Updated: 11:30 p.m.
PHOENIX, Ariz. — Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis hears the clamor for his team to make its first deal with somebody else's free agent. But remember that one of his favorite expressions is "I see better than I hear."
After the final set of meetings Sunday to set up Monday's first day of the NFL annual meeting here at the Arizona Biltmore, Lewis pulled up a chair and reiterated the Bengals are focused on signing four of their own as well as giving their young players a chance to play, and have put veteran free agents on the back-burner.
It's believed the Gang of Four is right tackle Andre Smith, middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, and cornerbacks Terence Newman and Adam Jones, but Lewis wouldn't confirm the names. It's believed the Bengals are hoping to nail down final terms with Maualuga and Jones in the next day or so, and Lewis said the goal is to get the unnamed four signed in the next "three or four days."
The hope is that the Bengals can hook up here this week with Smith's agent, Ben Dogra, also the agent for Newman.
"The players are getting anxious. Hopefully these things will get put to rest the next couple of days," Lewis said.
Lewis also said he thought the Bengals would end up re-signing WILL backer Thomas Howard as he rehabs the torn ACL he suffered the second week of the regular season, but "we have to deal with the physical condition. Hopefully we have every opportunity to get Thomas signed."
Since free agency began last Tuesday, the Bengals have watched SAM backer Manny Lawson sign with Buffalo and kicker Josh Brown go to the Giants while three backups, linebacker Dan Skuta, quarterback Bruce Gradkowski and defensive tackle Pat Sims, signed elsewhere. But Lewis indicated they weren't in the plans and the Bengals are looking to invest in their own players and not free-agent veterans.
Plus, he alluded to other extensions that the Bengals figure to try and get done during the summer for defensive linemen Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins and tight end Jermaine Gresham.
"You're trying to build your team and, yeah, there's an occasional guy that makes sense," Lewis said. "And we'll do that when we need to. But you know what? We've got a lot of draft picks (possibly 10), we've got a lot of young players and some great depth in spots.
"We can afford to allow a Pat Sims to move on, man, it's time. We've got two guys we drafted last year (second-rounder Devon Still and third-rounder Brandon Thompson) and I'm really feeling good about letting those guys get in there and have an opportunity to play. We still have the draft coming up this year and we'll get some more young guys and that's the good thing."
Lewis is hearing about it from even his own family when the Pittsburgh native's mother gasped at news Gradkowski signed with the Steelers.
"We had a plan in place prior to anything that transpired. I had to talk my mom down. Mom, it's no big deal," Lewis said. "That's where we were. We were moving. 'They got our quarterback.' No Mom, they didn't get our quarterback.'"
Lewis said once the Bengals can get deals with those four, they can move on to spots like backup quarterback and backup receiver. He said the club hasn't closed the door on wide receiver/returner Ted Ginn Jr., after his visit last week. He also said there were a lot of options at backup quarterback and he didn't rule out former Bengal Ryan Fitzpatrick when his name was mentioned "and there'll probably be some more available."
Lewis took exception to Cincinnati Enquirer sports columnist Paul Daugherty's assertion that the Bengals should have been more proactive in grabbing a veteran receiver, and should have at least made a bid to make the trade for Baltimore's Anquan Boldin that the 49ers consummated last week. Lewis indicated that Mohammed Sanu, last year's third-round pick, is ahead of the club's all-time leading receiver, Chad Johnson, at this stage of their careers.
"I'll go on record saying that," Lewis said. "That's the uneducated putting dumb thoughts in people's minds. It's why you have an opportunity to go after these guys and go get these guys. So you continue to make your team better. (It's) not a positive in making your team better when you keep adding old guys. What did Randy Moss do for (the 49ers) last year? He did nothing. He got in the way of a younger player performing."
The Bengals have made a pretty good dent in the secondary free-agent market the past few seasons to supplement their highly-regarded draft classes and that seems to be where they are headed with Ginn and potentially a guy like Fitzpatrick if things heat up there.
"Bruce did a great job for us; tremendous. We were able to push through that, but we have got to keep after it and keep trying to get better," Lewis said of Gradkowski.
Meanwhile, Ginn, an Ohio State product heading into his seventh season, would bring six career return touchdowns and most likely take Brandon Tate's spot behind Sanu, A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Andrew Hawkins.
"We haven't totally slammed the door; he shouldn't be an expensive person," Lewis said. "It was a good visit to get some things done and take a look at him physically and the coaches to spend a little time with him and just see if he's the right fit for us. I think there's something he can add to us. He would like to be a little closer to home. There are some positives."
Besides Ginn, the Bengals last week hosted backup quarterback Josh Johnson, blocking tight end Matt Spaeth, and running backs Beanie Wells and Mike Goodson. But Lewis said the Bengals want to get their guys in first.
"We have interviewed some guys and physicaled some guys and decided to pass. That's part of the process. It's not a process about free will and money," he said. "It's a process of interview and jobs. We still have a couple of our own guys we're working hard to get signed and are hanging. We would like them to be the reason we get things done.
"We still have four officially that we're working hard to get signed. When we get those four finished … there's no reason to do something now that precludes us from handling our own."
Lewis, a member of the NFL Competition Committee, is all for the most controversial of the rule changes the ownership votes on this week. Running backs and their would-be tacklers won't be able to lead with the crown of their helmets outside the tackle box.
"I think it's the way football was coached from the time we started playing, the way we were instructed to play, so the game has evolved over time because of the size, strength and speed of players," Lewis said. "It's changed a little bit and you were always taught to never lower your head and have your eyes down at the ground. You want to play football with eyes and head up. It is a change, but there have been a lot of positive changes done over time that make it easier all the time to both play, coach it and for everyone to understand.
"It's a great positive for player safety and continuing to keep guys having opportunity to protect themselves and play the game the right way."
And then there is the elimination of the "Tuck Rule." How long has it been? It was before Lewis became coach of the Bengals and the 2001 playoffs when the Tuck Rule gave birth to Tom Brady and the Patriots dynasty.
Now it's going to be a fumble if the ball comes out as the quarterback tucks it back instead of throwing.
"I think because of the way we have the continuing action plays right now it is something that when it occurs for the most part everyone sees it as a fumble," Lewis said. "With the quarterback as he brings it back to his body it will be seen as a fumble. Most of the time on the field it is ruled as a fumble and then it goes through replay.
"You know why it was in there for a period of time. In some ways when everyone is watching the game they see it as a fumble, it is ruled on the field as a fumble so go ahead. It's not a game affecting rule change other than one."