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Hobson's Choice: Of offseason

Q: What do you think about these offseason moves? Letting our defensive locker room leader and only really experienced linebacker go in Simmons, then letting, in my opinion, the most versatile lineman in the NFL Steinbach go, yet franchising an underachieving overpriced Justin Smith?

Why not try to trade Washington, Stewart, Kase, Smith and Smith rather than let them go. Yes that would have taken some planning, but just letting these guys go with nothing in return is ridiculous.

After CJ and TJ, who do we have, a Chris Henry you can't count on, and the rest are oft injured and a big question. Kelley Washington paid his dues and never got the chance to play.

I feel like we have taken two steps forward the past two years, but now we have taken five steps back. Our defense will suffer next year and wait until we see how much we miss Steinbach.
**--Josh, Lewis Center, OH

JOSH:** Already on record with disliking the Simmons move for all the things you say and not enamored with tagging Smith unless they can trade him or get the cap number down to make room for defensive help. But this isn't a 2-14 team that needs to get dismembered, either.

The Bengals can make a pretty compelling argument that there is nobody out there worth spending the money on if you have Smith's $8.6 million to spend. And they did joust with Joey Porter in the belief they could replace Smith with Porter in their cap, and got backdoored on the Dolphins' recruiting trip to Bakersfield.

OK, so use it to spend it on two or three guys that make you better. And we're not talking high-pricers, but simply solid vets that upgrade you.

I like that argument, but Marvin Lewis is on the record saying that an influx of too many free agents hurts the continuity of what you're doing on defense. Of course, the first question would be "Why do you want to keep doing what you're doing on defense?"

Which means one of the major offseason additions has to come in the defensive meeting room. Lewis said it after the season. The defense needs "an identity," and that sounds like they need to stick with a couple of things they do well instead of trying to be so multiple. And in the same vein, stick with a more set lineup if injuries let them.

Now, if you think you need better people, go get them. But they don't seem to be acting that way and last month at the NFL scouting combine Lewis sure sounded like the problems could be solved with the players they already have.

As for Steinbach and Co., you had to let Steinbach go. The guy's a top flight player and good guy, but your first priority has to be protecting Carson Palmer.

You don't do that paying franchise money to a guard. You do it by paying tackles, which they have done. Even if Steinbach had taken $5 million to play here instead of $7 million in Cleveland, you can't afford to put all that on the offensive line. Certainly not on a big-money offense.

OK, OK. The D-line's cap number for this year is nearly $20 million and it's more than the O-line's, but that gets us back to the big number on Justin Smith.

And, let's face it, for all the people griping about Justin's big number, they'd be the first ones complaining at the end of the season wondering what happened to his 7.5 sacks and 90 tackles. Yeah, not franchise numbers. But not easy numbers to replace, either.

It's very hard to trade guys like Washington and Kaesviharn and any other backup when they don't have another year left on their contracts. They were needed last year and you can't trade them when they become free agents.

Teams don't go near a player they think is going to get cut because why give up a draft pick for a guy you can eventually get for nothing?

That's why nobody approached the Bengals about Washington during the last draft, when they said they tried to move him. Then as Cutdown Day approached, when there most assuredly had to be interest, injuries forced them to keep him and he wasn't on the block.

I agree with you. I like Washington. He'll help the Pats. But the way the Bengals are structured, they can't afford to keep him even if Chris Henry is one traffic stop away from oblivion. They still have Tab Perry behind Chad and T.J., and you can't pay a No. 4 or No. 5 receiver $300,000 to sign, which is what the Pats gave Washington.

The thing that worries me about losing veteran backups like tight end Tony Stewart, linebacker Marcus Wilkins and possibly Kaesviharn is the character jolt on a team that clearly needs it, as well as their special teams value.

But this team is really in trouble if they can't get to the playoffs because they lost a couple of these guys. And that's no shot at them because they're great people and good players.

Yet these are the spots that Lewis is always talking about where the team needs to "cycle in" younger players. If they can't develop other guys to fill these roles, that's a problem.

But you can't put Kaesviharn in that category, either, because his versatility is of value. Still, if they lose him, these young DBs – Greg Brooks, Ethan Kilmer, Herana-Daze Jones, John Busing - have to emerge.

Q: Someone once said if you aren't getting better, you're getting worse in the NFL. Unfortunately, I don't see how anyone can look at this offseason and say this team is getting better.

It appears a majority of the teams on the Bengals schedule this year went out and made themselves better while the Bengals were happy to stay content with an 8-8 record.

We all know the window of opportunity to get to a Super Bowl is very small and it looks to me like the Bengals management has set them back 2-3 years. What say you?
**--Jon R., Lexington, KY

JON:** Since management has signed 10 of the 11 offensive starters through this year and next, where is the setback? Maybe they're on a treadmill but they're not on the diving board, either.

For all its problems last year, from the injuries to the arrests to the tough schedule, we're still talking about a team that just as easily could have made the playoffs as not. And with a healthy Carson Palmer they're actually a step ahead of where they were last year. If he's upright, so is the window.

Yeah, you wish they had done something on defense in free agency, but I have to disagree on what their opponents have done this offseason.

Only two - New England and San Francisco - have dramatically improved themselves. The Rams offense is better with wide receiver Drew Bennett and tight end Randy McMichael, but not their defense. And the Cardinals have improved marginally with mid-level signings.

But other than that, speak to me.

Seattle is about the same. So are the Jets and that's bad news because both are already playoff teams but they are standing fairly still.

The Chiefs are also the same, and that's not good for them. And the jury is out on Joey Porter and the Dolphins, a team that lost one of its best receivers (Wes Welker) and still has no idea what it is going to do at quarterback on Opening Day with a rookie head coach.

(Certainly scouts on and off the record are saying it's an open question if Porter has anything left.)

The Bills won't be as good as they were last year on offense without running back Willis McGahee.

Anthony Thomas?

The Titans lost their running back and their two best receivers (Bennett and Bobby Wade) and have gained a soap opera in Pacman Jones. The Steelers have a rookie head coach and the only thing they've done in the offseason more than the Bengals is add a couple of centers.

As for the Browns, yeah, they keep adding players but they're still not close to contending as long as they keep crashing and burning at quarterback and their secondary keeps going through a revolving door. And they'll miss wide receiver Dennis Northcutt.

Yes, the Ravens added McGahee but they also lost two key guys in the running game in lead blocker Ovie Mughelli (Atlanta) and
and right tackle Tony Pashos (Jacksonville) so that could end up being a wash, particularly if the rest of their offensive line continues to decline.

No question the Bengals have stood pat. No question they could stand to do some things. But to say they've fallen out of contention isn't right, either.

Q: I understand how the RFA compensation works but what about UFA? I seem to remember the Steelers getting a ton of late draft picks for their UFAs that left.

Also, on the Pollack front, I understand that football is
football but do you think in the future they may compensate something if your first-rounder has to retire due to injury?
**--Matt, Burlington, KY

MATT:** Figuring out what happened to Pluto is easier to figure than the formula the NFL uses to compensate teams for losing unrestricted free agents balanced against the ones they sign.

But this may be helpful. A player that is cut before free agency begins is not considered an unrestricted free agent (UFA).

Which is why the Bengals got a third-round pick when they lost UFA Takeo Spikes in the same year they signed John Thornton, Kevin Hardy, Tory James and Reggie Kelly. Some were UFAs, but not all.

It will be interesting to see how losing Jon Kitna and Nate Webster last season counteracts signing Dexter Jackson and Sam Adams for this year's draft. The comp picks should be announced in two weeks at the NFL meetings.

One reason not to sign a big money free agent this season may be the Browns' signing of left guard Eric Steinbach. At this point, the Bengals would probably net a third-round pick.

Don't look for the NFL to compensate teams for losing first-rounders to injuries. That would open up a legal mess.

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