PHOENIX -- The Cincinnati Bengals declared themselves free agents yesterday.
Mike Brown, the owner of the Cininnati Bengals, said at the annual NFL owners meetings that the city of Cincinnati has breached his team's lease with a late payment and he is free to move at the end of the 1995 season -- or any other for that matter.
"We can send them a letter at the end of any year and tell them it's over and leave," Brown said. "We feel we now have the option to terminate. We didn't have that option before."
Would Brown consider moving the team to Baltimore? "We're aware there are alternatives. Whether Baltimore would be one I don't know. Maybe it would be."
Baltimore is the only city in the country that has the funding in place to build an open-air, football-only stadium, although the Maryland legislature has considered pulling the funding.
Brown has been sympathetic to Baltimore in the past and voted against the Redskins' proposed move to Laurel -- which now appears to be in jeopardy -- on the grounds that the Redskins could have either Washington or Baltimore, but not both.
Brown said Cincinnati failed to meet a Feb. 28 deadline that called for a $1.2 million payment in lieu of renovations to Riverfront Stadium and almost $900,000 in concession money.
"We told them we needed it within our fiscal year for accounting purposes and tax purposes . . . and they just said 'details, details,' " Brown said.
The city made the first payment, but was late on the concession money and still hasn't paid the interest on the late money. When Brown extended his lease through 1999, the city agreed to renovate Riverfront and have a new stadium under construction by the year 2000. It has yet to do the former, although Brown conceded the city would argue the lease hasn't been breached.
Orioles owner Peter Angelos said the Bengals would get a warm welcome in Baltimore.
"We would urge him strongly to consider a relocation of the Bengals to Baltimore, which is acknowledged by everyone to be a premier location for an NFL team. We'd be interested in talking to him whenever he is prepared to do so," Angelos said.
Angelos also predicted that with the support of Gov. Parris N. Glendening and several key members of the legislature, the funding will remain in place for a stadium in Baltimore.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are free to move after the 1996 season if a new stadium isn't built there although Joel Glazer, the son of owner Malcolm Glazer, said yesterday that Tampa is committed to building a new one.
NOTES: The Bucs' sale to the Glazer family was approved by the finance committee yesterday and is expected to be approved by the owners. . . . Commissioner Paul Tagliabue met privately with Rams vice president John Shaw regarding the Rams' proposed move to St. Louis.