Updated 2:45 p.m.
INDIANAPOLIS - Marvin Lewis doesn't see a likely scenario where the Bengals will be without both wide receivers Chad Ocho Cinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh this season.
"I don't think that scenario would exist," he said.
Lewis made the remarks Friday at the NFL scouting combine, where he also said the club is going to focus on offense in the free-agency period that begins Feb. 27.
After addressing the local media, Lewis spoke to the national pool at Lucas Oil Stadium and said that quarterback Carson Palmer "is wearing me out every day" on the phone.
In three interviews that lasted nearly an hour, Lewis ranged from T.J. to the 3-4 and why the Bengals are sticking with the 4-3.
Although agent Drew Rosenhaus has been shopping Ocho Cinco, Ocho Cinco told Bengals.com last month that he would show up for voluntary workouts after not attending last year.
"Yeah, I've talked to him," said Lewis when asked if he'll see that commitment. "I don't get into Chad's moods. That's personal to Chad, our conversations. I do know he wants to have a better, more productive, healthy season than he did last year, and get back to the guy he was in '03, '04, '05, and make big plays, and make big catches and really be our bell cow, be a leader for us in every single way."
If the Bengals lose Houshmandzadeh, Lewis indicated they'd keep Ocho Cinco because he said it is unlikely the team would be without both of them
On the decision to put the franchise tag on kicker Shayne Graham instead of Houshmandzadeh: "It's a hard decision. I think where things are it solidifies that spot and now we have an opportunity to go out and compete for T.J. and Stacy (Andrews) and on down the line."
Lewis says the Bengals have enough salary cap room to keep both Ocho Cinco and Houshmandzadeh, but he clearly is hoping he gets the Houshmandzadeh that came to the voluntary workouts before 2007.
"The other side of the T.J. thing is he's in a situation being tentative," Lewis said. "Hopefully we can get him signed to a longer- term contract that will allow him to go back and be the committed guy he'd been to in prior years."
"The relationship with T.J. is great. Hopefully we'll get him back and signed," said Lewis, who then expounded on the "tentative" comment. "We want our guys to have a commitment to be there in the offseason. That's important to me. It's helpful to our team as far as winning games. That was the biggest turnaround in our club in '03, '04, was the commitment of our players to be there and be on the same page with each other. Obviously the relationship with the quarterback is important when you play that spot. It's an important part of what we do. We've had a lot of cap allocation in our skilled spots on offense, so you need to reap the benefits of that."
Make no mistake. Lewis knows how much Houshmandzadeh means.
"T.J. means so much to me as well as the football team," he said. "He's a big part of my extension downstairs and even though half the time I'm chewing his butt about something, he understands where the envelope stops and when it's time to go back to being a good leader, and the tough guy that he is all the time. He's a good extension for Carson. T.J. has a great disposition about him. He is the guy that can probably reach everybody in the locker room and there is probably an air of respect about him."
Lewis ticked off the number of holes on offense and said the Bengals had to focus on filling them with either their own free agents or others.
"We've got some good young players (on defense) and we've got the draft upcoming, so I don't see where we go out and that's going to be a fit for us defensively," he said. "We have more apparent needs offensively, whether it be at tackle, center, running back, and obviously with T.J. in his situation."
But Lewis said if the club lost Houshmandzadeh, it wouldn't necessarily replace him with a veteran receiver and stressed the need to develop younger plays more quickly and specifically talked about second-round pick Jerome Simpson's rookie year last season in which he caught one ball.
"We've got to do a better job of that," Lewis said. "You'd like to have depth, but at some point we've got to find these young guys a niche so we can determine those things."
Lewis sounded as if the Bengals are about as close to signing right tackle Stacy Andrews as they have been at any point in their torrid, off-again, on-again relationship over the past two years in an effort to get a long-term deal and said Andrews is hoping to stick around. But there is no deal yet and with the prospect of him going on the market, Lewis wouldn't discuss Andrews' recovery from reconstructive knee surgery.
"Stacy would like to get something finished up and done and it's his hope that it gets done quicker than later," Lewis said.
Although various reports have the Bengals with anywhere from $25 to $28 million to spend, Lewis said the accurate number isn't public and that such items as incentives can't be rolled into next year because there is no salary cap in 2010 and will take up some money. He also threw out a reminder of some cap space left over by last year's release of right tackle Willie Anderson and running back Rudi Johnson.
"As we have been every year since I've been in Cincinnati," Lewis said, "we'll be at or over the cap. But you can't spill over into next year."
Don't look for backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to sign before Feb. 27. Lewis said when they spoke after the season, Fitzpatrick said he was looking for a team that could start him while mentoring a young quarterback. But if it didn't work out that way, he'd like to come back.
Talking to a Pittsburgh reporter, Lewis grew nostalgic for the 3-4 defense and while he's never ruled it out, he's buoyed by last year's No. 12 finish under first-year defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. But he also admitted that the Bengals are still seeking "our Peter Boulware."
Asked why he's never gone 3-4 in Cincinnati, Lewis said, "Next question." But he admitted the biggest blow in his six years was the career-ending broken neck of David Pollack. The man that made Lewis' 4-3 Super Bowl defense in Baltimore go was Boulware, a college defensive end that didn't have great NFL size but turned into a superb third-down rusher while playing SAM linebacker on other downs.
"That's why we drafted him," said Lewis, noting Pollack's three sacks of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in his only season. "He was our Carson Palmer of the defense. He was our energy, our passion."
"So we try again this year," Lewis said of his search for a Boulware clone.
Asked if Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry is that guy, Lewis asked, "Who? Who's he? He's not a player on our team."
But while Curry is seen as a top five player, is he a pass rusher after getting only 2.5 sacks last season?
"We've got to find a rusher, plain and simple," Lewis said. "You've got to put people out there that give you 10-plus sacks. The team that sacks the quarterback the most doesn't necessarily win all the games. But pressure creates turnovers and turnovers create wins. With a five-man rush there's a lot of things you can create."
But there is no move to the 3-4. Not now.
"I wouldn't make the transition right now because we'd be starting over," Lewis said. "It's a possibility, but the things we built and the fits in the running game and the things the guys understand right now, I would prefer probably to continue that way, knowing that what we taught these guys to some of the things that incorporated that."
Lewis also said that the agent for running back Cedric Benson, Eugene Parker, feels it is to his client's advantage to take him to free agency.