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Franchise questions

Now that the their defense validated its equality with the offense after a final three-game stretch they allowed just two touchdowns, the Bengals' two biggest offseason question marks took more postgame questions than the players responsible for Sunday's 16-6 win over the Chiefs in the season finale at Paul Brown Stadium.

Carson Palmer, the franchise player, says he'll know by this week if his new MRI confirms he won't need surgery on his throwing elbow.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who doesn't want the franchise tag, made an impassioned plea why. Even though it would be a one-year deal for about $9 to $10 million, the average of the top five paid wide receivers in the league. It would mean the Bengals would have the right to match any offer, or be awarded two first-round picks, making it virtually a one-year deal.

"It's just a one-year deal. I know that. They know that. Its not a long-term thing," Houshmandzadeh said. "It's one (season) and you're out of here. It (shows) no intention of signing you to a long-term deal. And it doesn't make the team better. If you (tag) me, I'm not going to win games for you by myself.

"We have so many other holes to fill. If you franchise me, it's not beneficial for the entire team. I would like to stay here. I was talking with Carson about it today. I think we can win. The defense if you get Keith (Rivers) back, if you get Robert Geathers back and J. Joe (Johnathan Joseph) back the defense will be that much better. And you would figure we're not going to play this bad again on offense."

Because they would have Palmer, who says he threw "pretty much 100 percent" in Friday's practice.

He has been missing for the last 11 games and only played in four after blitzing Giants cornerback Corey Webster almost took his arm off early in the Sept. 21 game. It was determined Palmer had a small tear of the ulna collateral ligament in his elbow, but he seems to have avoided surgery.

"I'll be ready to roll in the offseason and keep throwing and keep training, hopefully with no flaws and no surgery, and be ready to roll in OTAs," he said.

Houshmandzadeh says he won't be here for the OTAs in May and June if he's tagged, but he also indicated he wouldn't sit out the season.

"Coming from where I come from, when I started here, you wouldn't bet that I'd be thought of as something like that anyway," said Houshmandzadeh, a seventh-round pick in '01 who only had 62 catches in his first three seasons

"So hopefully, it doesn't happen, man. And if we can work something out, that's cool. And if not, I would still like the Bengals to do well, because I have a lot of friends in this locker room."

Houshmandzadeh has been nursing a bunch of injuries this season, such as a sore rib, hand and back. He said he reaggravated the rib in a punt return during Friday's practice and ''toward the end of practice it just kind of popped. ... I didn't know how long I could go. Maybe I could have, maybe I couldn't. I wanted to play."

After having his skein of 55 straight games with a catch snapped last week in Cleveland, Houshmandzadeh finished the season with 92 catches for 904 yards. He missed out on a third straight 1,000-yard season and finished eight catches shy of becoming the ninth player to have back-to-back 100-catch seasons.

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