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Bengals Sign LB Kevin Hardy

March 8, 2003

CINCINNATI (AP) _ Linebacker Kevin Hardy signed a four-year contract with Cincinnati on Friday, perhaps signaling the Bengals are ready to cut ties with linebacker Takeo Spikes.

Spikes, the Bengals’ leading tackler in four of his five seasons, signed an offer sheet Friday with the Buffalo Bills. The Bengals have a week to match the offer. Team spokesman Jack Brennan said they would study it and had no further comment.

Hours later, the Bengals announced they signed Hardy, an unrestricted free agent who played strong side linebacker for Dallas last season. Terms of his contract were not released.

The 6-foot-4, 259-pound Hardy, an eight-year veteran, was third on the Cowboys with 114 tackles in 2002. He also had two sacks and three forced fumbles.

Hardy, 29, played in Jacksonville from 1996-2001, earning Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in 1999 with 10 1/2 sacks. He has 21 of his 30 1/2 career sacks in the last four seasons.

``Kevin is a guy who has been All-Pro and who was a key player on a team (Jacksonville) that went to two AFC championship games,″ Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. ``He’s been where we want to go, and he has an opportunity to be a great leader for us.″

Lewis had been urging Spikes to stay with the Bengals, but the team’s emotional leader took a step Friday to do what he said he wanted most _ get out of Cincinnati.

Spikes told reporters Thursday he was keeping his fingers crossed that the Bills would make him an offer. He was the Bengals’ transition player, ensuring that the team could match any offer by tendering him a one-year, $4.8 million deal.

On Friday, Buffalo gave him that offer.

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