Antonio Bryant and the Cincinnati Bengals came to "a verbal agreement" Wednesday, the wide receiver's agent told the team's Web site, and the move might preclude the club from adding Terrell Owens.
For the second year in a row, the Bengals tried to find a complement for Chad Ochocinco, their only receiver with appreciable experience. Ochocinco had lobbied for Owens, who was in town Wednesday to meet team officials, but the Bengals closed in on Bryant, who visited one day earlier and left without a deal in place.
Bryant's agent, Lamont Smith, didn't return a phone call from The Associated Press on Wednesday, but he told the Bengals' Web site early in the day that the sides were "very close" to a deal. The Web site later reported that the team was only waiting on Bryant's paperwork to be faxed back.
According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Bryant agreed to a four-year, $28 million contract. However, the Enquirer reported, the Bengals hadn't officially announced the deal because of the paperwork, plus coach Marvin Lewis is out of town for competition committee meetings.
Bryant, 29, had career highs with 83 catches for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008. He had torn cartilage in his left knee repaired during training camp last season, and knee problems limited him to 39 catches for 600 yards with four touchdowns.
Finding an experienced receiver was the Bengals' top priority in free agency. They lost T.J. Houshmandzadeh to the Seattle Seahawks in free agency a year ago and signed Laveranues Coles to a four-year contract, expecting him to fill the gap. Coles struggled to blend in and was released after only one season.
After meeting with Bryant on Tuesday, the Bengals welcomed Owens, who has the same agent as Ochocinco and was interested in being paired with his friend in Cincinnati. He flew into Cincinnati on Tuesday afternoon and had dinner with Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, then met with team owner Mike Brown and assistant coaches Wednesday.
Ochocinco was excited about the possibility of the Bengals adding Owens, tweeting to him that they would be like Batman and Robin in Cincinnati. When he heard of the Bengals' intensified negotiations with Bryant on Wednesday, Ochocinco tweeted congratulations and wondered if there was any way of still signing Owens, who's 36.
After his visit, Owens thanked the Bengals for their interest and tweeted Ochocinco: "I'm en route back 2 LA imagining wht WE could hv done 2gether!! Holy delta skymiles Robin! U talk about unstoppable!!"
Owens' production has declined in each of his last two seasons. He had 69 catches for 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns with the Dallas Cowboys in 2008, then dropped off to 55 catches for 829 yards with five touchdowns for the Buffalo Bills last season.
The Bengals also need help at tight end. On Wednesday, they re-signed backup tight end Dan Coats, who became a free agent when his contract expired at the end of the season. Coats played in all 17 games last season and caught 16 passes for 150 yards.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.