Hobson's Choice: Money ball

Q: I think there are a couple of moves that the team needs to make in the offseason.

Our LB depth is very concerning and it appears we haven't tried anything to fix it. I saw today that Napoleon Harris was signed by the Chiefs. A guy that would have fit perfectly here and would have provided someone for Ahmad Brooks to study under. The defense will not be able to handle another MLB caught out of position.

I understand having a safety like Dexter Jackson helps fix that problem but it still has to be a concern. Are there any other LBs out there that are worth signing to help bring some depth and experience?

I also think they need to find room to sign Randy McMichael. He is a TE with the ability to get downfield and looks to be a strong blocker up front.

I like DT John Thornton but he really hasn't lived up to his contract so the team should really consider releasing or re-signing him for less.

The combination of Kelly and McMichael at TE would make us more deadly on offense. Is there a possibility we could sign McMichael or even Eric Johnson from San Fransisco?

The Jungle is alive in the Garden State!
**--Scott, Manalapan, N.J.

SCOTT:** Stop right there. We hear you, but right now they feel they don't have room to sign a petition, never mind a free agent.

We can talk about all these guys until they retire, but the fact is they're not coming here. Not until somebody gets lopped, and even then it won't be a name grabber. Unless somebody wriggles free late and they decide they dip into the reserve they have allotted the draft picks.

I'm not sure what the big surprise is. Once they franchised Justin Smith it was clear they weren't going to do much.

Even signing Reggie Kelly for what looks to be a $2.6 million salary cap hit all but takes them out of the Kevin Kaesviharn market. People are aghast they are up against it but when your quarterback is pulling down an eight-figure cap hit, his two tackles each have top five contracts, the Pro Bowl wide receiver is on his third deal and you've got a franchised defensive end, it goes fast.

Yeah, they could cut some people and release some people, but do they have people that can replace them? You cut Thornton and who plays tackle? I guess Sam Adams, Shaun Smith (if he doesn't sign an offer sheet in Cleveland) and Jonathan Fanene.

They're a group with a ton of potential, but Sam is coming off injury, Fanene has never stayed healthy and Shaun (although I think he can) has never been a full-time player. Question marks where Thornton gives you brains and you know what you've got. I just don't think the D-line played all that badly last season.

Noted on the linebackers and that's why I'm against releasing Brian Simmons. No one to replace him. But at this point in the market, if they're not going to pay Simmons $3.3 million, don't look at anybody else until after the draft or at the minimum.

You can debate it all you want. Too much money on offense? Not enough on defense? OK, which offensive players wouldn't you have re-done? And the last one, Kelly, is a must just because of his presence and the depth behind him at tight end.

The Bengals always get banged in March, but lately the reason they haven't gone to the table is because their bonanzas have been un-March sideshows. Extensions for Palmer, Chad Johnson, Willie Anderson and Levi Jones have been as big as any Joey Porter signing on the cap count and field. But it doesn't get the play.


Q: Why didn't the Bengals push harder to get Joey Porter? I know that this would have cost them a lot of money but this guy is mean and intimidating, which is something the Bengals lack on both sides of the ball.

I would have loved to have seen Porter here even if it would have meant not re-signing Kelly or Kaesviharn. I just don't get why we didn't go after him harder especially with the lack of depth at linebacker.
**--Jordan C., Dayton, Ky.

JORDAN:** Porter had nothing to do with Kelly or Kaesviharn. It came down to keeping the franchise tag on Justin Smith or losing him and adding Porter.

But the Bengals never really got a chance to get into the mix because the Dolphins struck so quickly and aggressively. And it showed that the Bengals hesitated because of his age (30) mixed with the guaranteed money of $20 million. Throw into that the whispers about his knees and declining play and counter that with Smith's career average play time of damn near 90 percent of the snaps. Plus you've got the unknown of Porter playing in a 4-3 defense for the first time.

Look, I would have loved to have seen the guy here, too, but these are the questions that probably made them hesitate and you have to say they are legit.

(Former Cleveland scout Matt Williamson, the AFC North analyst for espn.com, told The Miami Herald, "He's not the pass rusher he once was. When he goes against a top left tackle, he disappears in a hurry. He's [no longer] a Pro Bowl-caliber guy. The [money] is crazy for an aging guy who's declining.'')

To even have the debate hits at the larger questions.

How committed to the 4-3 are they? How committed are they to getting guys who are less volatile and more stable in a locker room that, at times, can be more One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest than All For One.

Maybe Porter is an answer no matter what kind of defense you're running, but it still seems like they're still grasping, and maybe that's part of the problem.

And it also touches on the dilemma of franchising Smith. Some argue it kills them in the pursuit of upgrading their defense. There may not be an impact player out there, but there have to be a couple of solid role players that can make them better.

Others argue, and you'd have to say this is where the Bengals come down, is that those role players aren't going to make a enough of a winning difference and the supposed impact players of this market just don't provide the impact that other free agency classes have had.

Plus, all Smith does is just show up and play. He took 94.4 percent of the snaps in '04, 92.8 in '05 and 97.7 in '06 and his numbers dwarfed any of the free-agent defensive ends except Dwight Freeney.

And if you're trying to get better on defense, how do you start by taking away your most productive player?


Why no talk about Odell Thurman? Don't you think it would be a very bad move not to give him one more chance and give him the three strikes you're out policy?
**--Jonathan, Anchorage, AK

JONATHAN:** Thurman has admitted he's an alcoholic so there really can be no talk because this is now, literally, a day-by-day process that has nothing to do with football.

Lewis said it last month — the emphasis is on getting his life together, so there really isn't much to talk about.

Lewis and his agent won't, and it really is in Thurman's hands. Lewis certainly sounded as if they thought he was ready by the time he can apply for reinstatement on July 11 then Thurman would play.

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