Cooler heads, hot questions

Marvin Lewis

If there are no more hiccups, the NFL lockout could end in the next 48 hours or so amid multiple media reports of progress in Saturday's talks in direct contrast to the heated words of Thursday night.

Then, the big question becomes what in the world is the world going to look like once the lockout ends.

With the Bengals already on the move to Georgetown College, an agreement Tuesday between owners and players would seem to assure that they'll report to the Georgetown, Ky., campus Thursday or Friday and begin practice the next day.

But, like all teams, they won't nearly have a full roster if the NFL adheres to the tentative schedule posted on Saturday night pending a Tuesday agreement:

Facilities and free agents open Wednesday, camp starts Friday, and the first week of the preseason opens on time with the Bengals in Detroit Aug. 12.

Yet to say it is a fluid situation is to say it's been a little hot in this oppressive summer of intense talks and no football. There has been some talk there is an outside chance the players could approve a new collective bargaining as soon as Sunday. Or Monday. Or Tuesday. But no matter when it gets done, there is some concern the fast-forward schedule can come off.  

The Bengals are going to be on a conference call Sunday in the hopes of getting more information on dates, but one thing appeared certain: Sources on each side were optimistic enough Saturday to go public. They told NFL Network that while some issues remain, the NFLPA made arrangements Saturday night for its 13-man executive committee to meet Monday at player headquarters in Washington and that player representatives are on standby for the meeting. According to the Network, an NFLPA source said if progress continues, the players could vote on an agreement Tuesday.

The question is if it is going to be close enough to the agreement the owners approved by a 31-0 vote on Thursday so that it gets done quickly. Because each day that goes by puts the preseason schedule in jeopardy. For instance, if the original post-lockout schedule went into effect, with camps starting five days after the facilities opened and teams began talking to free agents and there was no agreement by Tuesday, it could get dicey.

But there was apparently enough progress on issues such as benefits, workmen's compensation, and an opt-out clause in the CBA that both sides were privately expressing optimism. If Paul Brown Stadium opens Wednesday, that fits into the Bengals' schedule of physicals on Wednesday and Thursday and a report time of Thursday afternoon at Georgetown.

But the concern is, who exactly is going to be on the field if the schedule holds and head coach Marvin Lewis holds his first practice Friday? Like all teams, the Bengals not only have a bevy of their own veteran free agents to sign, but also eight rookie draft picks. Plus, they must pursue their wish list of undrafted college players as well as the veteran free agents that would replace the players they could possibly lose or fit into holes.

Complicating matters is that the Bengals have a new offensive playbook that has not been taught to the players and two of offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's probable starters are first-round pick A.J. Green, wide receiver from Georgia, and second-round pick Andy Dalton, quarterback from TCU.

Not only that, the new CBA has a new rookie pool that is reduced and simplified. But while there is plenty of room to negotiate a signing bonus, teams didn't have a rookie pool allotment number heading into the weekend and it was unclear how quickly the rookies could get signed and in.  

No matter the time frame, the top priority is re-signing cornerback Johnathan Joseph. Even if they do, the Bengals probably have to pursue at least another veteran corner with Adam Jones and his surgically-repaired neck a question mark.

Behind Joseph and Jones is a pair of young players with Morgan Trent coming off a knee injury that wiped out half of his 2010 and Brandon Ghee coming off a rookie season he played very little from scrimmage. Also on the depth chart is last season's late pickup, Jonathan Wade, and transplanted safety Rico Murray.  

And if the club decides to re-sign running back Cedric Benson, it may very well have to pursue someone else with his assault charge unresolved by the NFL. Backup Bernard Scott and special-teamer Cedric Peerman are next up and indications are the Bengals would like to re-sign third-down back Brian Leonard.

Indications are the Bengals would also like to re-sign two veterans who have been active in their nickel packages in defensive linemen Jonathan Fanene and outside linebacker Brandon Johnson. Also, unsigned tight end Reggie Kelly continues to look like a good fit with the emerging Jermaine Gresham.

So now the biggest question doesn't seem to be if the Bengals are going to have training camp, but it is who is going to get there when?

Also Saturday, the Bengals were seeking clarification on the new practice rules now that two-a-days have been abolished and practices are limited to one in pads and one walkthrough per day. But as Lewis sat down to reconfigure his schedule, it was unclear what constitutes pads and a walkthrough.  

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