Hobson's Choice: Early is good

Q: Where does the signing of Jones, Steinbach and Anderson stand? I read Willie Anderson's comments (last week on Bengals.com) and I have to agree that I was surprised that Chad's deal was done before signing at least one of the other O-lineman.

I don't have a problem with the Bengals locking up a probable Hall of Famer, but our immediate need to lock down the O-line is too pressing to let get into the season. If Jones and Steinbach are not signed and they end up having another great season, it will be even harder to get them long term deals. The amount of the Steve Hutchinson deal is making hard as it is this year. I just hope the O-line wants to be here as bad as Chad, and that Marvin helps get these deals done soon.
**--Chris, Taylor Mill, Ky.

CHRIS:** It's the best question left. There always seems to be a fire burning somewhere, doesn't it?

Even though this is arguably their most successful offseason in the free-agency era starting with the Carson Palmer extension, much of Bengaldom still wears the scars of Pro Bowl guard Max Montoya's 1990 defection that led to the demise of the offensive line and then to the quick disintegration of the rest of the team. If there is one guy that understands that, it's Mike Brown.

They don't look to be close to a deal with any of the three, and certainly not with Anderson because he said last week he hasn't got a call.

Just because they haven't got a deal with these guys, you can't assume they've ignored them. These aren't Federal-Express-next-day-kind of deals for either side. It's the first big contract for Jones and Steinbach and, you're right, the market on the offensive line has undergone a sea change with the Hutchinson deal and they don't want to sell themselves short even if they do have a year left on their deals.

But on the other side, Brown, the Blackburns, and Lewis have shown they are willing to drop big money on players who have performed well for them, and those three guys obviously fit that category. It's significant that in a vote of league officials at last month's annual league meeting, Bengals' capologist Katie Blackburn finished fifth in an Executive of the Year vote.

They reportedly have offers out to Jones and Steinbach in talks that began about a month ago. The Palmer and Johnson extensions didn't boil until a couple months went by, so they still have some shelf life. These aren't easy deals. All three are at least top 10 and maybe even higher.

Anderson is saying the same things he's been saying since he didn't like their extension offer before the last training camp of what was believed to be three years for about $18 million. He figures he's going to be a free agent, they should sign Jones and Steinbach first because of their age, he wishes something could have been done sooner, he doesn't take it personally, business is business, and he vows to play 15 seasons in the NFL.

He has been absolutely marvelous on and off the field and what a huge hole he would leave emotionally and physically. People can talk about his knee problems and the fact he'll be 32 when he's a free agent, but the man hasn't missed a game in this decade.

They want them all, but how many teams can fit three Pro Bowl linemen under their salary cap when the franchise tag number is going to be about $9 million next year? They will no doubt use that on one of them next year, and hope they can work on the other two.

You make a good point, though. In this day and age with the cap on a good team, in order for a big extension to get done, a player has to want to be there. He can get more in free agency on a team that doesn't have as many good players. But maybe you take a little less in trying to keep together a Pro Bowl and playoff offense.

But the team can't use that as a license to get someone cheap, and looking at the extensions for Palmer, right guard Bobbie Williams, and Chad and Jeremi Johnson, you'd have to say they haven't been cheap.

It's interesting to see them get drilled in some quarters for signing Palmer and Chad Johnson three and four years, early, respectively. Imagine the outcry if they didn't act on Palmer, waited a few years, they didn't get a CBA, and suddenly instead of a $96 million extension, it was a team-wrecking $200 million?

And no one doubts that Johnson was underpaid after putting together three Pro Bowl seasons, but by doing the extension now, it not only takes care of a potentially huge headache down the line, but you do it for so much cheaper than you would have in 2007 and 2008.

That's why the early deals are so good. They don't cost as much as they could if they wait. This is the kind of thinking they should be using and if they continue with it, the current offensive line situation in which they have multiple players staring at free agency with one year left shouldn't happen again.

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