Hobson's Choice: Cap is NFL's Ace

1) It looks like the CBA isn't going to be extended and the reported salary cap for next year is around $94 million. How much will the Bengals be under now that the 2006 cap figure has been determined? I've heard anywhere from 10-14 million under the cap.

2) Any possibility of picking up Sam Adams and/or Lawyer Milloy? With the cap being so tight next year, the Bengals seem like one of a dozen or so teams not in cap trouble.

3) Finally, if 2007 and beyond are played without a salary cap, where do you see the Bengals franchise going? Would they be a mid-level payroll team, similar to the Reds? Thanks
Scott, Highland Heights, KY SCOTT: It's anyone's guess now, but if the CBA doesn't get extended by Monday, the Bengals figure to have about $4-5 million to spend with the $94.5 million cap. They are positioned well enough on offense that they wouldn't get blown up in an uncapped year and it's doubtful any NFL season after '07 would be played without a cap.

A lot of people scream about the Bengals' cap numbers because they see figures that have the Bengals double-digit under. But that doesn't include an estimated $8-9 million in tenders to restricted free agents, rookie pool, and a pad for incentives and injured players.

What's the difference? They have to pay the piper now or later when the draft picks have to get signed, and the Bengals like to budget for it now.

They end up spending, whether it's re-doing Corey Dillon on a May 11 or extending an Oliver Gibson or a Carson Palmer at the end of the year. Since they moved into Paul Brown Stadium, they've spent at or above the salary cap every year.

Whether the $4-5 million is enough to pick off an Adams as well as get the backup quarterback and extend a couple of offensive linemen remains to be seen. You would think it happens for sure if they extend the CBA and the cap could go higher than $100 million.

Maybe it's my old age, but I just can't get excited about free agents like I used too. Maybe that's because so much ink has been spilled on Guys Who Visited But Never Came, starting with Pro Bowl center Courtney Hall all those years ago and ending with Warren Sapp. Sapp didn't visit, but his numbers did.

Anyway, show me a free agent that's going to make a difference and turn the defense around right now at the two positions they supposedly need. OK, Adams and Gerard Warren at Dtackle. They would change you. But you could argue the Bengals' tackles are as good most of the other guys that are out there, or pretty damn similar.

(Jets defensive end John Abraham doesn't count because he's the big money.)

Would a safety like Adam Archuleta or Marlon McCree or Dexter Jackson or Corey Chavous get you to the next level? They'd make you better, no question. Good guys and solid players. But don't expect any Troy Polamalus.

And forgive me for not getting on the Chris Hope bandwagon, but remember how the Bengals consistently beat the Steelers deep last year? Remember how Seattle immediately went after the Steelers' secondary in the Super Bowl?

There are a few guys that will help you, very few, but you can't take them all in the veins.

If the league goes into an uncapped year in '07, the Bengals won't be devastated in that season. Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson, center Rich Braham, right guard Bobbie Williams, defensive end Justin Smith, and cornerback Tory James would be the major free agents. They'd get some guys to re-sign. Some of those losses would obviously be tough, but they hope they are developing enough people to counter such losses and put them with a core signed through at least 2008.

At some point, you also figure guys are going to stay because Marvin has it going the right way and they want to play for him.

And that will be the only year there is no salary cap. The powers that be are going to figure out the cap is what has made it a much more competitive and attractive game than baseball in the last 15 years.

The cap is the reason 32 sets of fans go to training camp thinking this year is next year. That's what used to be the heart and soul of baseball until Boss Steinbrenner and his jackboots turned the major leagues into their personal Vegas for him and his five rich friends.

No cap in the NFL? You would see the big-small gap in stunning fashion every Sunday on national TV. It would be Indianapolis vs. Ithaca. Each week there would a few scores like 51-3, 37-0, 63-7. How many 4 p.m. Sundays, and 8 p.m. Sundays and 9 p.m. Mondays would the networks tolerate of that for their billions?

In baseball, the disparity doesn't hit you over the head. The Royals lose 10 out of 15 in mid-May, a couple in extra innings, a couple by 5-3, and maybe one by 12-2, and it's all hidden on local TV and you don't realize it until late August when you numbly notice a handful of small-marker teams have a shot at going .500.

You can't get away with that in football.

Which is why the uncapped year of '07 may go away as quickly as Monday.

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