Hobson's Choice: Taking the Fourth

Q: It's that time of year again, so I'll ask three contract-related questions: 1) Any update on rookie signings? 2) Any signs of contract negotiations with veterans? 3) Does the absence of a CBA cloud current negotiations?
--Keith J. Stuttgart, Germany

KEITH: Don't expect anything until after the Fourth of July. And if you go by the last five draft classes since Marvin Lewis has been coach, don't expect anything until about July 25.

From '03-'07, the Bengals drafted 43 players and two, first-rounders Chris Perry and David Pollack, weren't signed within the week of the first practice.

Four rookies signed the day after the first practice: Eric Steinbach, Eric Ghiaciuc, Frostee Rucker, and Leon Hall. Three signed during the first week of practice: Kelley Washington, Keiwan Ratliff and Odell Thurman.

Seven have been signed before July 25, so the majority are right in those three or four days leading up to the first practice, which is July 28 this year.

Mr. Kirkendall of CincyJungle.com, who does superb research, had an interesting item listing the rookie signing dates of recent picks. With all credit to him, we thought we'd go back to '03 (Lewis' first draft) and go through the same exercise. All dates are from the Bengals media guides.

2003: July 27 report, July 28 practice:

4/24 Carson Palmer; 6/4 Scott Kooistra; 6/5 Langston Moore; July 11 Khalid Abdullah; July 25 Elton Patterson; July 27 Dennis Weathersby, Jeremi Johnson; July 29 Eric Steinbach; Aug. 3 Kelley Washington. **

2004: July 30 report, July 31 practice:**

7/20 Greg Brooks; 7/28 Maurice Mann; 7/29 Casey Bramlet; 7/30 Stacy Andrews, Matthias Askew, Robert Geathers, Landon Johnson, Caleb Miller, Madieu Williams; 8/5 Keiwan Ratliff; 8/10 Chris Perry. **

2005: July 28 report, July 29 practice:**

6/30 Jonathan Fanene; 7/20 Adam Kieft; 7/27 Tab Perry; 7/28 Chris Henry, 7/30 Eric Ghiaciuc; 8/2 Odell Thurman; 8/17 David Pollack. **

2006: July 29 report and practice:**

7/26 Bennie Brazell; 7/28 Domata Peko, Ethan Kilmer; 7/29 Johnathan Joseph, Andrew Whitworth, Ahmad Brooks, A.J. Nicholson, Reggie McNeal; 7/30 Frostee Rucker. **

2007: July 26 report, July 27 practice:**

7/26 Kenny Irons, Jeff Rowe, Matt Toeaina, Dan Santucci, Chinedum Ndukwe; 7/27 Marvin White; 7/28 Leon Hall.

It doesn't look like No. 1 pick Keith Rivers is going to be a Perry or Pollack siege. If anything, it will be closer to a Carson. Rivers shares agents with Palmer and it was David Dunn and Joby Branion that worked with the Bengals to get Palmer done before the draft when they had the No. 1 pick.

They also did Corey Dillon's five-year deal and despite the suicide holdouts of David Klingler and Akili Smith (for both sides) that Dunn was a part of, he also was in on the on-time deals the Bengals did for two other overall No. 1s in Dan Wilkinson and Ki-Jana Carter.

So the relationship with Katie and Troy Blackburn is good.

One part of the CBA uncertainty that could tangle things is that teams can't prorate guaranteed money over six years. It has to be in five years, although the top 15 teams have the ability to sign six-year deals.

That could get sticky as teams try to squeeze the rookie pool and agents try to get what they feel is the proper raise from the year before.

But given the history, Rivers should be there on time.

As reported here two weeks ago in the wake of the Peko extension, the next veteran in the fold looks to be Whitworth. That sounds hot enough that it could get wrapped up with the rookie deals but that doesn't mean it will.

Yeah, we're still waiting to hear something on wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and kicker Shayne Graham, both up after '08. It sounds like there is nothing to be heard and you hope that's just the calm before the storm.

Graham is the best kicker in franchise history and Houshmandzadeh would certainly be on an all-time Bengals team as one of the five best receivers.

(With Isaac Curtis, Chad Johnson, Carl Pickens and Cris Collinsworth.)

Now, can you pay both Chad and T.J.?

With Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell freshly plucked with high picks, it makes you think not but from what we can tell there have been no hard decisions there.


Q: What does it take for the Bengals defense to be a threat for other teams with potent offenses like Indy, Pitt, Cleveland, etc...? My other question is with all the young talent on defense, how good should they be?
--Michael K., Cincinnati, OH

MICHAEL: In honor of the late Tim Russert: Pass Rush, Pass Rush, Pass Rush.

When was the last time they had one that consistently struck fear and the quarterback at the same time?

1981, but hardly a man is now alive in Bengaldom that remembers that famous Super Bowl day and year.

You can have all the good corners you can get (and, yes, the Bengals haven't had many in the two decades since Eric Thomas and Lewis Billups), but they can cover for only so long.

The most disturbing stat that came out of '07 (right next to 3.7 yards per carry) is they were dead last in sacks per pass.

It's how they made a journeyman like Derek Anderson into a Pro Bowler and a benchwarmer like Shaun Hill into a journeyman. It's how they turned the up-and-down Ben Roethlisberger into a pure pocket money passer and turned Peyton Manning into an interactive Hall of Fame exhibit.

Heck, give Hillary Clinton time to throw in this league and she'll find a few more super delegates over the middle.

You have to hit the passer and the Bengals didn't.

There were reasons for it and you know them ad nauseam. The inability and/or inefficiency to blitz with young corners. The devastation of the linebacker corps. The lack of a huge man mountain in the middle.

But you have to give Marvin credit. He emphasized pass rush right away in the offseason and he followed through by getting one of the top pass rushers on the market in Titans defensive end Antwan Odom and hired a defensive coordinator in Mike Zimmer that has a rep for blitzing effectively out of three- and four-man fronts.

That said, it's a two-way street. You do have to cover and so you have to like the way that Zimmer jumped all over the DBs this spring to press and stay close to the receiver, and not give up the easy completion. He must have kept rewinding the tape of the loss in Pittsburgh, where Hines Ward kept running the 9.5-yard buttonhook on third-and-nine.

And that's not to say they haven't been coached to do it. The DBs have been a very productive group under Kevin Coyle and Louie Cioffi. In the last five years the Bengals have led the NFL in turnovers, and the DBs have been a big player in that. Maybe the coverage looks tighter when the QB is under the gun. But remember the two-way street. How many times have you seen Robert Geathers and Justin Smith just miss a sack because there was someone running wide open?

Zimmer's desire to blitz is why he is so intent on his corners playing bump-and-run, and although it's early, he seems to feel like Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall can do it.

With those two guys, this secondary looks like it has the potential to rival the SWAT team of 20 years ago. Safety Chinedum Ndukwe has David Fulcher's size and Marvin White has similar range and hunger, so let them strap it on.

Certainly with athletes like Odom and Robert Geathers at end they've got some pass-rushing skills, but they're going to need help as they continue to seek the man mountain and a long-term running mate for Keith Rivers at middle linebacker.

They're not the '85 Bears. Or the '81 Bengals for that matter. But they've got more young and promising pieces than they've had in some time.

Of course, potential and youth in the NFL just gets you a Reebok deal. You need a lot more to get the ring.


Q: Do you think the media will allow Chad to move on and be the Pro Bowl receiver we know he is? Or are they going to grill him and make him want out after this year? Really, I guess I should ask if Chadgate is really over or will it affect us again this year?
--Keith A., Round Rock, TX (A Bengal fan since 1980)

KEITH: Not to throw some Fenway at you, but if the Red Sox can win with Manny being Manny, can't the Bengals win with Chad being Chad?

(No, I'm not advocating that Chad pummel Bengals business manager Bill Connelly if he doesn't get a certain allotment of tickets.)

Frankly, it's up to Chad and the Bengals how the media treats it. Believe me, the media's only agenda is the best story. We'd love to write a Kobe-like redemption script for him. It's easier and the media is just like anything else. Easier fits better into sound bites and A-1 boxes.

If the Bengals win, it's all good. Chad being Chad, just like it was in '05 when they went to the playoffs and he danced. If they lose, Chad's divisiveness is all you'll hear about even if they can't get a sack or run on first down.

It has happened in Philly with McNabb, in New York with Pennington, in Detroit with Roy Williams, in Seattle with Alexander. Palmer heard it here, too, which is what 20 picks will get you even if half aren't your fault.

Chad has had a tough time realizing that with the Pro Bowls and the numbers come the blame when things don't go well. But when I talked to him a couple of weeks ago, he was as hard on himself as he's ever been.

And without saying it, he seems to have more of an understanding of it. At one point he said he was to blame because he has set the bar so high.

It was fascinating listening to him talk about trying to get back to where he was after an extremely disappointing '07. You don't have to tell him he dropped huge balls against Buffalo and Frisco and that he ran some wrong routes.

It sure sounds like the man knows and one thing you know about him. He wants to be the best. That's never been a question. The question has been harnessing the passion so it doesn't burn those around him.

But, look, if he catches 10 balls for 126 yards and a TD in a 30-17 opener in Baltimore, the first sentence is written for the media.

Now you get back to the age-old question, does winning breed chemistry or does chemistry breed winning?

I've never been smart enough to answer it. But I'll keep thinking about it while I check in on Manny being Manny.

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