Hobson's Choice: Microscope, not hot seat

Q: I think it would be ridiculous to say the least to even think of putting Marvin Lewis on the "Hot Seat." He is the best thing to happen to this organization in a very long time, both on and off the field. I know usually there is a three-to-five year window when evaluating a coach, but considering the changes he has made with the team, I think he deserves more respect than what other people seem to be giving him. Your take?
--Averon, Dayton, OH

AVERON: No question. If Marvin is on the hot seat, then so are Tony Dungy and Bill Belichick. That said, he'd be the first to tell you this is a decisive year of his career as he tries to make a good team great.

But in the name of Sam Wyche, let him.

Remember Wyche?

After a 10-6 run in 1986, people wanted him gone after the disastrous '87 season of 4-11. Lewis didn't have to deal with a strike last year, but all the off-field stuff, Carson Palmer's injury and the first-round draft pick curse of Chris Perry and David Pollack may have been worse if you add it all up. And the Bengals still came within a snap of the playoffs.

Twice.

Sam got a reprieve in '88 and embarked on a three-year run that included two playoff berths and an AFC title.

Yeah, Marvin says he's on the hot seat and he is in the sense that everyone agrees this team underachieved last season. He's not going to get fired if they do it again, but a repeat would spawn a whole new kind of offseason.

(You could make an argument that the guy coached his keeseter off by coming within a hair of the playoffs despite significant injuries to significant players such as Palmer, Rich Braham, Levi Jones, Tab and Chris Perry, Brian Simmons and Sam Adams.)

Every coach says he's on the hot seat and I'm sure Lewis puts himself on it because he's a competitor and he no doubt, like you, is sick about how many games his team frittered away last year.

And, yeah, he's on the hot seat in the most radical wing of Bengaldom. You always have your extremists.

OK, Lewis is under the microscope as he tries to figure out how to make this good team great, but that's a lot different than the hot seat.

The only true hot seat can be designated by the owner via words or signals. Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville. Joe Gibbs in Washington. Tom Coughlin in New York.

The Bengals' Mike Brown showed his commitment to Lewis with that five-year deal after the 2005 AFC North championship. If there is one guy who appreciates what Lewis has done, it's Brown. The team that was the punch line of the '90s is one of only five teams that hasn't had a losing record since Lewis arrived in 2003, a stretch in which the Bengals have the NFL's 12th-best record.

Should it be better?

Certainly.

Must it get better?

Absolutely.

Brown finally has the quarterback he feels you need to win it all.

Each year is different, of course. But Year Two of a five-year deal coinciding with Palmer's first healthy offseason since the playoff run isn't a Hot Seat season.

But, yeah, that hot light is coming from the microscope.


Q: Should the Dwight Freeney contract concern the Bengals? Obviously this raises the market price for Justin Smith and many feel that he is already being overpaid for his one-year franchise deal. Still, given that the price of DEs is about to go up, is franchising him annually potentially going to be the best route? Also, as the salary cap is going up next year and more and more contracts like this are being signed, should the Bengals be concerned about our ultimate ability to attract free agents? Will any measure be taken to increase revenue (i.e. selling the stadium naming rights for up to $5 million a year)?
--Michael P., New York, NY

MICHAEL: Kind of makes you glad they got Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson done when they did, doesn't it? Those wouldn't be cap numbers, but gross national products.

The fact they franchised Smith shows they were concerned even before the mega deals for Freeney and Charles Grant. And what about Monday's deal making the Lions' Cory Redding the highest-paid defensive tackle in the NFL? We're talking about a guy that last year had career highs in tackles (47) and sacks (eight) getting $7 million per year.

How much would you be willing to pay Smith?

He doesn't have Pro Bowl sack numbers. Yet he's an extremely solid player who plays damn near 100 percent of the snaps, always leads the D-line in tackles, is always in shape, and always goes all out.

But is he a gamebreaker? Does he have the havoc-wreaking abilities of a Freeney or Adalius Thomas?

See the dilemma?

And would someone give him $20 million up front if Freeney got $30 million and Grant (36 sacks in five seasons compared to Smith's 41.5 in six) got $20 million in guarantees?

What should $20 million get you?

Sacks or snaps?

It is hard to blame the Bengals for not loading so much into a guy who has never had a double-digit sack season. And it's hard to blame Smith for believing a huge payday is waiting for him somewhere when he views the Reddings and Grants of the world.

The Bengals have never franchised a player in back-to-back seasons and they certainly won't do it a third time because that means he would get quarterback money.

Who knows? A lot probably depends on the progress of young ends like Jonathan Fanene and Frostee Rucker, especially since we seem to be nearing a $12 million franchise tag at DE. Can you afford to give anybody not Palmer or Chad that number?

As for naming rights, they aren't what they were at the dawn of the decade when FedEx Corp., paid $205 million for 27 years for the naming rights to the Redskins stadium and Reliant Energy paid about $10 million a year for 32 years for three facilities in their deal with the Texans in Houston.

The Colts did get $120 million over 20 years from Lucas Oil, but that has been the exception rather than the norm when it comes to the latest trends in the small markets.

The Jaguars are still trying to get a deal in Jacksonville before Opening Day and the Titans recently reached a deal in Nashville with Louisiana-Pacific Corp., that nets them just $30 million over 10 years.

It would have to be the kind of a deal that makes a difference and those deals nowadays look to be few and far between. The Bengals made a concerted effort in the late '90s to secure naming rights when Paul Brown Stadium was being built, but apparently didn't get offers that were comparable to the rest of the league.

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