When ProFootballTalk.com talks, people in pro football listen. So when site czar Mike Florio recently tapped Bengals president Mike Brown as the NFL's Executive of the Year for 2011, it got noticed.
In and out of the locker room.
"Here we are, the youngest team in the AFC in the playoffs at 9-7," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said on Tuesday, "and we've got two first-round picks coming up. I don't know what franchise is in much better shape than we are right now."
Florio points to the Bengals drafting NFL Rookie of the Year candidates A.J. Green, the fourth pick overall, and Andy Dalton, a second-rounder, for two of the reasons as the Bengals moved on from the nucleus that brought them the AFC North titles in 2005 and 2009 with a No. 1 overall pick in Carson Palmer and second-rounder in Chad Ochocinco.
Whitworth says the white hot criticism Brown draws has surprised him because of the recent drafts.
"The last four drafts have had some prime-time players that are really helping this team be successful," Whitworth said. "A team that's full of Jermaine Gresham, Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Carlos (Dunlap), Geno Atkins, Michael Johnson and you can just keep naming them. They're the reason we're having success."
But after last Sunday's game, defensive tackle Domata Peko also talked about the free agents the club signed just after the lockout, headlined by veteran cornerback Nate Clements and outside linebackers Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson.
"We made a lot of good offseason transactions," Peko said. "He gets a lot of crap from everybody. To go away from the Carson and Ocho era, he stepped up for us and got a pick for Carson. That's just showing we're making moves around here. People don't give Mike Brown the credit he deserves. (The praise) is good to see."
Florio called Brown's trade of the disgruntled Palmer "fleecing the Raiders for a first-round pick and a second-round pick in exchange for the rights to a quarterback who would never again play for the Bengals. ... Brown put himself in position to further lay the foundation for a bright future."
Brown is criticized for having a small personnel department that relies heavily on input from coaches. But one former NFL general manager noted the last two drafts that have netted a Pro Bowler, two first alternates, and a third.
"He does it a different way and people laugh at him because it's different," the ex-GM said. "Just because it's different doesn't mean it's wrong. They've obviously drafted a lot of talent. You'd have to say he's had a great year. They got rid of the me-players, they drafted two guys that look to be a franchise quarterback and franchise receiver, and he got a No. 1 for Carson Palmer."
Whitworth, the Bengals representative to the NFL Players Association, spent much of the offseason with Brown before the lockout discussing a variety of topics, among them Palmer's trade demand accompanied by the threat of retirement.
"I thought he was respectful and that we handled it in a very classy way," Whitworth said. "It was the only way we could handle it. You have to hold that guy accountable until something comes along to make this team better and that's what he did. It was beneficial to the future and we had a guy in Andy that showed promise and he pulled the trigger."
Whitworth signed a contract extension just before the regular season, along with cornerback Leon Hall and center Kyle Cook in moves that locked up three of the starters who have been on the last two playoff teams. He says it was a negotiation that was helped along by his relationship with Brown.
"There are misconceptions," Whitworth said. "He cares about every player on this team and every person in this building. He wants to make the best decisions for this franchise, without a doubt. I don't think you can do stuff for people unless they ask or unless they tell you there's a problem. He's been nothing but respectful and polite to me."