Bengals seek retention

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The Bengals are hoping they can retain cornerback Adam Jones.

INDIANAPOLIS - A few days ago the NFL twitter sphere mused that the Bengals' draft process is wrapped in mystery. On Thursday at the NFL scouting combine director of player personnel Duke Tobin didn't exactly solve what is an enigma to those that want only a draft room strong man instead of a democracy.

But in his national media debut he did shed some light on a process that many believe has built the strongest roster in the NFL with Tobin greasing the gears of Bengals president Mike Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis.

It is a melting pot draft room filled with scouts, coaches, and management.

"There's no sea change. Our operation remains the same," said Tobin when asked if "he's running the show."

 "I was asked to come and talk and it's a scouting event, so it's a natural thing," Tobin said. "We work as a group. Mike and Marvin are the direction; my job is to facilitate their vision and plan."

And don't get used to Tobin being the front man. Lewis is the guy for that and he'll be back in it Friday when he meets the Cincinnati media at the combine.

"I'm not looking for that," Tobin said. "And I think (Lewis) does a good job doing it so he'll still be the focus and the voice of the football team. This is a scouting event, so it's a little more natural for somebody that does scouting to maybe be up here talking."

 But no doubt Lewis would have said exactly what Tobin said when he was asked the inevitable. Have the Bengals discussed their lack of composure and leadership at the of the Wild Card Game loss to the Steelers?

An interesting question since the Bengals feel the entire game was out of control and that their sideline shouldn't take all of the blame.

 Tobin came to the aid of linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Adam Jones, the guys that ended up taking the brunt of the heat.

"I don't think we lack team leadership or composure. I don't think you get to 12-4 by lacking that," Tobin said. "I think the folks that were involved at the end of the playoff game, and we're just one of 31 teams that had a disappointing ending, but we had a disappointing ending, and the guys that are involved I think have spoken their piece on that.

 "I think they're working to rectify that. I think they wish they would've reacted maybe a little differently. But our guys weren't the only ones involved in that. The two guys that we had involved in that, I would say over the course of the season and that game did far more to cause us to win than they did to cause us to lose. They're valuable guys to us. And so, I don't worry about a leadership or a composure issue. I think we've got a veteran team that can handle it and bounce back."

Tobin saw Burfict's recent quotes about changing his hard-changing style that has put him the commissioner's doghouse with a three-game suspension. But he also agrees with Burfict that he doesn't have to make whole-sale changes.

 "He's come out and said that that he needs to change some elements of it," Tobin said. "But this game is about passion and passionate players are the best players in the league and so we're not going to tell him not to be a passionate football player. That's what he is. That's what makes him good. Obviously there are some things that maybe at the end of the plays or some decisions he makes in a fraction of second that he'll start to do a little differently, but he's an important part of what we do and we're not going to restrict him to the point where he's ineffective."

But most of Tobin's remarks dealt with the organization's mantra of keeping the Bengals' roster together by signing their own in free agency. He admitted it's a bigger challenge this year because eight starters and regulars are set to be free in 11 days and that includes starting wide receiver Marvin Jones, slot receiver Mohamed Sanu, and backup wide receiver Brandon Tate, all who had TD catches last season.

Tobin invoked the name of Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson and he could have channeled former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh as players that felt it was beneficial to stay with their original team after disappointing free-agent forays. The Bengals also prefer to keep players they develop.

"We've got some uncertainty there," Tobin said of the receivers. "We felt good about our group during the year but we've got three guys that are up and we want to get them back . . . We always think it's better for the player to go, if all things are equal, back to where he's had some success. We always believe in our philosophy, which is draft, develop and retain . . .  We're going to spend our resources on the known quantities that we've developed and we know how they fit with our club and we know they're backgrounds and their personalities."

 And Tobin said the Bengals have the wherewithal to make a run at the retention part of it because the husband-wife salary cap team of Katie and Troy Blackburn has them operating with less than $200,000 of dead money, according to spotrac.com.

 "It's always a challenge because it's a two-way street. The players have to want to come back and you've got to have enough room under the cap," Tobin said. "Katie and Troy have done a fantastic job keeping us in a position to retain guys. We're very low on dead money. We don't have a lot of pending issues with lack of cap room. We're not cutting guys for the wrong reasons. So, we're in a position, a very good position, and it's because of the management that we've had with our contracts going through this point."

 Tobin, who negotiates some of the deals, is part of the free-agency operation but his main concern is the draft. He has organized and streamlined the process effectively enough to help shepherd the Bengals through their most successful run ever.

And while Tobin's system of cross-checking has pretty much paralleled the rise of the Bengals' drafts, maybe his most effective contribution has been the building of a consensus board that has ruled the day.

The basic principle of Tobin's draft room is not to fill a need with a player that doesn't match the value of the pick. With so many potential holes via free agency at receiver and safety, the board may get its biggest test yet if the Bengals are mesmerized by need rather than value.    

"I hope it's not going to be tough for us to stick to the board. It's been good to us. So I think we'll do that," Tobin said. "Within similar talented players, we'll probably take the one that fits us the best, the position that fits us the best. But we're not going to drop down a level or two levels just to satisfy a positional need and ignore the one or two or three guys that are still sitting there that we know are really quality players and better players."

And Tobin couldn't wait to go back to the board. He had to laugh when asked if all gets is 15 minutes of fame.

"I hope so," he said. "I hope I can go back to my hole and start watching tape again."

This gallery features photos of current Bengals players at past NFL Combines

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