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Hobson's Choice: Looking around

Q: As it seems clear that T.J. will not be returning next season, the need for a veteran wide receiver becomes a pressing need. I feel that Andre Caldwell seems like a good prospect in the mold of Housh, but I think that given his injury problems last year and that he is still an unknown it would be wise for the Bengals to give Carson a reliable weapon like T.J. Also, I just don't see Jerome Simpson contributing very much this coming year. I know Kelley Washington is a possibility but who else do you see in this market that could be a good fit to partner up with Chad and Caldwell while he continues to grow? Nate Washington from Pittsburgh is a guy that I think could be a great receiver who just wasn't a fit in their system. I'd love to see him team with Carson and bring that winning mentality to the Bengals locker room.
--Josh, Cincinnati, OH

JOSH: Washington is a good player and I also like Devery Henderson at the Saints, but I wonder if they already have that kind of big-play downfield guy in Chris Henry and need another Houshreliable guy? Plus, I'm not sure T.J. is a 100 percent lock gone. Maybe 60-70.

Former NFL personnel man Michael Lombardi, who writes for the National Football Post, actually rates Washington and Houshmandzadeh 2-3 on his free-agent receiver list headed by Antonio Bryant. As Lombardi says, Washington has the great vertical speed and is greatly improved, but he also drops a lot of balls.

Bryant Johnson of the Niners isn't going to blow open games, but he's 6-2, 214 pounds, and it'd be nice to see what a former first-round pick like that could do teamed with a No. 1 pick quarterback.

Another interesting guy would be Palmer's former housemate at USC, Keary Colbert. They almost signed him last year before he went to Detroit, but Lombardi doesn't even put him on his list of one-year minimum guys.

You could go a couple of ways. If you want a guy like Housh who is so good on third down and might be able to mentor some guys, what about 34-year-old Amani Toomer?

But then, why would they do that if they think T.J. is too old at 32 next year? I think you could get two young guys pretty cheap that could possibly blossom under Palmer: 26-year-old Brandon Jones of Tennessee and 27-year-old Brandon Lloyd of Chicago. Neither are playmakers and they need to have a running game to get open. But they also haven't exactly been in pass-efficient offenses and could get a new life with No. 9.

Don't bury Simpson yet by bringing in too many veterans. I think that was the most interesting part of Marvin's media availability over in Indianapolis Friday. It was almost a 10-minute-audio-visual-reminder-to-self to give kids more of a chance and be more patient in the development side of things.

Not just Simpson, but a guy like Pat Sims sat around collecting dust and checks for two months before he gave the run defense a huge lift.

(Draft Day Rewind: Who would you rather have? USC linebacker Keith Rivers at No. 9 and Sims at No. 77? Or USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis at No. 7 and no pick at 77?)

I know a lot of people inside and outside the Bengals fear Simpson is a bust but, to his great credit, Lewis has always backed Simpson to the hilt. So much so that Lewis seemed to be coaxing Palmer to get more in Simpson's camp.

All I know is this: In 20 preseason and regular-season games last year, only one wide receiver actually made a downfield catch longer than 40 yards, and it was Simpson. Forget it was the preseason and it was a throwaway launched by and into a bunch of second-half backups. The kid jumped up and made a play, and that exactly hasn't been happening around here.

And don't rule out T.J. coming back. I don't think he is, but there are some people like Lombardi who say he wouldn't give Houshmandzadeh a four-year deal because of age. But there is so much cap room out there, I think somebody is going to give it to him. Still, if he doesn't get the number he wants right away, the Bengals are in it.

Q: I was wondering if you have heard anything about potential free-agent names out there that we might consider to bolster the team in the areas we need. Typically we don't throw big money at big names, so do you see possibly names like Tra Thomas, Derrick Ward or maybe even Darren Sproles to fill some holes for us? Also, send this advice to the upper chain for me. Trade down and take James "The Animal" Laurinaitis in the draft. Think about it. "The Animal" in The Jungle? It fills several needs and sounds like a no-brainer to me. What do you think?
--Marcus, Granville, OH

MARCUS: Love "The Animal." The guy has been the heart of an elite defense for a long time and he's got the kind of passion that brings playbooks to life.

But if they traded out of No. 6 they would probably be leering at a wide receiver or running back. If they don't take USC middle linebacker Rey Maualuga at No. 6, it's hard to see them taking Laurinaitis later.

You're right. They're not going to roll out big money, so you can forget Sproles (the Chargers franchised him) and Ward at running back, and at 34 Thomas is too old, particularly when you could be on the verge of taking a first-round tackle.

If they can re-sign running back Cedric Benson, safety Chris Crocker, backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, and right tackle Stacy Andrews, that's going to be all she wrote. If they don't, they'll plug guys in with guys with similar specs.

So, since they're going to draft at least one running back, they really don't need a bell cow veteran, but they do need an experienced guy. Maybe a Kevin Jones or DeShaun Foster.

As for backup QBs, if they don't re-sign Fitzpatrick they're going to find themselves in the same predicament before the '06 season and Palmer was coming off reconstructive knee surgery. If they have any shred of hope of playing, they won't come here to sit behind him. From Kyle Boller to Charlie Frye to Jeff Garcia to Joey Harrington to whoever else is on the list.

Well, OK, Anthony Wright is out there, but I doubt they'll do that again. Still, he was what they needed.

With center Eric Ghiaciuc not expected back, one guy that is kind of intriguing is former Bengals guard Mike Goff. Would he come in and play the left side next to one of the young centers already on the roster?

And if the Bengals can't re-sign Andrews, they would most likely go for a veteran backup right tackle with a near minimum number. But with the Dolphins' Vernon Carey hitting the $7M per gong last week, it will take about two weeks for the rest of the tackles to figure out the market is done.

Q: What do you think the chances of the Bengals going after Jeff Saturday, and maybe drafting a center in the second third round so they can learn from him?
--Devin S., Heath, OH

DEVIN: The Bengals highly regard Saturday, 33, and his contributions at center to one of the NFL's most consistent high-octane offenses. But he isn't the answer the Bengals need in the AFC North.

He may have the savvy and experience the Bengals have missed at that spot since the retirement of Rich Braham, but if they're letting Ghiaciuc go because the 3-4 nose tackles are too big for him, then Saturday is in the same boat.

But, you're exactly right. If they did try to get him, it would be as a foot bridge to a draft pick or to one of the young guys they like that has been in the system for a couple of years in Kyle Cook and Dan Santucci.

They would probably prefer to get a vet that can play both guard and center if they don't sign a vet guard.

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