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Clean out, clean up

Chris Crocker

Updated: 9:50 p.m.

Sights and sounds from Sunday's cleanout day at Paul Brown Stadium following Saturday night's 24-14 Wild Card loss to the Jets:

» Even though there were more offseason questions than garbage bags, the team leaders pronounced the club going in the right direction.

And the Bengals just had to be sick about Baltimore's rout at New England on Sunday in the other AFC semifinal. Not only did the Bengals beat Baltimore twice, but if they beat the Jets it would have set up the game they coveted in San Diego in the next round. Their 27-24 loss at San Diego on Dec. 20 without Domata Peko, Chris Crocker and Bernard Scott was arguably the best game they played since the Nov. 8 win over the Ravens and they felt like they had a great shot again with those players healthy.

» "We had a bad December. I think we did tend to slide, but we won those games. We're a legit good team," Crocker said of the 10-6 finish. "We just didn't finish it off. ... I think we've got a good core of guys. This is a start. Next year we've got business to finish. If we have the guys we have now get back healthy, I don't know if we need much to be honest with you. We need more time yesterday and time ran out."

Crocker (ankle), by the way, is joining quarterback Carson Palmer on the table for some minor surgery. Palmer (thumb) and Crocker should be ready when the team reconvenes March 29 for offseason workouts.

» One of the Bengals' two 10-year players, right guard Bobbie Williams, is convinced the young offensive line is on the right track. After all, it was good enough to generate 171 yards rushing against the NFL's No. 1 defense Saturday.

"It's awesome the way we came together as a group," Williams said. "The way we swept the division and looking at the teams in the division I think we're going the right way. It's something to build on."

» You have to figure the Bengals want to keep building with Williams. He's a free agent and turns 34 in September, but he's also one of the team leaders.

"We've had our exit physicals, but I still consider myself a Bengal. Consider myself a Bengal," said Williams, holding a bag of jerseys from his teammates. "I've got (Kyle) Cook; I've got Andre (Smith). I've got Carson. I'm going to hang them in my basement. Absolutely I want to be back. I think I'm a good guy to have around.

» Left tackle Andrew Whitworth is going to have a busy offseason as the Bengals NFL Players Association representative with the union trying to reach a collective bargaining agreement with the NFL. Whitworth is hopeful for a deal before the potential 2011 lockout, but he says not in time to prevent 2010 from being a year without a salary cap.

An uncapped year means that a player must be heading into his sixth year of service and fifth year for free agency. That would make such players as linebackers Rashad Jeanty and Brandon Johnson restricted free agents for the second straight year, and defensive end Frostee Rucker would be a restricted free agent for the first time.

"A lot of guys on this team are realizing that," said Whitworth of the ramifications of no cap. "Take away four and five years free agency and it changes everything. I think a lot of guys are realizing how serious this is and how serious this can affect them."

» The Bengals will have a decision to make with another team leader. Tight end Reggie Kelly, who suffered a season-ending ruptured Achilles in training camp, is a free agent who turns 32 next month. Other key free agents are kicker Shayne Graham, safety Roy Williams and defensive tackle Tank Johnson. Running back Larry Johnson, inactive Saturday, isn't expected to be re-signed.

» But for the first time in recent memory, the most important free agent may be a coach. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who has changed the culture of the unit and taken it from 27th to fourth in his two seasons, told his players Sunday that his situation is up in the air. Brandon Johnson started the lobbying after the game.

"Man, I would love to keep everyone in this locker room. I really, really would," Johnson said. "But it's the nature of the beast in the NFL that people don't stay for long. That's why you have to make it happen when you've got a chance. I really want (Zimmer) back. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that. Zim's a good coach – a great coach. He really changed the mentality of this team, and really changed the way we play ball. If we can all come back, we're going to be hell on somebody's hands come 2010."

On Sunday Peko took a turn.

"We need him," Peko said. "Getting a defense that no one really knows about and putting us in the top 10 and fourth overall ... give him some money. I don't want to start over again ... it (stinks) starting over. Jumpy (Geathers) was talking about that. This would be like his (fourth) D-coordinator. I hope we keep him. (Zimmer told me Sunday) it's all up in the air. It's a business deal. He said he wants to stay. The main reason he would be staying if he does stay is he loves us and for the coaches, too."

» Peko and his fellow Samoans, SAM linebacker Ray Maualuga and defensive tackle Jon Fanene, are headed to America Samoa next month to give the governor their check for nearly $50,000 they raised in Cincinnati for relief efforts for areas hit hard by last September's killer storm. They're also going to hold a football camp for children with equipment and shoes they'll donate.

» With the Packers loss in the NFL Wild Card game,the Bengals are picking 21st in the draft. The Bengals have had only one 21st pick in history. It was wide receiver Tim McGee out of Tennessee in 1986, their second first-round pick that year. Washington linebacker Joe Kelly went No. 11. 

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