Broncos, Bengals swap draft positions

Convinced that they can land a player of comparable value even later in the opening stanza, the Cincinnati Bengals traded spots in the first round of the draft Friday with the Denver Broncos.

In exchange for moving back seven spots, from No. 17 overall to 24th, the Bengals received four-year veteran corner Deltha O'Neal and the Broncos' fourth-round choice. Denver officials considered it a palatable price to pay for making a significant move upward in the first round.

The departure of O'Neal, a former first-round pick who had fallen into disfavor with coach Mike Shanahan, is hardly surprising. O'Neal's stock dropped so much in the second half of the '03 season that he was switched to wide receiver. Shanahan hinted at the league meetings last week that he had a team interested in the cornerback.

O'Neal, 27, was adamant about playing cornerback and he certainly will have an opportunity to resurrect his career at the position in Cincinnati. The Bengals, seeking to acquire a veteran cornerback to pair with starter Tory James, were unsuccessful in recent attempts to land unrestricted free agents Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor.

If they can rehabilitate O'Neal, who was named to the AFC Pro Bowl squad in 2001, they will have secured the kind of big, physical corner preferred by coach Marvin Lewis and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

There were three seasons remaining on O'Neal's original contract with the Broncos, but he has agreed to a new, five-year deal with the Bengals that runs through the 2008 season. Details of that contract were not yet available.

Cincinnati executives concluded during their draft meetings that the upper echelon prospects likely will be gone by the 17th position on April 24. Their rationale is that they can get essentially a player of equal value with the 24th choice.

O'Neal started 30 games in 2001-2002 and had 14 interceptions, including nine in 2001. But he lost his starting job last season, starting just six times, and recorded only 22 tackles and one interception. He's the latest example of how poorly Shanahan and the Broncos have evaluated defensive back prospects.

For his career, O'Neal has 164 tackles, 15 interceptions and 39 passes defensed in 61 appearances and 36 starts. A dangerous kick returner, he has averaged 22.6 yards on 55 kickoff returns and 10.4 yards on 128 punt runbacks.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.