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Hobson's Choice: Fire bell in the night

Q: Are you as concerned as I am about 2010 the way things now stand with the CBA? We already see in baseball what happens to small-town markets without the deep pockets of the others. Reality or not, the Brown family perception is not to spend a lot of money. While anything can happen in a couple of years of negotiating, I am not real hopeful that we can compete that year. Of course, until we get over the 8-8 hump and stay there, I'm all that hopeful for this season. I do hope they prove me wrong.
--Tim J., Clarksville, TN

TIM: All I know about 2010 is that I've got to get to a high school graduation in late May. Other than that, I don't know what I'm doing tomorrow night. But, I hear you. It is the NFL's version of a fire bell in the night.

That's the problem. The date is so far into the future, particularly in the 365-24-7-never-sleep NFL, it's hard to see either side getting serious about it any time soon if you look at history. But, you're right. It is unsettling.

I think you're concerned about the lack of a salary cap in 2010 if they don't reach a new deal by then, but the Bengals should be OK in that season.

If you think the depth of quality on the market in free agency this past year was threadbare, wait 'till 2010 under the current CBA. You'll think the reserve clause is back.

Teams will be allowed to use both the franchise and transition tags on their own free agents instead of just one, and the only players who can become free agents are players with six or more accrued seasons instead of just four.

So, they should be OK in that first uncapped year.

Perception is reality, but each year the cap has gone up and each year since the stadium has been in operation the Bengals have been either at the cap or over.

But the question for the small-market teams is how can they hold up over a few seasons without a cap. Yes, Major League Baseball would suggest an unmitigated disaster and if it gets to 2011 with no rules except signed contracts, forget it.

There is one school of thought that thinks if there is a new CBA without a cap, small-market teams might be able to survive if free agency jumps to six years. It's not like baseball, where players are just hitting their primes. It seems that only the very best NFL players have more than six productive years.

But who can see the players settling for six-year free agency even with no cap? That's why there are enough poison pills for both sides to get the deal done before 2010. For added measure, you've got NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw saying once there is no cap in 2010, they won't accept one in the next deal.

The difference from the last work stoppage in 1987 and now is about a zillion dollars. In these 21 years, the NFL has gone from being America's game to America itself. The money is so huge, how could both sides muck it up?

That reminds me.

Who won that World Series between the Blue Jays in 1993 and the Braves in 1995?

Q: What is the reasoning behind moving Ahmad Brooks to the outside and bringing Dhani Jones to the middle? Jones has played as an outside linebacker for most of his career and Brooks has played nothing but middle linebacker for his entire football life. It seems with our lack of experience at the linebacker position that the last thing we should be doing is trying to introduce our players to new positions.
--Dave R., Big Sky, MT

DAVE: It's a good point. The other side of the argument, though, is you have to augment what the player does best and Brooks looks more natural on this level rushing the passer and using his size in matchups more prevalent on the perimeter.

Meanwhile, given his 109 NFL games, Jones is obviously more instinctive in the middle than Brooks when it comes to making calls and "directing traffic," as Marvin Lewis says.

When we asked new Bengals linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald about the moves last week, he talked about Brooks being able to use his versatility in the SAM spot.

"Athletically, I know he can play that position," FitzGerald said. "He's got the right size to play tight ends and cover tight ends. He gives you the best of both worlds."

As for Jones, FitzGerald said, "He's quick with it; he picks it up fast. He's got a good understanding of what the SAM and WILL do."

FitzGerald had a few qualifiers. He says Brooks' enormous physical skills "aren't going to make up the difference," so he needs him to keep picking up the game. And while there is a question at how Jones is going to play as a full-time middle linebacker, he has played it before and the fact he has played so much SAM and WILL should make it an easy transition. And they've done it at the right time, during the spring they are installing the new defense.

Plus, it may turn out that Brooks is most effective as a third-down player. Currently he's running second-team SAM behind Rashad Jeanty and he's got his hands full in beating out a guy the Bengals like on first and second down. But Brooks' 270 pounds and quickness can be a nightmare matchup up on blitzes.

After having limited snaps last week because of his nagging groin injury, Brooks looked to get more work Wednesday.

Q: If Eric Henderson were to make the 53-man roster as a DE, wouldn't he be required to change jersey numbers? Isn't the D-line required to wear 60s and 90s? If so, Keith Rivers could wear the double-nickel and Ahmad Brooks could change back to Henderson's No. 50, right? I'm anxious to buy Rivers' jersey, and he just doesn't look right as 58.
--Tony, Cincinnati

TONY: You're right. The Knight of Numbers, equipment manager Jeff Brickner says the D-linemen have to first be in 90s and if that's not available, then 60s.

At some point before the preseason opener, you'd think Henderson would have to get that D-line number because he is running with the linemen at practice. They could decide he's a hybrid backer and leave him in No. 50, but it's all up to the head coach and not Brickner.

Since Brooks was in such a hurry to get rid of No. 50 in exchange for 55, don't think he's going to give up No. 55 so quickly. But then, since Rivers' jersey isn't in the Pro Shop yet, Brooks and Rivers still must be in negotiations.

"I've got a month to work on him," Rivers said at the rookie camp three weeks ago, but he's still wearing No. 58.

You can say that No. 55 doesn't mean here what it means at USC. But the guys who wore it there, guys like Junior Seau and Willie McGinest, made sure they wore it in the pros.

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