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Answers hinge on Monday

12-28-02, 8:45 p.m.

With Bengaldom waiting for some kind of decision coming down Monday about the status of the coaching staff, everything and anything about the immediate future depends on it. And it may not be solidified for several weeks if the changes come vastly.

There seems to be something in the wind because word is Bengals President Mike Brown has yet to approach many of the assistant coaches about next year, and he usually does that at least a week or two into the season. Plus, given that he's 65, head coach Dick LeBeau could choose to retire after the season, but his comments during the year and customary vigor wouldn't indicate it.

If LeBeau doesn't stay, how many of his assistants stay? Or, do those that are retained become scouts and not coaches?

With all that in mind, here is this week's sampling of Hobson's Choice with a New Year's greeting and special thanks for writing during the busy holidays:

Merry Christmas and a happy new year to you and all of the staff Geoff!

What are the chances the Bengals draft a first round DE to compliment J. Smith, and use Steele in a rotation with Gibson and Williams like they planned to do had they signed Sam Adams.

Steele has shown he can play every down and make big plays for this team. Or, another scenario, the Bengals draft a DT in the first round, but move Steele to DE opposite J Smith, his college position. Either way, it should be obvious by now, Glen Steele deserves to be on the field more than he was before Gibson's injury. He's a true playmaker. **Matt, Cincinnati.

MATT: Thanks for the greeting and Happy New Year. Steele has been solid since Gibson went down in Baltimore Nov. 10 and the Bengals are allowing 2.9 yards per rush in the last three games. It also shows that tackle Tony Williams has also had a solid season, but they still need help and depth there.

You make a good point about the possibility of moving Steele to left end if Vaughn Booker does indeed retire and how can you deny what Steele has done?

It doesn't look like there is going to be a defensive end worthy of picking No. 1 or No. 2, but defensive tackles Jimmy Kennedy of Penn State and William Joseph of Miami are options, which could increase the odds of Steele going outside.**

Hey Geoff, Everyones talking about how Mike needs a GM and maybe Dennie Green is the man for the spot at coach or

both. But has anyone given any thought to trying to pursue Parcells. I dont think he could go to Dallas and be under Jerry's thumb, and the fact remains we need a coach and a GM. With this mans resume we could truly talk about playoffs and being respected. I think even ESPN would finally get off our backs and run with us next year. After all he said he does want to coach again, and if not him what about Jimmy Johnson? **Scott, Salt Lake City, UT

SCOTT: Brown has given no indications he's going to bring in a general manager, which would seem to preclude guys like Parcells and Johnson. Brown argues he gives his head coach virtual autonomy on personnel issues, but that probably isn't enough to lure heavy hitters who are also looking to control the salary cap and other elements of the football operation. Plus, as everyone knows, Brown isn't into splashy P.R. moves like many of his peers are.**

Hey Geoff, Happy Holidays. Keep up the great work. As you mentioned a few weeks back, the Bengals are not re-signing their free agents as they normally due. Perhaps this signals a head coach change. Head coach change or not(and I'm hoping not, stick with Dick), the Bengals are fooling themselves by not re-signing guys like Ron Dugans, Nicholas Luchey, Lorenzo Neal, Neil Rackers, Danny Farmer and Brad St. Louis right NOW. You can't lose those guys, and putting it on the back burner isn't a good sign. What are the odds we re-sign the above and the other FA's we have? **Rob, Cincinnati.

ROB: Thanks for the kind words and Happy New Year. The Bengals haven't lost a significant free agent since cornerback Ashley Ambrose and safety Sam Shade left after the 1998 season, but that could very well change now that we're into the offseason.

It's a sign of a possible coaching change, players' reluctance to get on the ship, and the team's scrutiny of a roster they thought was good enough to contend for the playoffs instead of the worst team in franchise history.

Guys like Farmer, St. Louis, Dugans, and Rackers are restricted free agents, a class that rarely gets offered but one the Bengals maintain the right to match and you figure they will match for those guys.

The only sure way the Bengals could get back Spikes is if they put the transition tag on him, which means they would have to pay him nearly $5 million in '03. They have to decide if the inside linebacker position is worth having all that money tied up (middle linebacker Brian Simmons makes $3.7 million per year)in a spot where a lot of money isn't usually spent.

And will they sign both fullbacks? Luchey's versatility and Neal's performance merit it, but that is another spot where they traditionally haven't dropped a lot of money. They will have to adjust their line of thinking if they want to keep some of these guys, and much will depend on the coaching situation. They also don't like to pay safeties, but you could argue they have never really replaced Shade and he wasn't looking for a bank-breaker.**

I am surprised by the support Jon Kitna has received this season by Bengals fans. While Kitna has proven to be valuable, particularly as a leader, I nonetheless do not see him as a long term answer at QB. He is still turnover prone, and he has not won games. He is a rhythm QB who must be in sync with his receivers to be effective, as his arm doesn't allow him to wait until the last second. But he too often loses his rhythm and throws too many interceptions.

My feeling is this: Draft Carson Palmer and groom him for a year behind Kitna. Kitna would be a great mentor for him. Palmer was terrific this year, is a far better athlete with a great arm and speed, and would be a wise long-term choice. What do the Bengals (i.e. Lippincott) think of him?

Also, is Walt Harris (U. of Pitt) still rumored to be under consideration for the Bengals Head Coaching position, if a change is made? Boomer Esiason calls him the best coach he has ever had. He is also offense oriented and has been a QB coach in the NFL. Logical choice....particularly if Palmer is drafted. **Dave, Boise, ID

DAVE: You have articulately stated the preamble of the anti-Kitna faction's philosophy that sees him only as a great backup and solid stop-gap guy. But the reason for the support is that no one since Boomer has come up with the same production and leadership at that spot, and he basically gets a Mulligan because who knows what would have happened if he had the job from the first day of minicamp? He has played well enough to take an established team to the playoffs. The Dolphins and Giants wouldn't mind him right about now.

But is he the franchise guy in the Favre-McNabb-Vick mold? No, which is why the Bengals are taking a long look at Palmer. Right now, he looks to be the only quarterback worthy of the No. 1 or No. 2 pick. The Bengals like his size, speed, and arm strength and they think he's athletic enough. He might not be an impact player right away, but they think he could be soon.

Of course, how many times do you go to the well in the first round for a quarterback?

It would seem the only way they could draft a quarterback is with a new coaching staff that isn't haunted by David Klingler or Akili Smith.

Although Harris has an offensive NFL background, Mike Brown's M.O. hasn't been to go get a college head coach, although he and his father did go get Sam Wyche after he had been out of the NFL only a year. But Mike Brown may be more likely to opt for an offensive assistant already in the league.**

Mike Brown and this staff made some terrible free agent decisions this past year. Bad boy Westbrook proved to be just that and why in the world would you agree to sign a FA QB (Frerotte) to a 1 yr deal. He would flee if he was great because it would open other doors and if he was bad we would not want him back. Will Mike ever learn to pursue THE BEST of the Free Agents with vigor. I hear he is once again showing his style offering Lo Neal a minimum raise over the mandatory salary called for. That tactic just pisses people off. Reward a guy with at least a realistically offer of a raise initially just once. **Rick, Cincinnati.

RICK: Westbrook wasn't the Bad Boy here that the media said he was in Washington. Yes, he soured quickly, but it wasn't all his fault. Things may have been different if he didn't get hurt on the third day of practice because he never got in sync with the receiver rotation and the coaches felt he had difficultly picking up the offense after he missed all that time. By all accounts, he came here with the best of intentions.

But what it does show is maybe there is something to continuity an that veteran free agents aren't always the answer. Yes, they turned out to be bad moves. They get bashed for not sticking with Kitna at quarterback, but what about the receiver derby that didn't stop until Chad Johnson's emergence in Game 5?

If they hadn't signed Frerotte and Westbrook, and just stayed the course, what would have happened?

As far as pursuing the best of the free agents, for the last three years Brown has figured they have been on his own team with Corey Dillon, Willie Anderson and Brian Simmons in signing them to long-term deals. The Bengals started out with low offers to those guys, too, but ended up hammering out something lucrative. Let's see what happens with Neal. Is a 32-year-old Pro Bowl fullback worth $1 million even though he's not always on the field? It's this opinion, with a running back like Corey Dillon, yes.**

So, Scott Covington gets his chance next Monday with the Rams. The chance he never got with the Bengals. Joe Germaine is a joke. Should have kept Covington around. He would have cost less than Frerotte. Any chance if the Rams release Covington, the Bengals make a bid to have him, Kitna and a third QB? Best wishes in 03. **Zach, Indianapolis, IN

ZACH: Same to you in '03 up in Peyton's Place. Mike Brown was Covington's biggest booster in Bengaland, but the coaches never got around to him in the three-man quarterback derbies. Covington probably wouldn't look here again after what happened, and all indications are they will go into minicamp with Kitna No. 1, Smith No. 2, Germaine No. 3, and a rookie No. 4. Unless that rookie is the first-round pick, and then you figure he's No. 2. But it looks like Germaine would start off things as the guy on the bubble, but that could change quickly with a number of factors, such as, do they draft a QB, who is the coach? ETC.**

Is there more to read into the signing of Dwayne Levels? A four year contract when most guys off the P Squad sign a one or two year contract. Perhaps this is a signal that Armegis Spearman won't be re-signed? Spearman would probably ask for too much money at a LB spot we were have invested lots of money(Simmons, Foley, Ross, Curtis have gotten nice extentions, hopefully Spikes too) and he has been on IR the past two years. It also seems like a sign that Levels will battle Riall Johnson for the 6th spot, because let's be honest 7 LBs is too many and Johnson only made the cut in past years b/c of Spearman and Foley being on IR in training camp.

Also, will we go with Five WR's next year? Much is made about Brat's 3 and 4 WR sets, but it looks fine to me when they are all healthy, which they were up until the last few weeks. The 6th one just takes up a roster spot and usually rides the pine. We could use that spot for an extra DB or TE or Running/Full Back. **Robert, Cincinnati.

ROBERT: They like Spearman a lot, so the Levels signing doesn't mean he's on the way out. Spearman hasn't been in the league long enough to be an unrestricted free agent, so he figures to be back.

You've got a good point on the wideouts, but they needed six early in the year between Westbrook's broken hand, Farmer's knee, and Dugans' ankles. When Warrick missed the Jacksonville game, they basically only had three wides because Farmer went just sparingly. It's a position that takes such a pounding that you need the sixth guy if you have the multiple look.

The place where you can pick up that extra roster spot is at kicker. The experiment of carrying three kickers didn't work this year, which means we saved one of the biggest understatements of the year for one of the last.**

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