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Going over the rough spots

Posted: 1:40 a.m.



From the permanent adoption of instant replay to what he calls a stop-gap method of revenue sharing, Bengals president Mike Brown is against many of the things going on at next week's NFL owners meetings.

But he also thinks the game can be improved by tweaking such things as overtime as well as continued discussion of the roughing the quarterback penalty, a call that had as much to do with the Bengals missing the playoffs as Brad St. Louis' bad snap against Denver and Shayne Graham's missed field goal against Pittsburgh.

Brown continues to have doubts about the NFL's economic structure, and he says with the one in place the Bengals have used up all their salary cap room in keeping their own free agents from hitting the market this year and next.

Brown hopes the owners get a chance to vote on the NFL's new player conduct policy, which is far and away the issue for which commissioner Roger Goodell's first annual league meeting is going to be defined.

Brown agrees with the concept that the league has to crack down on and off the field. He's glad to hear the roughing call will be discussed by the NFL's competition committee, which agrees with the Bengals that it was called inconsistently throughout the year. All the committee will do, no doubt, is clarify some language and Brown knows it can't undo the call that took a 13-7 victory in Tampa Bay and turned it into a 14-13 loss.

Bengals defensive end Justin Smith sacked Bucs quarterback Bruce Gradkowski back at the Bengals 40 with 2:45 to play with what looked to be a routine tackle. But Smith was called for driving the quarterback into the ground, and the 15-yard penalty led to the winning touchdown.

"We thought it was just a missed call, that he really didn't hit the guy in any fashion that was illegal and drove him to the ground; he just tackled him," Brown said. "I just think sometimes it's going to get called in a way that you don't agree.

"We're for protecting the quarterback. We don't want quarterbacks to get hit in the knee and head. But when it's just a glancing blow on the helmet or the knee, a hit that is unintentional and not harmful, it shouldn't be called and there were too many that were last year."

Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee that includes Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, agrees that the rule needs to be better explained to officials and players. On Wednesday, he revealed a stat that showed roughing the quarterback was actually called less last season compared to 2005: 127-106.

"The number of calls were down, but we're looking for more consistency," said McKay, who said the Smith play was one of the many the committee reviewed. "We have to continue to clarify it from an official's standpoint and the players understanding it standpoint."

Lewis doesn't usually discuss competition committee matters with the media, but one issue that is going be resolved with a clear-cut vote by the owners is the anticipated passage of instant replay on a permanent basis. The Bengals have always voted against instant replay and next week is no different.

"I'll go down like the South," Brown said. "Even though it has become part of the game as it is understood today, I can accept officiating error. It's a part of the game as much as coaching error, playing error, managing error. An effort to perfect any of those is an impossible pursuit. The mistake on replay itself is about one in four. I don't like the disruption and what it does to the flow of the game, but I'm not kidding myself. It isn't going away."

But Brown is all for the new overtime rule in which the ball will be kicked off from the 35 instead of the 30. From 1978 to 1994, teams winning and losing the coin toss won about half the time in OT. But last season, McKay said that 62 percent of teams winning the coin toss won overtime games. Not always on the first possession but because of field position. That capped a trend that began in 1998 when the kickoff got moved back to the 30 with a kicking ball that was harder to kick deep.

Indeed, the last game the Bengals played they lost on the first possession of overtime against the Steelers.

"I do think it's a question of fairness. I do think it's biased to the receiving team," Brown said. "With cold weather comes playoff time, the kicks are shorter, which means runbacks are longer and the receiving team gets better position. If the ball is going 35 yards, you just have to go 30 yards for a field goal and a lot of teams in this league can do that."

Off the field, Brown finds the revenue-sharing question patently unfair. This meeting could be a key moment in coming up with a final revenue-sharing plan because the owners are scheduled to discuss and hopefully pass a list of qualifiers, the final piece to a raging debate that has divided small-market clubs like Brown's from Jerry Jones' big-market Cowboys in Dallas.

Brown wants the NFL to share all revenue, not just television and gate, but also the current unshared take from stadiums, local media, and sponsorships. Jones' blast at Brown goes along the lines of "small markets have always wanted the big markets' money since the beginning of time."

Brown's rejoinder is that teams like the Cowboys are freeloaders living off small markets because teams like the Bengals pay a significant portion of the salary cap even though they don't drive the cap as much as Dallas.

"If they pay the cost they generate, we're fine with that," Brown said.

Brown is resigned to the fact that qualifiers are going to be used to determine who gets what. Brown doesn't believe in qualifiers because he thinks they are arbitrary and drive down the amount teams should get. But he believes the small markets need a substantial boost to keep in the next three or four years. For instance, Brown says by the time the Bengals put their share into the pot last year, they got nothing back in revenue sharing.

The club has an idea what the qualifiers are but won't know for sure until it gets to Arizona. If 24 of the owners don't vote for them, Goodell is going to implement a set on his own per an earlier agreement.

"It's the system," Brown said, and it's a system that right now has the Bengals tight against the cap. He has heard the criticism the Bengals aren't paying enough, but he points to long-term deals inked by tackles Willie Anderson and Levi Jones before the start of last season.

"We've spent more than most teams, but we did it earlier to keep our own players that were headed to free agency this year and next," Brown said. "We locked them up for the long term and when we did that we depleted our cap room. There were some good players in free agency and we lost some guys we wanted to keep, but we had to do what we had to do after we reached deals with the other guys."

Brown says the effort to shore up the defense will come in the draft, but he doesn't think the Bengals are exactly going cheap on defense after franchising Smith ($8.6 million) and signing Robert Geathers to a long-term deal that hits the cap about $5 million this year.

But Brown's concern for what he sees as a stressful economic future for the smaller teams is never far from his mind. It's a reason he won't vote next week to expand the game-time rosters from 45 to 47.

"If we ever get to an uncapped year," he said, "those are two more players that teams with more money can give those extra players."

Brown also doesn't like the 47 because he says it will add to more specialization (maybe a kickoff man, a return man) and more special packages, and he already thinks there is too much of that.

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