Hobson's Choice: A few what ifs

Geoff,

Hindsight being 20/20, are The Bengals glad that they did not sign Warren Sapp or is it too early too tell? Are they glad they saved the money and used it elsewhere ?

Also while on the defensive line area, would you be surprised if Marvin drafts the USC defensive tackle that has entered into the supplemental draft ?

How do you see the Bengals defensive line shaking out with regards to who makes the team and who is on the bubble ?
**

Thanks, Chris CHRIS:**
Given that Sapp had a sub-Sapp season in Oakland at age 31, you don't see a lot of people jumping out of windows down here because he passed on a four-year deal that would have given him about $5 million last year and about $16 million for four seasons. What is the real regret is that Daryl Gardener's back blew up just before training camp, robbing them of a defensive tackle who would have made certain they didn't finish No. 26 against the run.

That's one thing that gets lost in the second guessing on Sapp. The Bengals already had a deal with what was then a healthy Gardener when they opened negotiations with Sapp, and I often wonder if they might have upped the ante on Sapp if they knew they weren't going to have Gardener.

Some Bengals' insiders already had some nagging doubts about Sapp's inclining age, weight and hit on the salary cap, and declining numbers on the field, and he did nothing to erase those fears with his play last season. Plus, they probably wouldn't have re-signed both Rudi Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh if they signed Sapp, so that has to be a relief since Johnson and Houshmandzadeh look to be such a big part of Carson Palmer's future core.

Still, you wonder about Gardener, a guy they were getting without cap casualty. It's hard to see running backs like Curtis Martin (196 yards), Chris Brown (147), and William Green (115) running the ball down their throats to take away three very winnable games and a play-off berth if Gardener is in the middle.

With the way Sapp played, you wonder if he could have stopped the bleeding. Maybe some. He certainly wouldn't have been out of position here as some suggested he was with the Raiders early on. Did the Bengals give up one play-off season to stay young enough to get into two or three over the next four years? Or did they give up nothing at all? Who is to really know what happens if Martin goes for 83 yards instead of double that in last year's opener?

What is known is that not signing Sapp and Gardener's back have forced them to develop some young tackles like Matthias Askew and Langston Moore. Moore has proven to be more than serviceable and the hope still is that Askew blossoms into a first-round type of talent. But injuries have slowed his progress. Either way, those guys look to have the inside track as the back-up tackles behind John Thornton and Bryan Robinson.

The bubble battle is at end, behind starters Justin Smith and Robert Geathers. Figure they keep eight defensive linemen, which leaves you with two spots among a proven veteran rusher in Duane Clemons (write him in for six sacks if he gets the snaps since he averages more than five per season), seventh-round pick Jonathan Fanene, reliable Fifth Man Carl Powell (who can play both tackle and end), and young veterans Elton Patterson and Greg Scott.

Don't bury Clemons yet. Yes, he's 31, blew off all the voluntary workouts, and is scheduled to make a salary ($1.25 million) not worthy of a situational player. But it is worthy of a situational pass rusher and if he plays as well in training camp as he has for much of his two seasons here, he'll be here. Line him up inside with Geathers and flanked by Smith and David Pollack and those are four guys who know how to get to the passer.

The Bengals had more than a passing interest in Manny Wright, the USC defensive tackle who went to the Dolphins in last week's NFL supplemental draft. They brought him in for a visit and all indications were they mulled a late-round pick on him, but the Dolphins won him with the second pick in the fifth round.

Because he has played very little, Wright is a project and the Bengals already have one at that position in Askew, the fourth-rounder from '04 who played much more than Wright in college and already has a training camp under his belt. Askew is supposed to be ready for this training camp after missing the June drills with what is believed to be a bone injury in his foot.

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