Hobson's Choice: Backers and bills

Q: I have to gripe about the Brian Simmons release. I've been a fan through the abysmal Shula, Coslet and LeBeau eras and this is one of the most questionable moves I've seen this team make.

Brian Simmons is not a Kevin Hardy. He is and was a leader on this team as a career Bengal and never complained during all of those terrible years (see Takeo Spikes, Corey Dillon). In a year, linebacker has gone from one of our biggest strengths to our biggest question mark.

How do we release a guy who can play all three linebacker positions and who sounds as if he'd take a pay cut, but keep questionable players and characters like Thurman and Brooks? Instead of tendering offers to guys like Greg Brooks and Wilkins (the "special teams ace"), why not make a push for a top-tier guy like Joey Porter?

I hated the guy as a Steeler, but he's kicked our tails around the past few years and has a mean swagger this team desperately needs. Whether he "fits the system" or not.

Instead, we all know what will happen. They'll be "in the derby" for him, lose out, then sign two or three no-name backups from other teams that will get injured in camp and limp through the season a la Patrick Johnson and Antonio Chatman. Any thoughts?
**--Anthony C., Aliso Viejo, CA

ANTHONY:** I've never hid my admiration for Simmons, so this is going to be biased. The NFL is a business, but there are times a depth chart can't always be treated like a balance sheet.

Look, the numbers say it's a good move. He's going to be 32, he's coming off an injury plagued season at the league's most punishing position and he makes too much money at $3.3 million.

I see why they did it. The argument is sound but that doesn't always mean the move is sound.

It's a hell of a move if you've got a guy to replace him. I thought if they did cut Simmons, it would be much later, when they figured out that Brooks or Miller or someone can play without getting benched.

That's the fear I have about it. There is virtually no experience at linebacker and although Simmons has been nicked and he was part of a defense that failed down the stretch (as did offense and special teams) Simmons is a guy that knows all the spots cold.

Yeah, I know it's a lot of beans for a guy coming off a neck stinger at age 32. But I think the Bengals and everyone else in the NFL have reached the point where they have to pay for character as much as they shell out for potential and production.

But this is a classic dilemma in pro sports. When to turn to youth and when to stay the course. When you manage a team, it's your toughest call. Given that this team is close and obviously needs as many character guys as it can get, I would like to have seen it go the other way.

But, in the end, maybe they're right. Maybe Ahmad Brooks has the kind of year Odell Thurman had in in '05 (and they think he's got huge potential), in a season that Simmons couldn't have touched.

Like I said, their argument has basis. But like I said, I've also got Brian Bias.

By the way, Wilkins wasn't a restricted free agent so he wasn't tendered and now he's signed in Atlanta.

And don't laugh off "special teams ace." This club never bothered with those guys and their special teams were the laughingstock of the league and a major reason they were so awful before Marvin got here. It's guys like Wilkins, and Tab Perry, and Kenny Watson, and Tony Stewart that have done so well on teams and have helped make them a contender.

Plus, Wilkins was a great team guy who did whatever it took even though it crushed him that he didn't get more defensive snaps. Again, that has to be worth more in this day and age.

Look, you can get on the Bengals about bottom feeding and all that in free agency, but the fact is during this time period they never get credit for those huge contracts that have kept Carson Palmer, Willie Anderson, and company off the market. Eric Steinbach got a great deal. Hats off to agent Jack Bechta for getting Steinbach $17 million guaranteed.

But Terry Bolar got Anderson $15.9 million from the Bengals, great money for a guy five years older than Steinbach and not on the market.

As for Porter, read on.


Q: With Joey Porter being released by the Steelers, is there a chance that he could become a Bengal? We need a great LB and he is definitely one of the best. He could bring some stability to the linebacker corps and some leadership and tenacity. One of the only Steelers I would gladly welcome to the team!
**--Dominick, South Pasadena, CA

DOMINICK:** This stuff isn't scripted anywhere, but no. Gut feeling. Look at the market. $7 million guards, $5 million fullbacks. Joey will get paid in full.

Should the Bengals pay Joey?

Hell, that question could be a graduate school seminar.

One school of thought is it changes you right away for the better. It gives a passive defense an edge and identity, something these guys need right now. What better statement to make that the AFC North is yours by plucking the face of the Steelers defense while also preventing him from going to Cleveland?

Not only that, the two tackles that have given him the biggest of fits, Willie Anderson and Levi Jones, would be on his side. That's worth a few more sacks.

Never mind he's never played in a 4-3, right? The guy is a pass rusher, so line him up as such. You make a spot for him. The man is a proven playmaker, so you find a defense for him, not the other way around.

Money? You don't have to pay the draft picks today.

Now, for the other school of thought.

The Bengals are a team with a unique brew of guys and are in a crisis situation when it comes to coming together as a team. The players have said it. The coaches have said it.

Throw into the mix a guy like Porter who is one of the most volatile and outspoken guys in the league, and what does that do for a team where the chemistry already is oozing out of all four corners of the locker room?

Plus, the word is he's lost a half step, he's had one more double-digit sack season than Robert Geathers, and his salary would probably mean some other guys get cut in the end.

Hey, I'm rooting for the best story. If Kenny Anderson is wearing Steelers togs as their new quarterbacks coach, certainly Joey Porter can wear Bengals stripes. Shake it up.

(And No. 55 is available with Marcus Wilkins now in Atlanta.)

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