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Defensive end Rashad Jeanty is now a former Eskimo after signing a two-year deal with the...

Defensive end Rashad Jeanty is now a former Eskimo after signing a two-year deal with the Cincinnati Bengals. He hopes to make the transition to outside linebacker. (Edmonton Sun File/Darryl Dyck)

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:58 AM ET

Rashad Jeanty is going to chase a dream this summer.

After nearly two weeks of contract negotiations and careful consideration, Jeanty has signed a contract with the Cincinnati Bengals, leaving a major hole in the Edmonton Eskimo defensive line.

"I'm pretty much ecstatic with a chance to fulfil my dream (to play in the NFL)," said Jeanty, who becomes the first Eskimo this year to use the option-year escape window to the NFL.

The two-year deal is worth $240,000 US per season if he cracks the roster of the defending AFC North Division champions, a far cry from the approximate $70,000 Cdn he would have made if he had remained with the Eskimos.

Needless to say, the Green and Gold would have loved for Jeanty to stay north of the border for a fourth season to anchor one side of the defensive line, but head coach Danny Maciocia isn't surprised he lost him.

"When you are born down south and you play down south (growing up), the NFL is the big dream," said Maciocia.

"And I told him exactly what I told Ricky Ray (when he jumped to the NFL): 'If it's in your gut and you feel like it's something you need to do, go and do it.'"

Although he missed nearly one quarter of the 2005 season, Jeanty still finished second on the Esks' sack list with eight. The impressive season earned him five NFL tryouts.

As an option-year player in the CFL, Jeanty had until tomorrow to ink a deal with an NFL team before the escape window closed, forcing him to stay in Edmonton for 2006. Although it may look like the 22-year-old Florida native cut it close to the wire, he actually signed the contract last Friday, but the news wasn't released until yesterday.

By signing with the Bengals, Jeanty leaves the Miami Dolphins in the cold.

After growing up on tough Miami streets, where drugs and trouble seemed to be around every corner, signing with the Fish would have been a heart-warming story.

Cincinnati and Miami were the only teams to submit contract offers, but the Bengals made the better pitch, which included an undisclosed signing bonus.

"I'd love to play at home in front of family (in Miami), but at the same time I've been in Edmonton for three years, so I don't have a problem playing away from home," continued Jeanty.

The Bengals hope to transform the University of Central Florida product from a defensive end to an outside linebacker with the ability to rush the passer.

"When you are six-three and 230 pounds, you're a tweener," said Bengals linebacker coach Ricky Hunley. "You're not really a defensive end that can take that pounding play after play. You have to be able to do the things we like to do, which is zone blitzes and drop (into coverage)."

The transformation process begins April 2 when the Bengals host a mini-camp.

About six weeks later, the Eskimos will open training camp trying to fill the large hole at defensive end.

"(Jeanty) was becoming a leader and was getting to know that position very well," said veteran linebacker Singor Mobley.

But like his head coach, Mobley believes the Esks have depth on the defensive line.

"I think Charles Alston played very well when Rashad was hurt (down the stretch last year)," Mobley continued.

As a rookie, Alston became a force in the playoffs, registering seven tackles and a sack in the West final before adding two more sacks in the Grey Cup.

However, if the Bengals cut Jeanty this summer and he clears waivers, he must return to the Eskimos.

SOUTHERN MAN

Nine Eskimos have used the option-year escape clause to sign in the NFL. They include:

2006 - Rashad Jeanty, Cincinnati

2005 - Brock Ralph, New York Jets

2005 - Jabari Issa, Kansas City

2004 - Ricky Ray, New York Jets

2003 - John Avery, Minnesota

2002 - Cordell Taylor, Carolina

2002 - Dario Romero, Miami

2001 - George Hudson, Carolina

2001 - Mark Nohra, Atlanta


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