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Brown: future is now


Dre Kirkpatrick, who sealed a playoff spot with a pick six of Peyton Manning last season, is on a list of things to do.

PHOENIX, Ariz. -The future is now.

That's Bengals president Mike Brown's view of the upcoming season as his club aims to make the NFL postseason for a fifth straight year.

That means he won't focus on an extension for his head coach or the bulk of the dozen starters and regulars on the last year of their deals until after the 2015 season.

"We know full well we haven't won a playoff game," Brown said Sunday of the 0-6 record since 2005. "People seem to think we are unaware of it. We aren't. We want to get to the playoffs again and that's very difficult. We are going to strive to do that. That's where our focus is going to be. If we get another crack at it everyone in this organization wants to win when we do that.

"But I am not going to distract the team or say something that the public misinterprets. Our focus is literally on whom do we play in Game One of the regular season. Then just taking one at a time. That's the old cliché, but that's all you can do. You start focus on something grander than that and you are just going to run yourself aground."

During his annual sit down with and The Cincinnati Enquirer before the start of Monday's league meeting at the Arizona Biltmore, Brown praised the work of head coach Marvin Lewis and said he's not concerned about him going into the last year of his deal without a contract, while dismissing the notion of "a lame duck," head coach. 

"I don't view it that way," he said. "I think Marvin has done a fine job with us. He's been with us for a long time now. We have a good relationship. I hope that relationship goes forward into the future. But we aren't at the future yet. We don't have to make this decision until after this year. He doesn't have to make this decision until next year. Right now he's under contract and he's fulfilling it as we would expect and he knows he should."

Also Sunday, Brown said:

-A.J. McCarron, last year's fifth-round pick, is going to get the chance to be quarterback Andy Dalton's backup and Brown indicated the third

quarterback could come via another draft pick.

-Four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green leads the potential free agents and Brown said he's not looking to put the franchise tag on him in 2016, preferring to come up with a long-term deal and a more manageable salary cap number.  Green is one of the guys they'll try to extend before 2016. But Brown also acknowledged that has an impact on others because, "I'm not sure and we won't be sure until we try whether we have a shot with everyone. We might only have a shot with some of them."

-The club has yet to decide if it plans by the first week of May to exercise a cap-eating fifth-year option on cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and right guard Kevin Zeitler in 2016. If they do, the Bengals still have the ability to negotiate a long-term deal that would lower the cap number.

But all this talk about 2016 had Brown coming back to his original theme of no distractions. Even though Lewis and a dozen of his better players are up after this season, and Dalton's contract begins to grow elite numbers in 2016, he isn't declaring this a win-or-else season.

"Every season is the season you focus on. Part of the charm in this league is you have the race," Brown said. "That's all you are thinking about. We are not thinking about 2018. We are thinking about this year, we have some thoughts about 2016. Beyond that we will worry about it later."

But clearly the window is a little closer to the sill than in years past. Yet Brown says he has no intentions of putting Lewis on the hot seat. "We have done this kind of arrangement with Marvin off and on through the years," Brown said. "This is not the first time. It's not something unusual at all to expect people to fulfill their contract before you talk about their next contract."

Brown is encouraged by what the Bengals have accomplished in the offseason in re-signing three starters (left guard Clint Boling, middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, kicker Mike Nugent) and adding a pass rusher (Michael Johnson) and a nine-year starting linebacker in A.J. Hawk via free agency. Plus, two weapons Dalton did have last season, wide receiver Marvin Jones

and tight end Tyler Eifert are scheduled to come out of the training room. That draft he feels is virtually wide open.

"I feel good about what we got done in the offseason with free agency. We brought back our old guys and we know them. They fit," Brown said. "We have set ourselves up to go at the draft in a way where we can fill some remaining needs but also focus just guys we think are good gambles for the future. So, the team is back to as solid as it was at the end of last year or maybe a little more so. That's progress. 

"We will get Jones back. We will get Eifert back. Those are two of our key offensive threats. Andre will be back at right tackle. That will help. We were whittled down last year by injury. I guess all teams are. You are aware more what happens to you then you are others. But there is no question as the year proceeded we were trying to keep our bounce and it wasn't always easy."

Brown continued the organization-wide support of Dalton and recalled a conversation he had Sunday with another club official. 

"He was going on about things in general and he made the off-the-cuff remark, of course, 'you guys have a quarterback,'" Brown said. "You go round and about and Andy is perceived higher by some people than he seems to be all the time locally. He is the style of guy who can function best when he has a good group around him. He needs that. Maybe he needs it more than some, but they all need it. There is no quarterback that goes out and has success without good players in the mix."

As he always does, Brown underscored how important the quarterback is to a franchise and held up the defending Super Bowl champion of tandem of quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick.

"If you don't have (a QB), you're out of luck. No one gets there without one. And the teams that have the top ones, they're in the fight every year," Brown said. "They may have good coaches, they may have great owners, and they may have whatever they have. But honest to God, if they didn't have that guy, they'd be a lot closer to the rest of us."

Brown did the unthinkable and compared Brady to his boyhood hero, Otto Graham. And maybe, just maybe, Belichick to his Graham's coach, Paul Brown, Mike's father.

"Tom Brady sets them apart. Otto Graham set the old Cleveland Browns apart," Brown said. "You get that guy, you make hay.

"It's always been a part of the National Football League as long as I can remember. If you had the top quarterback you did better than the others. The key has always been, in my mind, the top quarterback and the top coach, put them, together and you see they are the one. Those are the two critical pieces and I would give (New England) credit. They have that."

But Brown also went out of his way to detail the accomplishments of his own tandem.

"I think Marvin and Andy have done well. We've been in the playoffs five of the last six times," Brown said. "I don't know how many teams have done that. We've been there the last four times. I think there are a handful of teams that have done that. That would put you in good position on the grade curve, normally. Yet there is this undertone involved with us: 'They didn't finish.' We know it. We wish we had. We're where we are and we're going to go out and fight again."

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