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Hobson's Choice: No easy call

Q: I'm a little confused. Why are we spending money on players who haven't proven to be above average players. Reggie Kelly and Kevin Kaesviharn. Carson Palmer is what our franchise, now, is based upon, and we need to protect him.

Not signing Eric S. is to me a big mistake. He's been an alternate in the last two Pro Bowls, he's only 27 and he rarely is hurt. With Carson's injury last year I believe (call me stupid) that Carson needs the best protection possible, and letting Eric go to free agency is just doing the wrong thing. Please make sense of this.
**--Anthony L, Woodinville, WA

ANTHONY:** Protecting Palmer is the reason Steinbach is gone. They're paying their tackles top five money at their positions. At some point they have to spread their money around. Like on defense.

No question that Steinbach is an elite player, but they've made a pretty solid football-business decision. The best pass rushers come from the outside—ends and linebackers—and they have to be blocked by your best pass protectors and those are your tackles and the Bengals have two of the best and most expensive.

Because of that, the Bengals can't give Steinbach close to what he'd get on the market but they've got a more than able replacement in Andrew Whitworth. He's cheaper, younger, and while he may not be a Pro Bowler yet, the drop-off isn't hellacious.

Yeah, it's tough to lose a durable, versatile, good guy like Steinbach. But it's life under the salary cap. You can't pay everybody, and the ones you do pay big are the guys that do it on the edge instead of inside: Tackles, wideouts, pass rushers and cornerbacks.

As for Kaesviharn and Kelly, they're role players and that's how they'll be paid. They're not taking money from anybody else. The money-eater is the $8.6 million franchise tag on Justin Smith, but it's a necessary evil.

Q: With his recent release from St. Louis, any possibility the Bengals look at Adam Timmerman? Yes, he's old but a tough guard with Pro Bowl and Super Bowl experience who was only due $2.2 and $2.3 for 2007 and 2008, respectively, and to me he could be signed at a good bargain by mid to late March if he's still available.

If Levi or Willie go down due to injuries and Whitworth has to slide to a tackle position I'd feel more comfortable having Timmerman on the line than Kooistra or Kieft.

Also, say Justin Smith doesn't plan to sign the franchise tag until after minicamps and we draft a quality DE in the first or second round, what are the possibilities we pull away our offer to Smith and let him walk?

It doesn't seem smart for him to wait long to sign our offer because by the summer teams will have already spent big money at the start of free agency and his demand would seem to be lower than it is right now.
**--Hatton, Amelia, OH

HATTON:** The Bengals already drafted a first-day defensive end in Frostee Rucker last year, so there's no need to do it again. The only way they pull the tag is if they see something better on the market, but he's not out there yet.

That's why Smith won't wait long to sign the tender. He's no dummy. He knows the longer it goes, the less money is out there so if no trades or blockbuster offer sheets come his way, figure he signs the thing before the April 28-29 draft and settles into the minicamps.

Marvin Lewis said he expects Smith to be at the camps and agent Jim Steiner said his client is not upset with the tag. This team thinks it can win now, so it won't pull the tag because by tagging Smith it has sent signals that it's not comfortable replacing him with two rookies: a draft pick or Rucker, basically still a rookie because he missed last year on injured reserve.

No way they sign Timmerman, right? Not a guard who turns 36 in training camp? Not when they are expected to put a second-round tender of $1.3 million on backup guard Stacy Andrews in restricted free agency. They've poured three years of work into this project and he responded by playing some solid games in place of right guard Bobbie Williams last season.

Andrews is the first guard off the bench, not Scott Kooistra, and Adam Kieft looks to be just a tackle and is going to be battling for one of the last roster spots as he comes back from a devastating knee injury dating back to the first week of August in 2005.

Q: I was wondering if there was any way that the Bengals could do a plan with the players that we would maybe restructure the contract of Palmer and Anderson like the Colts did with their quarterback and possibly save some (money) and hopefully make revenue to maybe gather other players in the draft or trades. This in return shows sportsmanship along with team unity, I feel.
**--Gene, Newport, KY

GENE:** Doubt it. The Bengals dislike pushing money into future years, which is what Indy did when Peyton Manning agreed last week to convert a $10 million roster bonus into a regular signing bonus.

It saves the Colts $8 million under this year's salary cap, but drops more money into the cap count for the next three years.

Plus, Palmer already has the $15 million roster bonus and $9 million option bonus as part of his six-year, $97 million extension he signed in December of 2005, so it can't be re-done.

And the Bengals wouldn't do it anyway because they want to get their cap hits out of the way instead of tying up the cap in future years.

Not only that, their biggest deals—Chad Johnson, Willie Anderson, Levi Jones—are so new it wouldn't make any sense to redo them so soon.

Plus, the Colts needed an emergency maneuver in order to be under the cap by March 2 because they only had about $200,000 under the cap and needed the eight mill to franchise defensive end Dwight Freeney.

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