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Hobson's Choice: At draft's end?

Q: I'm thinking my draft strategy would be to pick up one of the top two DTs in the first round. I only see us picking a DE at 9 if both DTs are gone, we move to a 3-4, move Geathers to outside LB, and use pick 9 to get a 3-4 DE. Do you think there is a quality 3-4 DE that we could pick from that spot? If both DTs are gone, I think the best option would be to start getting busy trading down. Do you think (if both DTs are gone at 9) there is anybody worth picking from 9 for any of our positions of need? Because I don't. I think the best option from this point would be to trade down to get a mid-to-late first rounder and pick up a solid linebacker like a Keith Rivers. Then use a second-round pick on a DT. What are your thoughts?
--Alan M., Milwaukee, WI

ALAN: The Antwan Odom signing puts them in a 4-3 base, so the 3-4 guy would really have to be a top end pass rusher that could also play a little strong-side backer. Not a true 3-4 end because it's not a fit.

After the Falcons pick at No. 3, everybody is going to want to trade out and no one is going to want to come up so that doesn't look to be an option.

You're right. At this point you have to assume that defensive tackles Glenn Dorsey and Sedrick Ellis are gone. Defensive ends Vernon Gholston and Derrick Harvey would probably be 4-3 ends in this scheme, so Odom takes them out of those two.

One guy that could be considered is Auburn's Quentin Groves, a 6-3, 250-pounder that played best when he moved from end to outside linebacker. The scouts say he's got the burst and wingspan worthy of an elite rusher, which is why the Bengals have to consider him, you would think, ahead of Rivers.

But he doesn't have the track record. And No. 9 sounds too high for guy that is ranked 35th on the board by Scouts Inc.

Sure, they'd love to trade out. Get a first-round player not all that different than what is at No. 9 in what many believe to be a four-player draft, get an extra player, and not have to pay a 50-50 roll of the dice top 10 money.

But that's what everyone else wants to do after the top three of Chris and Jake Long and Dorsey are off the board. Especially since the Raiders, at No. 4, are still gagging on last year's No. 1 deal.

If a club like Dallas absolutely has to have Arkansas running back Darren McFadden or the Panthers feel they have to hop in front of the Ravens to get Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan, then maybe somebody gets out.

So, it's what we've been banging on in our Media Mock Drafts the past month. If there's no DE or pass rusher worthy at No. 9. (the 282-pound Calais Campbell is rated No. 31 overall by Scouts Inc.), and no trade, what do they do?

You'd figure they'd look at wide receiver, right, with a pair of 30-year-old starters? And running back, where more question marks reside than in the combined Democratic parties of Michigan and Florida.

And, they could look at an offensive tackle, too, if Boise State's Ryan Clady is on the board. They've had some injuries there and some age and any No. 1 pick that helps quarterback Carson Palmer is never wasted.

Q: I keep reading that the Bengals are pretty much done for free-agency until the draft, but there are still gaping holes all over. Are they assuming that they're going to get that special player they need in the draft? Sounds like typical "bengaldom" to me, and I don't see it getting any better any time soon. They let go some good players, only to replace half of them. What did we get in exchange? A back-up tight end, a defensive end that's not as good as the one we let go, and two back-up line backers. Personally I think we need more. What happened to Larry Tripplett from Buffalo? What's going on with Eugene Wilson from New England? We need to fill these holes with free agents, then take the best player available in the draft. Every year I want to pull my hair out with such little free-agency signings. I know Mike Brown has the money because he does so little in the offseason. With all that money saved and with the salary cap ever expanding.
--Phillip L., Cincinnati, OH

PHILLIP: Always thought "Bengaldom" is capitalized. Anyway, this is one spot we've been beating the drum for veteran help at linebacker. But imagine the outcry if they gave $30 million guaranteed to two starters (Justin Smith and Madieu Williams) from a defense that has been no better than 27 the past three years.

I'm not sure that special player is out there in free agency, either. The Giants made one or two moves last year and won it all. The Broncos had about 15 varied player acquisitions, missed the playoffs, and fired their GM.

If they're special, they never see free agency via a long-term deal or the franchise tag. It's not like free agency even five years ago.

The Eugene Wilsons and Larry Trippletts are what is pretty much out there after the first four days of free agency. Decent, good players. But players that have been let go by other teams and aren't getting gobbled up. Tripplett is a 295-pound, penetrating defensive tackle that isn't the anchor they seek. And why pay Wilson if you drafted two safeties last year? He made about four or five trips before getting signed, so it's not like he's perceived as an answer by anybody else, either.

Sure, if you've got a defense that needs to be fine-tuned, maybe a guy out there can help you. But what we're all looking at —a difference maker—ain't out there.

But that said, we'll continue to lobby for an experienced linebacker that can play all three spots. They're going to miss Landon Johnson more than they think. More so than Smith and Williams.

Ben Utecht isn't a backup tight end. He's got 30 starts and has played more than 60 percent of the snaps the last two seasons. Like we said in an earlier post, he's not John Mackey but he does address a need fans have been screaming about for years.

As for Odom not being as good as Justin Smith, that's right now. Odom, at 26, is a player on the come and is coming off an eight-sack season, something that Smith did twice in seven seasons. Every list had Odom as one of the top two free-agent ends on the '08 market. Some even had him ahead of Smith.

Smith's three-down production, his 95-percent play time and his 100-percent motor are unparalleled at his position in the league.

No question. One of their top players. But he'll also be 29 with 43 career sacks. How much is that worth? I'm not sure if Odom is going to be an inferior player to Smith, but he'll offer different things.

Mike's not hiding any money when it comes to the cap. They've been at it or over it pretty much every year since they've been in the new stadium. They're using the cap space.

Now, you can debate endlessly how they use it. That in the middle of the blitz to extend the contracts of Carson, Chad, Levi, Willie and Bobbie Williams, they could have done something with Justin and Madieu earlier, too, and not let them get to free agency. The franchise tags to Smith last year and Stacy Andrews this year have hamstrung them.

But, to be fair, they made a youth decision to extend left end Robert Geathers instead of Smith, and if Williams had played well enough to get an extension worth the market, they probably would have approached him at some point.

Plus, they've been trying to get an extension with Andrews for more than a year.

I still think the David Pollack injury really hung them up on Smith. If he hadn't got hurt in '06, they could have moved him into Smith's spot at right end and let Smith go a year early.

Q: I don't know if this is feasible, but this seems very coincidental. Haynesworth is holding out, Johnson is holding out. Titans need a quality WR badly, Bengals need a quality DT badly. Bengals cap hit for Johnson is $8 million, Titans franchise tag to Haynesworth is $7.8 million. Couldn't the two teams reach an agreement where the Titans agree to subsidize a chunk (or all) of the cap hit from Johnson, and the Titans remove the franchise tag and get a second-round pick, a la the Corey Williams trade from Green Bay? Bengals get Haynesworth and $4M from Titans. Titans get Johnson and the Bengals second-round pick. Johnson gets out of Cincy. Haynesworth gets a long-term (back heavy) deal and lined up next to Odom.
--Jason, Hartford, CT

JASON: I like it. But it's not like baseball. Teams can't pick up a cap hit for the other team. In fact, teams can't redo a guy's deal to lower the cap hit and then trade him. The teams have to keep the numbers.

The only thing that gets exchanged in a trade are the base salaries. Obviously, the Bengals would have to do a long-term deal with Haynesworth before the deal, or else it would be nearly a $13M hit.

You would subtract Johnson's salary—figure about $3 million from the $8M hit cap hit—but the 5M plus Haynesworth's tag kills you. That's why a Chad trade costs them about $8 million because to get a player of equal value he would have to make at least $3 million in '08.

Now the Odom and Utecht signings, plus the tag to Andrews, don't give them leeway for a Chad cap hit.

It does seem like a good fit, though, except that Haynesworth, in some sense, is just as mercurial as Chad. In his contract year, Haynesworth might have been the NFL Defensive Player of the Year this past season. But he only flashed before then. Once he gets the 25M, then what happens?

And who do they throw the ball to when T.J. and Henry are covered?

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