Geoff, Over the last couple of weeks I have been thinking about the O line. Eric Steinbach, Levi Jones and Willie Andersen are all such a core part of the Offense. Aren't these guys heading into final years of their contracts? If we are close to that CAP this year, where does the money come from to sign these guys into the future? We lost Mike Goff to San Diego last year. I didn't like to see him go and didn't the running game feel his absence in the first 4 games (some effects were also due to key injuries)? How many of the three can we resign especially knowing the Willie might be seeking "top five" money and thinking that the other two might be top 10 at their positions? Is this a year where Coach Lewis starts going deeper into the depth chart to see what he has? If he does, what effects does that have on morale of these three veterans? I can't see him sitting any of these guys for anything but a quick blow to catch their wind.
Will the holes Ruddy has been blowing through for his big gains be changed into holes for the defense to blow through if we loose 2 of these 3? And how much does a year where the Bengals go deep into the play-off (even the Super Bowl) play with these guys signing for less (like in the Patriots organization)?
It's always good to think about the offensive line, no matter when their contracts are up. But you've got two years to worry about this one, so relax. Since center Rich Braham signed a two-year deal, all the line's starters (as well as tight end Reggie Kelly) are up in '06. A grand feat in this day and age of bobble-head rosters. Which is why there is an upside to not paying guys like Jamie Sharper and Peter Boulware and trying to extend guys you already have. Which now looks to be their focus.
I think you can chalk up the early struggles of the line last year to the sore knees of their tackles, the immobility of Steinbach's elbow, the absence of Braham, and how the pre-season injuries destroyed their rhythm by time the regular season got here. If anything, Bobbie Williams, at Goff's right guard spot, upgraded them in the running game since Goff made his name more with his quickness in pass protection.
Who knows how many you can keep? Two? Three? Would a team that traditionally hasn't paid guards big money (note Goff), pay a guy $5 million per year? If they start now, maybe they can keep all four of the non-centers, keeping in mind they also have the franchise or transition tag at their disposal. Better to pay now than later.
Yes, it would be hard to keep two Top 10 tackles and a top 10 guard, but this is why you keep re-cycling your team with the draft and take guys like a Stacy Andrews and Adam Kieft. Who knows if and when you need them because of the cap?
Still, I don't think that means you're going to see them running Scott Kooistra into play for Steinbach or Andrews in to for Anderson. The best guys are going to play no matter the contract status. Running back Rudi Johnson went into free agency with the franchise record for most carries in a season.
It's interesting if they win. The attention from winning can balloon values, not deflate them. The flip side of the Patriots is the '99 Rams. They won the Super Bowl and average linemen like tackle Fred Miller and center Mike Gruttadauria got free-agent deals they could have only dreamed of if the Rams went 8-8.
This is what you would call a flap-your-gums discussion because it's early.