Last week the 227-pound Carter signed a contract for $19.2 million over seven years. Extraordinary numbers, to be sure, but consider what lies ahead for him. Carter must be asking himself whether—like Ricky Bell, who was sentenced to begin his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers two decades ago—he will be used up before the hapless Bengals turn the corner.
Summoning his best diplomatic voice Carter says, "When a team picks Number 1, it's not going to have every aspect of the team in great shape. I mean, you'd like to run behind a line like San Francisco's or Dallas's. As for artificial turf, you hear horror stories about what it does to your legs and your feet, although it will make me faster. I have concerns. I do wonder how long my career will last. But when you think positive, positive things happen."
"One of the key things is predicting how a player's going to do when, at 21, he's financially set for life," says Bengal coach David Shula. "We're confident Ki-Jana's going to stay focused."
So is Carter. "The glory of being the top pick is over," he says. "I'm just some snot-nosed rookie now."
Carter's head seems to be in good shape. Keeping the rest of him in one piece will be the Bengals' toughest chore. Cincinnati had counted on linemen Dave Cadigan and Eric Moore to provide some stability up front, but Cadigan unexpectedly retired two weeks ago and Moore, a restricted free agent, is expected to sign with the New Orleans Saints. That leaves a couple of marginal pickups, tackle Kevin Sargent and guard Rich Braham, to man the left side. Center Darrick Brilz and guard Bruce Kozerski are solid starters, but 33-year-old right tackle Joe Walter is coming off his second reconstructive knee operation. "If we get anybody on the line hurt, we're in trouble," says offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet. Comforting words in July.
On the field Carter is explosive. With thighs like redwoods and the mentality of a shifty back, he is the type of runner who can make something out of nothing. And he'll have plenty of opportunity to prove it.
7 So, what's up with Deion?
For the answer, turn the page.