The Bengals and the rest of the NFL headed into purgatory after Saturday's last selection ended the NFL Draft. But head coach Marvin Lewis thinks they at least had an answer for their quarterback crisis.
Lewis says the club is going to consider in the next few days whether it should sign a veteran quarterback to join second-rounder Andy Dalton and returning backups Jordan Palmer and Dan LeFevour while keeping in mind there is a total of 14 NFL passes among them.
But Lewis said he thinks Dalton can do it if he's the guy.
"I don't think there's an exact need. I feel really good about the guy we were able to draft," Lewis said. "If he ends up being the starter as a rookie, I think he can do that."
Instead of the mad dash to sign undrafted players at the close of the draft, Paul Brown Stadium was deserted quickly after the Bengals tapped Baylor running back Jay Finley with their eighth and last pick. With the league in a lockout, all transactions are frozen and if an appellate court extends the stay of the lockout Tuesday, things could be closed up into July with no club employees having any contact with players or their agents.
When things get going, Lewis indicated the first thing the Bengals will try to do is re-sign running back Cedric Benson, a free agent for sure. And given that they didn't draft a back until Finley, that has become a bigger issue.
The Bengals also want to re-sign cornerback Johnathan Joseph, but he may be a restricted free agent if the league reverts to 2010 rules. So could third-down back Brian Leonard.
Lewis was set to start the offseason workout program Tuesday with the idea of easing into OTAs in a few weeks with a rookie camp set for May 13-15. But all that has been shelved and now Lewis says the coaches are going to turn to game-planning without players in the building until further notice.
Until then, the Bengals can rest on the laurels of what looks to be another solid draft. If there can ever be such a thing stated within 12 hours of a completed draft. But after the Bengals took Georgia offensive lineman Clint Boling with their first pick Saturday in the fourth round, they were being praised nationally for a draft in which they moved on from Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco while also filling holes at linebacker, on their offensive line and in the secondary.
They did it with pretty much the same philosophy that has been the thread of head coach Marvin Lewis' drafts since he arrived: Take the highest-graded player with the most college production and starting with the middle rounds get the guy than can contribute right away on special teams. If you can't get all three things in one player, get as many as you can.
Certainly the biggest need of all, quarterback, seemed to be driven in large part by grades. The Bengals had been hearing for a month that they needed to trade back up in the first round to get one, but it appeared they had Dalton and Arkansas' Ryan Mallett pegged for the early second round and they weren't moving. If Dalton and Mallett were gone at No. 35, there were some intriguing pass rushers there.
"I thought it did (fall the way we wanted)," Lewis said. "Today, we got close to a guy or two that we may have kind of favored because of a need, then we had to take that need the next time. But obviously the first and second day, they fit pretty good. We were able to fill (needs) with players that we hope will have an opportunity."
Lewis saw teams go for needs more than usual since there has been no free agency yet, but the Bengals seemed to fight the urge to grab a running back even with Benson headed to free agency. They were leering at Kansas State's Daniel Thomas in the top of the third round, which would have been both a need and grade guy. But when he went late in the second, the Bengals went back to the board and took Nevada linebacker Dontay Moch, a projected SAM linebacker making the transition from defensive end.
Even at the top of the seventh round, when they appeared to go with grades and took Southern Illinois cornerback Korey Lindsey. Lindsey is a 50-game veteran with 14 career picks and has some punt return ability, hitting a need with Joseph unsigned and third corners Adam Jones (neck) and Morgan Trent (knee) coming off injury.
When they finally did get a running back, the Bengals went with a 1,200-yard rusher in Finley that had a gain of at least 38 yards in five of Baylor's final six games of the regular season. With a nod to offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's new West Coast offense, Finley can also catch coming out of the backfield.
"With the fact that we've had to draft people prior to any other movement of players in the National Football League this year, it kind of puts a premium on these guys in getting an opportunity," Lewis said. "So it was kind of a new way of doing things, and we all did it this way and fill needs. You saw teams take multiple guys at positions. So I think that was a reflection of where we are right now with what we're going forward with in the unknown."
And if the Bengals did go for need, like they did with Moch in the third and strong safety Robert Sands of West Virginia in the fifth, it was for guys they think are going to be core special-teamers that excelled at covering kicks in college.
"It's important to have that ability to help that way; that's how they're going to make the football team," Lewis said. "When they make the football team, they make the football team better."
The guys taken from the third round on aren't going to start, but Moch and Boling provide depth while they develop and Sands could play a good bit. Stanford wide receiver Ryan Whalen is going to get a long look on special teams, but it looks like he could be a sixth receiver that doesn't dress on Sundays behind a crew of A.J. Green, Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell, Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby if The Ocho does move on.
Maybe the best part of the Green and Dalton picks, which also fit needs and grades, is that Gruden now can finally embrace the strengths of specific players at the two most important skill positions.
"We'll spend some time on our football now. At least Jay Gruden has a better idea of who he has to work with," Lewis said. "We know where we are. We at least now have some direction. Defensively, we have some time to look at opponents. The scouting staff has worked their tails off. Our coaches and staff, especially (director of player personnel) Duke Tobin, have done a fine job of immersing themselves in this process. There was a lot of cross-checking done when looking at multiple positions. It was a good process and I feel really good about how we ended up."
But because the Bengals are talking about quarterback and receiver, the two toughest positions when it comes to making the transition from college, now they really need the labor situation to get settled to get them on the field.
"It's critical for us with a No. 1 pick at wide receiver and No. 2 pick at quarterback to use those OTA days when they're all here," Lewis said. "It will be critical for us this year."
Welcome to Camp Purgatory.