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Hobson's Choice: Young backing

*Q: Since we missed out on the Joey Porter sweepstakes (now I am glad based on the Levi Jones incident), what are the chances of the Bengals making a run at Al Wilson?

Heard the Broncos are shopping him around. Seems like he would be a perfect fit for our defense and could bring that "identity" Marvin is seeking for the defense. Let me know your thoughts.
--Kevin S., Santa Cruz, CA*

KEVIN: Call me a sucker for nostalgia. Forget Wilson and what about Takeo Spikes if it's identity you want? But at the moment a reunion looks as plausible as Porter and Jones ever being Pro Bowl roommates.

I'm with you on the ID thing and establishing a swagger, a 'tude, or karma or whatever the heck a solid defense needs. They had it with Odell Thurman, and that meant a hell of a lot more than his five picks and four forced fumbles. Although they were pretty good, too, as revealed without him in '06.

But if they feel like they're too tight under the cap to pay Kevin Kaesviharn, they're not going to take on Wilson and his $5 million salary hit.

And Spikes is really in the same boat because he counts more than $4 million against the cap this year and they say they have pretty much just enough to sign their draft picks.

Earlier in the offseason, the word was Spikes wanted to come back to Cincinnati and the Bills apparently are willing to trade him for a fifth-round pick.

Where do you sign up?

Obviously, you'd have to re-work the deal and get the cap hit down and maybe he'd be willing to work out something with you. In my mind it would be a great fit because you just lost your most experienced backer in Brian Simmons, and Spikes remains one of the most fiery players in Bengals history, which is exactly the adjective this defense needs.

But the same reasons they cut Simmons are probably the same reasons they wouldn't sign Spikes, his first-round soulmate from '98. Age, injury, and money. Spikes, at 30, is a year younger than Simmons but even though he played well late this past season, his blown-out Achilles probably scares them even though it will be two years since.

And there are still some hurt feelings around here about the way Spikes left. Remember, the Bengals wanted to match Buffalo's offer, but Spikes made it pretty clear he didn't think Lewis could win here under these conditions and dropped a few public and private bombs before and after he was let go.

That said, that was a long time ago, Spikes is a decent and solid guy, and even Boomer Esiason came back after a bit of ugliness. But you can understand the dynamics, too.

And it also sounds like Lewis has bought into the Ahmad Brooks School in the middle and he should because all signs point to Brooks being a factor. And the less they talk about Thurman makes me think the more they're going to give him a shot.

(Let's face it. Thurman has a disease. He has said in court he's an alcoholic. Everyone has either loved one, known one, or been one so everyone ought to realize and, really, empathize with how fragile, long, and uncertain the road is for both him and the Bengals.)

At any rate, it sounds like they're going to stay young at backer. And with Brooks, Rashad Jeanty, Caleb Miller, Landon Johnson, a possible experiment with Eric Henderson, as well as a draft pick, they have some athletes.

Q: The recent poll asking who was the best quarterback in Bengals history (It's Ken Anderson, as far as I am concerned--the most underrated player in NFL history) leads me to ask you, Mr. Hobson: Who is YOUR choice for best Bengals QB ever?
--Steve V., Lake Hiawatha, NJ

STEVE: Absolutely dead on about Anderson. But if you say that Carson Palmer is going to be the best in 10 years, then that makes him the best now.

Palmer has already done three things than Anderson never did: Throw for 4,000 yards, pass for more than 30 touchdowns, and rack up three-digit passer rater.

But Anderson not being in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is one of the greatest travesties in pro sports. He should be in because of these two facts:

He is one of eight men to lead the NFL in passing at least three times. The other seven (Sammy Baugh with six titles, Steve Young, Len Dawson, and Roger Staubach tied with Anderson at four and Arnie Herber, Norm Van Brocklin, and Bart Starr with three) are in the Hall.

And he is the only man to ever lead the league in passing in back-to-back seasons in different decades when he did it in 1974-75 and 1981-82.

The significant thing there is that he did it in two different eras. In '74, the Bengals ran it 445 times compared to Anderson's 328 passes. In '75 it was 499-377, running. In '81, it was 479 passes compared to 493 runs, and in the strike-shortened season of '82 the evolution was complete with 309 passes to 269 runs.

And please don't say Anderson was a dinker and dunker. His average yard-per-attempt of 7.34 is the same as Dan Marino's.

The best combination of leader and QB? No question. Norman Julius Esiason.

The most important quarterback?

Don't laugh. Gun to the head, I'd say Jeff Blake.

In my mind, Paul Brown Stadium is the House That Blake Built. Can you imagine how many votes the stadium initiative in March of 1996 would have received if David Klingler was still at the controls and winging it less than six yards per throw like he did in his three seasons? But Blake put some orange-and-black juice into the franchise in '95 with a long ball that kept them in the playoff hunt until the next to last game of the season before their best finish since '90 at 7-9 in a year he made the Pro Bowl.

*Q: Talented but underachieving is NOT a compliment. Lack of an adequate personnel dept. may explain why talent like Odell Thurman, Chris Henry, Frostee, among several others are part of the reason this team is very underachieving.

Talent is no good if it does not play. The rap on the Bengals' lack of scouts very much has merit all things considered. Why do you support the lack of a GM and/or scouts when it's obvious they need both.
--Steve T., Nashville, TN*

STEVE: It wasn't a compliment. My point is even though it's a small department, they've been able to identify talent. As we've written ad nauseum, the organization—meaning BOTH coaches and scouts—have to take the next step and make character as important as the talent when it comes to making the final decision.

I think you missed it. I support adding a pro personnel man or two to ease the burden on the college scouts and the coaches, but I'll tell you why a GM doesn't always work and why it seems like it's working well enough here to have a contending team.

The thing Lewis has going for him is that there is no bureaucrat between him and the moneychangers: Mike Brown, and Katie and Troy Blackburn. If he has a joy, concern, issue, complaint, debate, he goes right to the source without having to deal with office politics.

And the head coach-GM struggle has recently torn apart teams like the Chargers and Titans, and you can't say it's been healthy in Detroit.

Plus, there are franchises like Dallas and Pittsburgh that haven't had dominant GM figures that have won in the free-agency era.

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