Hobson's Choice: No trades in NFL Hot Stove

What are the chances the Bengals trade Chris Perry for a big-hitting safety, big-hitting good cover corner or a pass-rushing end? Think about what Shanahan did with the Portis – Bailey trade and it make sense. I'm not saying Perry isn't a good player, but with Rudi and all of the other weapons...we really don't need him. Also, we could use a lower pick for a young running back to groom behind Rudi.

What are the chances the Bengals resign Willie Anderson, Levi Jones and Eric Steinbach? I don't see them being able to get all three. Willie is one of the best linemen in the league and will command BIG dollars. Not to answer my own question, but I see them letting Willie (the heart and soul of the team) go and signing Jones and Steinbach. Keeping the left side intact and bringing in Andrews at RT makes sense.

And what about Justin Smith? Bust or average? Should they resign him or give him a taste of free agency?
Russ, Cincinnati RUSS:
An intriguing question on Perry. That would be a great baseball trade and you could just see the midnight announcement at the winter meetings: Perry and Stacy Andrews to the rebuilding Colts for safety Bob Sanders and a draft pick to be named. But it just doesn't happen in football and, besides, the Bengals covet Perry.

The salary cap is a major reason you can't pull off trades. Trading Perry heading into the third year of his deal means you take his cap hit, plus the cap hit of the guy you're trading for. It doesn't make economic sense, and it also doesn't make personnel sense to give up a first-round draft pick.

The best and most economical way to attack the safety problem is to go get a veteran in free agency at your price without sacrificing a premium talent like Perry. That's how you have to do it under the cap.

Plus, Perry is a first-round stud. Even though he's backing up Johnson, no one doubts he could be a fine back in his own right, and some segments of the national media left the Colts game thinking he was their best back. His ankle injury late in the year not only showed how valuable he is as a pass catcher, but it also showed why it's so nice to have two upper-echelon running backs.

(Rudi is still the man. His patience and consistency is something to watch.)

But how valuable is Perry? In two of the three games he missed, Carson Palmer struggled more than usual completing his passes with 57.5 percent against Cleveland and Buffalo compared to 67.8 for the season. Having a guy with Perry's skills working underneath the deep zones is invaluable. I just think interchanging a guy like that with a lower-round pick borders on malfeasance.

There's no doubt the Bengals are going to work this offseason to extend some of their offensive line past 2006, when center Rich Braham and right guard Bobbie Williams are also up, along with Anderson, Jones, and Steinbach.

It's probably impossible to keep them all. Some think Anderson is the most expendable of an un-expendable lot because of his age (31 next season) and the fact that Andrews' evolution is so impressive. But, there are also plenty of people who don't think Anderson is expendable because of what he means to this team emotionally and the fact the guy is still a Pro Bowl player. I don't know how you let a guy like that walk away.

They have to find a way to re-sign Jones, too. The guy shuts down big-time pass rushers, plain and simple. Can they also sign a Pro Bowl-type guard in that mix in Steinbach as well as blossoming Bobbie Williams? Tough call, but do they think they can play with a guy such as Kooistra, a guy who isn't as athletic as Steinbach but is a guy they like? What happens if a tackle falls to No. 24 in the tackle-rich first round that they didn't think would be there?

There are more questions than answers at this point, but they are probably going to try to get one of those guys done before this season.

Another factor is the state of the collective bargaining agreement between the owners and players. If there isn't a CBA extension and no salary cap in '07, then Jones and Steinbach don't become free agents.

As for Justin Smith, he gets penalized because he was the fourth pick in the 2001 draft and since he doesn't get double-digit sacks from his end spot every year (he never has), then he's viewed as a bust.

But the coaches don't look at him that way. They see him as a productive, durable and high-motor guy who has averaged about seven sacks and 83 tackles per year. Those numbers don't grow on trees. You're looking at a guy that goes hard every snap, plays every down, and is headed to a 10-year career. That's better than a lot of first-round picks. Far from a bust. A very solid player. You should be able to sign him at a workable number and you should want to as another guy who is up after '06.

Of course, it's easy for me to say, 'Sign everybody,' but I also don't see many every-snap defensive ends producing seven sacks and 80 tackles a year, either. He's got to be a must, you would think, unless the draft is kind.

No question the Bengals have some tough economic decisions. Such is the price of having a playoff team, the one absolute truth in the days before and the days after the salary cap.

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