. ``We tried to work out a deal with them. Right or wrong, we didn’t get to a deal.

``In my mind, this is a positive for Dan, too. If he has a really good year, he has a chance to get an even better deal, whereas now he’s coming off an average year.″

Wilkinson got a $5 million signing bonus under his old contract, which averaged $2.4 million over four years. His base salary last season was $1.7 million.

He had his best season in 1996, when he started every game as a tackle and led the team in sacks with 6.5.

Last season, the Bengals switched to a three-man line as part of Dick LeBeau’s blitz-zone defense and Wilkinson struggled, getting five sacks but only 24 tackles and 10 assists _ 14th on the team.

Gould said he would probably ask the team to trade Wilkinson, a request it’s sure to reject.

``The Bengals have the right to remove (the franchise label) any time they want to,″ Gould said. ``I suggest strongly that’s what they do.″

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