There is Eastern Standard Time and there is NFL Time and one might as well be kept by a stopwatch and the other by a sun dial.
For all of those who have agonized over free-agent deals and rookie signings, the maxim "a watched pot never boils" comes to mind. Multiply that infinitely by the specter of hammering out a collective bargaining agreement in excess of 300 pages, and your guess when the NFL lockout ends is as good as anyone else's. With media reports saying the owners and players plowed through discussions for more than 12 hours Thursday in an effort to get something done by the weekend, hope simply springs, never mind eternal.
What is easier to gauge is the Bengals to-do list once a deal is done. So here's what their Post-it note may look like in the first 48 hours of the league year in some more pure lockout speculation.
1. TRAINING CAMP
Not only do the Bengals have to hash out where camp is going to be, but how it's going to be.
The drop-dead CBA date for Georgetown College is the nebulous mid-July for a July 28 report. But even if the parties reach a handshake deal as early as this week, that may not secure it. Technically, the lockout won't end until the players and owners ratify it and the deal is in writing, which is going to take longer than a few days you'd think. Whether that means a deal can be reached before the owners July 21 meeting is a guess.
But if it can't, and there is time between when the league year starts and training camp, now you're deep into July or early August with Georgetown needing the Bengals off campus by Aug. 22.
Bengals president Mike Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis like the idea of going away to get ready for the season, but this is unlike any other year. If Lewis decides he needs to streamline things and cut down on the number of players and space because there have been no workouts in May and June and Opening Day is just six weeks away, staying at Paul Brown Stadium where the Bengals have all their technical resources may be an option.
Two late July events shouldn't hamper a PBS camp. The July 23 Monster Jam would be before workouts and it's believed the July 29-30 Macy's Music Festival wouldn't interfere with the first two days of practice if things get off on time. Staying at home would also open up the possibility of hosting night practices in the stadium.
Or, Lewis may want to keep camp as close to normal as possible and head to Georgetown if the calendar cooperates.
So No. 1 on the list isn't so easy because there are still so many unknowns. But believe that the always-prepared Lewis has about 10 scenarios ready to go.
2. PURSUE THEIR PREFERRED VETERAN FREE AGENTS
The obvious are cornerback Johnathan Joseph and running back Cedric Benson, but how about key guys from the '09 title run in defensive end/tackle Jon Fanene, linebacker Brandon Johnson and running back Brian Leonard, among others? The Bengals are still not sure what category some of them are going to be placed. Restricted free agency or unfettered? No matter, Joseph and Benson are the top targets, but the Bengals would like to keep the other guys, too, in what is going to be a feeding frenzy when the gates open.
3. SIGN THEIR ROOKIES
While the Bengals are talking to Joseph, Benson and Co., they'll also be talking to the agents for the lowest paid players in the game, the undrafted free agents that round out the depth chart and man a camp. Not only that, the Bengals need to get their first two picks signed so wide receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton don't miss the un-missable.
But that item is also a mystery. How are the draft pick signings going to be governed in the new CBA? Is there going to be an automatic wage scale that prevents holdouts? Or is there going to be a system like the old one that requires negotiation? Green is represented by the formidable agent firm of Tom Condon and Ben Dogra. Both Condon and the Bengals have a history of long holdouts with top 10 picks, but obviously both sides are going to be highly motivated in the wake of a spring with no camps and coaching.
4. CRAFT WAYS TO GET DALTON READY FOR SEPT. 12 WITH NO SPRING WORK
The lockout would appear to have made the decision final, forcing Dalton to be the Opening Day starter. It would seem the Bengals don't have time to prepare a rookie quarterback in an offense new to the team, never mind two quarterbacks, so Dalton would figure to get the bulk of the now precious camp snaps. There is no veteran like Jon Kitna sitting back there with 27 starts in the same system waiting to mentor a Carson Palmer.
So how do the Bengals get Dalton ready in about 40 days? Crash course? Heavily-edited playbook? How many reps? New offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has been mapping it all out as the days fly off the calendar; he just needs a start date. He's been haunting his office this usually light month as if it's October.
Although the Bengals have said they're mulling bringing in a veteran free-agent quarterback one has to figure it isn't going to be a big-money potential starter with the investment in Dalton. If they want a vet West Coast offense backup, there are guys like Tarvaris Jackson and Trent Edwards out there, as well as Bruce Gradkowski, a guy that started 11 games while Gruden was in the Tampa Bay pressbox.
The Dalton pick would also seem to kill any chance of taking Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor in the TBA supplemental draft. Brown may love quarterbacks and Buckeyes, but not as much when he's already used a second-round pick on the position.
Also, the Carson Palmer question is going to get addressed in the first 48 hours, or whenever that first team calls to inquire about a trade and the Bengals say, "No thanks." There doesn't sound like there has been any budging on either side, which means Palmer isn't reporting and the Bengals won't trade him.
5. RESOLVE THE OCHO SITUATION
The fate of Chad Ochocinco, the club's all-time leading receiver, may linger beyond the first couple of days.
One of the old Paul Brown standards remains "Don't get rid of a player unless you have a replacement." The drafting of Green would seem to suggest the Bengals have that, but past history would also suggest that they won't pull a trigger until they've got all their young receivers accounted for and lined up on the field.
And, we may have missed it between the soccer stint, the bull ride and NASCAR spin, but has there been any word about The Ocho's ankle? He missed the last couple of games with bone spurs and he was talking about having surgery right after the season, but there hasn't been any mention of it since the lockout began. It certainly hasn't cut down on his activities.
As far as the Twitter War with head coach Marvin Lewis, it was all summed up in a headline the other day wondering if the Marvin-Chad feud was serious. From Lewis' public statements that began late in the season, he would seem to be quite serious about moving on. But while Ocho has been twittering the past week about "whooping" Lewis in a fight, if you can tell when he's serious on Twitter, congratulations.
What we do know is that Lewis has the kind of relationship with The Ocho that he can say anything he wants to him and about him. And, you just never know, right? It looked liked bridges were burned in '08, too, but Ochocinco came back and helped lead the Bengals to a division title. Plus, he seems to have some juice left, but is it fresh enough for what looks to be this new era developing in Cincy?
Like everything else in the lockout, still developing.