A transcript of Bengals president Mike Brown's conversation with Bengals.com and The Cincinnati Enquirer on Monday at the NFL annual meetings in New Orleans.
Any sign that this thing could get back to the table?MB: We were just meeting with ourselves and what the owners want is to get back as soon as possible. The only solution is to sit down with the players face-to-face and come up with a deal that satisfies both sides. The court maneuvers are basically a quest for leverage and I don't want that to get in the way with what matters, which is getting the season off in the right way and that can only be done with an agreement and by negotiating with the players. We both have to get satisfied on what works and I think that that's going to be the end result and that there's no reason to delay it unduly.
They would have to reorganize …MB: In our minds they are still in existence as a union and we don't think pretending they're something they aren't makes much sense.
Almost like getting separated or divorced?MB: The difference here is we are joined at the hip; we are Siamese twins. We are closer than married partners. We can't exist without each other. Instead of joining hands and jumping off the cliff why don't we join hands, sit down and see what works for both of us?
Can it just be players and owners meeting?MB: Our people are prepared to meet with the players whenever the players want to meet. The thing that makes best sense is get the mediator involved and go about it that way. We were making strong efforts within doable range. We thought our last offer was fair and then they were out the door on the way to the courthouse. We're still waiting for them to come back and talk. All these goings-on are interesting and none of them are going to get us where we have to get. At some point the players have to sit down with the owners and make a deal. It's real simple.
One of the stranger league meetings you have been to?MB: We want the season to go in a orderly fashion, the way it should go; not have it threatened by anything. In the end it will go forward as scheduled. When these negotiations start the sooner the better.
What is the largest issue in your mind?MB: Both sides have to be satisfied with all the terms. I'm not going to get into it one-by-one. Obviously money is always a key thing.
Why did you vote no for the CBA in '06?MB: I had more than one reason to vote against it. I thought it was too rich for us. We weren't fully informed what was part of the deal and that bothered me.
You didn't see the entire deal until you got back from that meeting, right?MB: Last time we learned a lot of the detail after the vote. I didn't think that was proper. You're buying a pig in the poke. That was last time. That's water over the damn. That's history. I do know one overriding thing: Nothing is going to get done until both parties sit down and have a serious negotiation.
How do you feel about the team on the field?MB: We are keenly aware of the fact we disappointed our fans last year. We had high expectations and we fell short. Anytime you have a 4-12 season you have a bad time of it. The difference between our team and the ones we didn't beat is except for a couple occasions very small and if we are whole and if we add some people I think we can rebound and have a year that everyone will see as successful. Right now we are still in the process of getting put back together. The quarterback position is one that is key and we don't know how it is going to end up. That's a very big question still to be answered. If it's answered right our chances will be pretty good. We are going to try and get it answered right and there are different ways to do that.
Does that include Carson?MB: Carson is still in my mind our principal option. I hope he comes back and plays for us the way he can play. I think he's a top quarterback.
So your stance from Mobile has not changed?MB: That part of it is still the same. I didn't say anything inconsistent with that. I want him back and I will just leave it at that.
Miami sounds like it would be interested.MB: I haven't talked to any other team about him and I have no plans to trade him.
You could also go about it different ways.MB: The draft is obviously a way and when the trading market opens up there are options out there and we have the people who are with us from last year. Everyone scoffs but I can only tell you they scoffed at Kurt Warner. You never really know about these guys until you put them in there and see how they do and I've seen that be very surprising more than once. Tom Brady, John Unitas, but there are a lot of guys who came on who were not expected to be productive then they go in there and can be.
What about Jordan Palmer?MB: Jordan could get his opportunity depending on what all else unfolds.
You're held hostage by the system right now.MB: Right now the system is shut down except for the draft. We're going No. 4 and are going to get one of the top players. It could be that we go for a quarterback.
What's the value of keeping a guy here who doesn't want to be here?MB: I've seen any number of players who at one point did not want to re-enlist come back and come back and be quite happy about it. It depends how it goes. As far as getting value, I don't see any opportunity to get what I consider to be value. Having said that it doesn't make sense to look to trade; it only makes sense to wait and hope Carson comes around.
How tough to let go (offensive coordinator) Bob Bratkowski?MB: Bob Bratkowski is a fine coach. I consider him a personal friend and he seemed to be the guy who gets all the blame. Things that are said about us and him are just off base. People will say 'Oh, I can sit in the stands and call the plays.' No you can't. I can't call the plays.
Nobody except the guys who can call the plays. They will say you pass and I knew you were going to pass. Well, we throw the ball 60 percent of the time and in certain situations that's a pretty good guess. What kind of pass, that's what they can't call. When you run the ball, you hand it to Benson and they say I knew they were going to do that. There's only one back in the backfield and we run it the other 40 percent of the time and in certain situations that's a pretty good guess. It's pretty certain that the only back back there is going to get the ball. But how is the blocking scheme set up and all that? They don't know that.
That's the kind of criticism that comes out when people are angry, that's what they're really signaling. They've been disappointed, we let them down, nobody feels that more than me. There's only one thing we can do to regain their confidence and that's go out and win. If things fall into place we'll give a good account of ourselves.
With the fourth pick, it's almost the opposite of two years ago when you selected high and it was certain you were going offensive lineman.MB: Everyone wants to jump on poor Andre Smith. No one wants to seem to mention when they criticize Andre and us for taking Andre is that Andre has broken his foot twice. Once each year. You just can't play effectively on a broken foot in the National Football League. That's what happened to Andre.
We made our bet and it, unfortunately, didn't work out well because he was injured and he's been injured both years. And not at the end of the year, but at the start of the year. It just has been impossible for him to show what he can do. I think if he gets healthy, he'll prove to be a good player and people will see it differently. But he has to get healthy.
You should be able to get a good player and could go in five or six directions.MB: We have enough needs that it gives us great flexibility. The thing we're going to want to do is pick a player that is going to help us beyond just this year. A player that helps us over a half-dozen, even a dozen years. That's what we're looking for.
How tough of a draft is it going to be if you only trade picks and not being able to trade a player and pick? Do think teams will be receptive to trading or there won't be as much trading?MB: There will be some trading. There are trades in the draft every year where teams exchange picks and teams that feel they are pretty well filled up are oftentimes willing to trade for a higher pick next year. And others are willing to trade down if it means they get an additional pick this year. Those trades will still go. But no one is going to be calling asking for Ochocinco. You can't.
Would you be receptive to trading down?MB: I don't preclude moving up, down. It's always a possibility.
Is Ocho on the market?MB: We aren't going to talk about that because there is no market. It's shuttered.
Are you optimistic you can re-sign Johnathan Joseph and Cedric Benson?MB: We want them both to come back. They know that. I think they felt they wanted to get into the market and see what it would offer up to them. Unless we wanted to pay a premium price and maybe an excessive price …
It's why you didn't tag them.MB: There are some very high-priced guys, and our response was, 'We'll take our chances and see if we can compete when the market opens.' That means it's going to be later rather than sooner.
You could catch a break on Johnathan this year if last year's rules are put into effect (and he's a restricted free agent).MB: I honestly think this thing is going to get resolved in a collective bargaining format and that means we'll go forward with the cap system. That's where I really believe it's going. This form of skirmishing isn't talking about brass tacks. It's for leverage and it doesn't bring a solution. The only thing that will bring a solution is sitting down with the players and bargain with them.
Will you vote for the new kick return rule?MB: The reason for that is a concern over injuries. There are a disproportionate number of injuries on kickoff plays. They were going to discuss with us what the numbers are. They didn't share that with us today. The argument I have in my own mind if you move the ball up five yards so you reduce kick returns by 20 percent, I guess you'd reduce injuries by 20 percent. Is that what you're looking to do? It doesn't seem to be a very full answer. I also keep thinking I want the kickoff to be a live play. I was on the competition committee in 1994 when they moved it back five yards. Why did we move it back five yards? There were too few returns and too many dead plays. And we wanted a live-action play. It's going to be hard to make me think that was a mistake.
It sounded like they tried to tweak it today.MB: They talked about it instead of brining a touchback out to the 25 to keep it at the 20. You get in the room and there are 32 teams and believe me, there are a lot of points of view. Some teams have kick returners. Others have kickoff guys. We have two of them in our division. Cleveland's got a great kickoff-return guy and Baltimore has a guy, give him five more yards and there sure won't be any returns much when you play them.
And you penalize him putting it at the 25 instead of the 20.MB: He's almost good enough that you do. I don't try to think it through all together because that's their worry. I just try to figure it out from our perspective. Yet in my mind the overriding issue isn't how it advantages or disadvantages the Bengals. In my mind, it's how does it impact the game? And yet there are others who think there is a higher cause and that is to reduce the number of injures. Everybody wants to reduce injuries. You can't argue 'I'm against it because I don't want to reduce injuries.' You would be still to take that line of argument.
What's it been like having Jay Gruden in the building?MB: I lke Jay Gruden. I see him once in a while. He's a very bright-eyed guy. He works hard. He's got a quick, active mind and I think more and more of him the longer I'm around him.
Full circle with the West Coast.MB: We'll see just what we look like when we're up and running. It depends on so many things. Does it depend on who our quarterback is? Does it depend on other aspects of how we're set up with personnel? I think it does and he'll adjust to that. That's what he brings in my mind. He's a flexible guy. Quick-minded and flexible.
Do think about having training camp at the stadium?MB: About half the teams stay at their facility. That's the growing trend. Whether it suits us where we are is unclear because we're right downtown. We're not in the best green location. We're right at the confluence of all the super highways, let alone the railroad and cement plant. Is that what you want for training camp? I'm not sure. We like Georgetown. It's been a good place for training camp. We're fond of the people there. They've treated us well. I personally would be torn if we ever had to decamp.
Do you have deal with them if the lockout goes late and they can't hold training camp?MB: We have a deal pre-arranged that if for some reason we were not able to go to training camp, we would make them whole. Their problem is they're counting on us being there and if we can't be there it wouldn't be fair if they lost their other opportunity. So we tried to do something with them on a contingent basis that covers them if it doesn't go the way we all want it to go.
It seems like the one practice in Dayton was well received. Will you do it again?MB: It's something we haven't focused on just yet, but it was very exciting for us to go up there and be as well received as we were.
Are you for all the scoring plays subject to review?MB: You know how I feel about instant replay. It's marvelous how complicated we can make it. I don't have any objection to the guy upstairs saying this play needs to be reviewed. That takes the makeup challenge away from the coaches. That's supposed to balance out the frequency of challenges. In my book, fewer challenges is better than more because I like the game to be uninterrupted. I like it to proceed. And I know the arguments for instant replay and yet I think it misses one key thing: It slows (the game) down and sometimes it produces justice that is most fine.
In other words, you can call these plays either way. They're that close. In super slow motion? Yeah, it might be this instead of that, and in my book, why bother? Let the official on the field call it. It's that close and let the game proceed. It all balances out over time. But that isn't where we are. That was a fight for long ago, but I've never changed my basic view of it.