Saturday, April 29, 2000

Goodbye, Carl, and good riddance




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        Carl Pickens has been excused. His scowling presence will not be required at the Cincinnati Bengals' mini-camp this weekend. His days with the franchise can finally be numbered in single digits.

        The Bengals are ready to release their cranky, record-setting wideout and have ended the silly charade that he might resurface in some three-receiver set. They have abandoned hope of trading him, and arrived at the overdue conclusion that it's time to cut their losses.

        Pending a proposed settlement with the National Football League Players Association, Pickens should be free to pollute some other team's chemistry as early as next week.

        His locker at Spinney Field has already been cleaned out. His name has been removed from the roster and deleted from the depth chart. His prickly presence is no longer a problem.

        Pickens is the most accomplished receiver in Bengals history. He caught 530 passes during his Cincinnati career, 63 of them for touchdowns. He had sure hands, broad reach and a spring in his step that enabled him to reach altitudes few cornerbacks could contemplate. At his best, Pickens was harder to cover than a pimple on prom night. “He's been a very good player,” said Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of pro/college personnel. “You've got to give him that.”

        The problem with Carl Pickens was never his ability. It was always his attitude. When the Bengals drafted him out of Tennessee, they rationalized that Pickens had so much talent that they could overlook his temperament. When reporters found Pickens cantankerous, colleagues would say he was simply a passionate competitor. When he publicly embarrassed teammates or coaches — most notably Bruce Coslet — it was usually forgiven as frustration.

        Only when Pickens started losing steps did the Bengals seem concerned with how much damage his example might do. Only in the last year did a consensus develop that he was more trouble than he was worth.

        “I think that's been blown way out of proportion,” Bengals tight end Tony McGee said Friday. “For the most part, if you talk to guys on a one-on-one basis, they'll tell you Carl was a really good guy.”

        Still, in the days preceding the April 15 draft, Bengal coaches would stop by Lippincott's office as they reported to work, stick their head inside the door, and ask if he had managed to move Pickens. Friday, a reporter suggested that Lippincott release some white smoke upon Pickens' departure. “Like when they elect a Pope?” he asked.

        The Bengals were so determined to replace Pickens that they selected wide receivers with their first and third choices in the draft. They continued to claim he could still fit in, but this was pure posturing. If Peter Warrick and Ron Dugans had not made Pickens expendable, the coaches' desire to isolate the rookies from his influence would have.

        There was always the chance some desperate, depleted team might spend a draft choice on Pickens instead of waiting for him to get cut. There was always the chance Pickens would violate his contract by failing to attend a mandatory camp, and thereby provide the club with the legal grounds to seek a partial refund of his $3.5 million bonus.

        Yet the Bengals' best hope here — and the reason Pickens has not yet been released — is the chance to settle a union grievance that could strip the club of its ability to designate “franchise” players for the remaining four years of his contract.

        Pickens remains with the Bengals now only as a bargaining chip. With any luck, he will soon be a memory.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at tsullivan@enquirer.com

Bengals finally give up on Pickens
Warrick here, agent not