Q: Will you take another updated look at possible draft strategy? If we can agree we definitely should not take OL, RB, QB, WR, TE or LB, then this draft comes down to seven players for us. Three of them can be considered probably out of reach: Chris Long (DE), Glenn Dorsey(DT) and Vernon Gholston(DE). That still leaves Sedrick Ellis (DT), Leodis McKelvin(CB/KR/PR), Derrick Harvey (DE) & Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (CB). I think it's safe to assume two or three or possibly even all four of these players will still be on the board at #9. Can you discuss which of these four would be the best fit and why?
--Matt W., S. Vienna
MATT: We've been pretty clear here. If Ellis isn't on the board, go with McKelvin. The first time he pops a punt return 50 yards you'll forget that they picked first-round cornerbacks in each of the last two drafts.
Ellis, the USC defensive tackle, is the obvious fit, although there are reasons he seems to be slipping out of the top five to the Bengals. Well, one really. At 6-0 and 297 pounds, he's just not very big. All the technique, hustle and character, of which he has plenty, isn't going to change that.
Indeed, as we've posted before, he's smaller than any defensive tackle the Bengals have drafted in the Marvin Lewis era.
Still, it's hard to see Ellis getting past the Patriots at No. 7 even though they need to replace cornerback Asante Samuel. And even harder to see the Bengals passing on him. So what if Ellis is out of the Thornton-Peko mold when it comes to physique?
They have one of the least physical defenses in the NFL getting ready for the punishing offenses of the NFC East and AFC South and Ellis is an upgrade at a spot the Bengals desperately need reinforcements.
But if he's not there, they've got to go with Leodis McKelvin, the cornerback from Troy. Yes, Harvey, the defensive end from Florida, is a good player, and, yes, you need all the pass rushers you can get. But how soon does he help you?
They've got more than $50 million committed over the next five years to two young 4-3 ends like Harvey in Robert Geathers and Antwan Odom. How can you get them all on the field on third down if none of them can slide inside to tackle? You certainly wouldn't do that to Geathers after they tried that in his second season and he ended up with just 3.5 sacks.
OK, maybe you can put Geathers, their best and most athletic defender, at linebacker and ...
Stop right there. McKelvin is a sure shot to help you right away. He'll step on the field as the third corner on the second snap of the season and with eight career returns for touchdowns in college he gives you a weapon that can steal two games a year in Devin Hester fashion.
The scouts also say he can be an elite corner. At No. 9, you can't let salary or the depth chart figure into it. You need a guy with mega value so high up in the draft and at this spot, given the premier position he plays and his return abilities, McKelvin gives you the most bang for your buck at No. 9.
Q: With all of the speculation on the Internet regarding the request by Chad Johnson for a trade, the common thought is this would not make sense for the Bengals to consider since they would take a huge hit on the salary cap for 2008 paying Johnson's pro-rated bonus. But isn't it true if the Bengals trade Johnson for draft picks the team would receive additional cap money this year to sign those picks based on the number of picks the team has to sign? Trading Chad for draft picks seems like the best possible solution to me.
--Steve U., Destin, FL
STEVE: Not only is it the common thought, it is their only thought. They feel they are strait-jacketed if they want to make any moves this season, and that includes trading for Brian Urlacher. Expanding the rookie pool doesn't help. That's still part of the salary cap.
The Bengals don't want to write off the '08 season, which they feel they would be doing economically and competitively by trading Chad. The cap hit would be about $8 million. If you took away his salary, it would still be an unmanageable $5 million. But the way they see it, they would have to replace Johnson with a veteran receiver that is at least good and would therefore command a salary close to Johnson's $3 million he gets in '08, keeping the cap hit over $5M and closer to $8M.
Which they can't do without cutting some guys that are going to play a lot for them this season. So while some feel the Bengals are going to guarantee a bad season if Chad comes back to wreak havoc in the locker room, the Bengals feel they are securing a bad season if they give up one of their best players and weaken the strength of their team (the passing game) without getting anything near his experience and numbers in return.
You're still going to have a cap problem with a guy like Urlacher for '08 because his gripe is he isn't getting paid enough, either.
You can match it up all you want. And Chad can be McCain's running mate. And ESPN can give him a nightly Bang The Bengals time slot.
But it doesn't matter.
They can't deal with the cap hit.
Heck, Chad can blame himself. The reason the hit is so ridiculous is because he wanted more money even before his first contract extension was up. And they gave it to him in '06, but we still haven't reached the final year of the FIRST extension.
And, even if Chad agreed to give back some of the bonuses, they still take the cap hit in '08.
Sure, you can lessen the hit by trading him or cutting him after June 1. But what good does a post-June 1 trade do for you in 2008, when the draft is already over? And do you think you're going to get a player near what Chad brings them?
And there's no way they're going to release him.
What's been lost by many is that Bengals president Mike Brown isn't going to be moved by Chad basically holding him hostage at the end of an NFL Network microphone. You can criticize Mike for perhaps underestimating the damage that Chad can do in the locker room, but you have to admit that he's on the side of principle in this one. And that's a hard thing to just dismiss.
As for the draft picks you would get in exchange for Chad, the club would get extra salary cap room to cover signing those picks. But it offers no cap relief.
And, what does a first-round receiver mean? Look at the draft Chad came out of in 2001. It's a roll of the dice. It could be David Terrell or Rod Gardner or Santana Moss, and history shows most receivers give you close to nothing that first year.
So they lose him and draft a guy that can't come close to matching his production until, best-case scenario, a year or two down the line. Plus, they have to cut guys to fit the trade?
Like I've said, it makes no sense to keep him. And it makes no sense to get rid of him.
Q: I was just wondering when we can expect a decision on Odell. It seems like the NFL is stringing us along again and it would be nice to know if he is going to be reinstated before the draft. Who-Dey.
--Tom, Philadelphia, PA
TOM: Exactly right. Look for something before the draft. In fact, within a few days. Maybe 48-72 hours. There seems to be no change from what Mike said at the NFL meetings last month. They get the sense if he keeps on this path that Thurman is going to be reinstated.