Hobson's Choice: The Edge of Night?

Wouldn't the Bengals be best served by NOT reaching an agreement on the CBA by Monday, and having this year under the old cap, so long as a new CBA with a cap is reached before next year.

The Steelers and other playoff caliber teams are above the cap and have to release veterans, so the Bengals would have the most money among contenders to sign free-agents while the Steelers and others cut good players. As long as there is a cap in place to even it up before the following season, I think the Bengals stand the most to lose by wrapping up a CBA too quickly. Don't you agree?
**Dan, Hamilton, OH

DAN:**
On the surface, I agree with you. A lot of the teams on the Bengals' schedule have taken big hits on the salary cap. The Bengals' brass has been quiet on this and everything else on the CBA. But my very lone take on this is once you get underneath the numbers, everyone is best served to get a collective bargaining agreement as soon as possible. If not having a cap in '07 is the price for the Bengals having an edge in '06 without a CBA, then it would be the ultimate Pyrrhic victory.

And they don't give you T-Shirts and hats for those.

Although there are plenty of advantages for the Bengals in 2006 without a CBA, are there enough of them to make a difference in the playoff chase and to cushion the damage of no cap in 2007?

If there is no agreement and the cap stays at $94.5 million, the Bengals are only one of 14 teams that don't have to cut to get to that figure. And the Bengals play some of the hardest hit teams strapped in salary cap hell: Denver, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Oakland, and Atlanta.

A lot of the cuts have yet to take place, so we're still waiting to see how different those teams are going to look.

But, let's face it. Denver won't be as good without guys like Trevor Pryce and Mike Anderson, and Oakland without Kerry Collins and Atlanta without Brady Smith. But will losses like that change the character of their teams, and affect the won-loss records? Maybe. Maybe not.

Take the Bengals' own AFC North. Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Baltimore are way under the cap. Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh was slightly over and will suffer the most. They'll probably lose a young, emerging defensive end in Brett Keisel and won't be able to re-sign No. 2 wide receiver Antwaan Randle-El, and starting safety Chris Hope. If the CBA isn't extended, they'll probably have to cut center Jeff Hartings.

Is it enough to tip the balance of power in the division to the Bengals?

Maybe. Maybe not.

You could argue the Falcons still have Michael Vick, the Broncos still have their offensive line intact, the Bucs just re-signed Derrick Brooks, and the Steelers still have Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, and Joey Porter.

We'll have to see what other shoe drops, but to me it seems like the $94.5 million cap is going to keep teams where they are instead of moving them up or down a tier, and that ought to help the Bengals if they decide to make a few free-agent moves the Steelers can't.

(I still think the Bengals are right to spend their free-agent money on their offensive line. It all began to fall apart in the early '90s when Pro Bowl guard Max Montoya defected to the Raiders in Plan B free agency.)

But the problem here is I just don't think you can get your cake and eat it, too: No CBA extension in 2006, but a salary cap in 2007. I don't think you can have both. Certainly not to hear the NFL Players Association talk.

Another huge advantage for the Bengals if there is no CBA is that they would be assured of having left guard Eric Steinbach for three more seasons and left tackle Levi Jones for two more because players don't become unrestricted free agents until after their sixth season if '07 is un-capped. This way, the Bengals can turn to the other side of the line that is up after '06 and try to extend right tackle Willie Anderson and guard Bobbie Williams as well as pick off some defensive free agents.

First of all, how happy would that make Jones and Steinbach? Second, how attentive are Anderson and Williams going to be if they know they re going free in year with no cap? And thirdly, the NFLPA insists if there is no CBA in place soon in time for the 2006 business year, there will never, ever be a salary cap again in the NFL.

That may just be posturing and I don't think it's a true statement. But it is a necessary poison pill for the owners. If not having a cap in '07 is the price for the Bengals having an advantage in a '06 without a CBA, the cost is too huge.

The Bengals would survive '07 without a cap, but they and the other clubs that can't compete for cash flow with the big-city teams are going to get battered the longer the system goes without a cap.

My opinion. The estimable Peter King of Sports Illustrated insists the NFL would never end up like baseball if it didn't have a cap.

Here is what King wrote Monday:

" The reason football will never become baseball is that, say, when baseball's Kansas City Royals know that Carlos Beltran's market value is $15 million a year, they know he's going to have to make it somewhere other than in Kansas City. In football, if Byron Leftwich becomes a top-five quarterback, he'll get his money in Jacksonville -- the same way Carson Palmer got his in Cincinnati, the same way Brett Favre got his in Green Bay, the same way Ben Roethlisberger will get his in Pittsburgh."

Yes, the only reason Palmer got his money in Cincinnati is because the Bengals could make his deal $97 million over six years instead of $200 million without a cap.

Right?

Would a CBA mean the difference between 11-5 and 8-8 for the '06 Bengals?

Maybe.

But it's too costly to ponder.

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