Bengals likely to match Packers' offer

The Cincinnati Bengals have given every indication of matching Green Bay's offer for restricted free agent linebacker Armegis Spearman. Though Spearman would remain a backup in Cincinnati, new head coach Marvin Lewis wants him to remain with the Bengals.<p>

"Coach Lewis said he's trying to build a team with the best possible players," Spearman told the Bengals web site. "He said the best players are going to play no matter the money. I was looking forward to getting the chance in Green Bay, but either way I'm happy. It's a great contract, and Coach Lewis is a proven guy looking to change things around."

Lewis was unsure Thursday if the Bengals are going to match. Cincinnati recently signed free agent middle linebacker Kevin Hardy to a contract that averages about $4 million a year. Spearman would mainly play behind Hardy and back up veteran Brian Simmons at weakside linebacker.

"That's not his option," Lewis said about Spearman's chance to start in Green Bay. "That's the team's option under this system. We're trying to get as many good players as we can get. We'll look at it, make a decision, and quickly."

The Packers have never signed a restricted free agent to an offer sheet prior to Thursday. Green Bay has lost four players in restricted free agency – running back Vince Workman (1993), wide receiver Corey Harris (1995), wide receiver Charles Jordan (1996) and safety Matt Bowen to the Washington Redskins on Tuesday.

Spearman, who turns 25 on April 5, was discovered by Mark Duffner, a former defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Cincinnati before coming to Green Bay in January. The 6-foot-1, 252 pound Spearman has started in 11 of 22 games, but those 11 starts came in 2000 when Simmons was injured.

David Levine, Spearman's agent, indicated the offer is more than $850,000 per year. It reportedly includes a signing bonus of $550,000. Spearman earned $300,000 last year.

"I very much appreciate what the Bengals have done for me. They gave me a chance," said Spearman, the only undrafted player on the 2000 "Football News," All-Rookie team. "But after they signed Kevin Hardy and gave him $4 million a year, it's obvious where I would be.

"In Green Bay, I'd be going with a coach I know, the scheme won't change, and I'd be the starter."

Last week, the Packers lured fullback Nick Luchey away from the Bengals with a six-year, $6 million contract.

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