Bengals match Packers' offer

Green Bay came up short in its first ever attempt to lure a restricted free agent away from another team when the Cincinnati Bengals today matched the Packers' offer for linebacker Armegis Spearman.<p>

Spearman signed an offer sheet with the Packers last Thursday with a golden opportunity to start at middle linebacker. He told Bengals new head coach Marvin Lewis that he would skip the club's voluntary workouts if Cincinnati matches the Packers' offer and will go back to classes at the University of Mississippi because he doesn't want to return to Cincinnati as a backup. But Lewis, who lost free agent fullback Nick Luchey to the Packers a week ago, feels Spearman can still help the Bengals, so he matched the Packers three-year contract that included a $550,000 signing bonus.

"It's very positive for Armegis to have someone else pursue his services, but we think it's in our best interest to match the offer and retain him," Lewis told "I've scouted him as an opposing coach, and I think he's got a very bright future."

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.

The Packers lost outside linebacker Nate Wayne to the Philadelphia Eagles last week and are not interested in re-signing veteran Hardy Nickerson. The Eagles also are reportedly in pursuit of restricted free agent linebacker Na'il Diggs, the only starter from last year currently on Green Bay's roster.

The Packers may pursue New Orleans' Charlie Clemons, who visited Green Bay early in free agency, or Detroit's Chris Claiborne. Both unrestricted free agents, however, may be asking for more money than the Packers can afford.

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