After months of bitter relations, the Bengals on Thursday worked out a deal and released Pickens. He angered management last year with his public criticism of coach Bruce Coslet and the front office.
The team wanted to dump Pickens before opening their training camp Friday in Georgetown, Ky.
"We didn't want to leave any loose ends," Bengals president Mike Brown said.
In April, the Bengals obtained Pickens' apparent successor - Florida State wide receiver Peter Warrick - with their first-round draft pick. Warrick is penciled in as the starter in Pickens' place.
The team on Thursday terminated Pickens' contract, releasing him to free agency. It was part of the Bengals' settlement with the NFL Players Association over Cincinnati's use of the "franchise player" designation for the 30-year-old receiver.
Releasing Pickens will force the Bengals to write off $3 million against the salary cap over the next two years, Brown said.
The NFLPA dropped its grievance against the Bengals, team officials said. In exchange, the team will have use of a "transition player" tag right of first refusal in 2001 but not the franchise player tag. For 2002 and following years, the team will again be able to use the franchise player designation.
Pickens vowed to never play for the Bengals again after they used their franchise tag on him after the 1998 season. After sitting out training camp, Pickens gave in and returned on a one-year contract.
The club then gave him a five-year, $23 million deal. Pickens responded with one of his least-productive seasons, criticized the decision to bring Coslet back for 2000 and demanded a trade when the season ended.
The players association had contended that by getting Pickens to accept a one-year deal before offering the multiyear contract, the team violated the spirit of the rules.
Pickens was Cincinnati's second-round draft choice in 1992 from the University of Tennessee. In eight seasons, he set Bengals records by catching 530 career passes for 6,887 yards and 63 receiving touchdowns.
The New York Jets, among other teams, have expressed interest in Pickens.
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