Notes: LB news; Palmer says Saints played by rules; Belichick and PB

Manny Lawson

PALM BEACH, Fla. — The word on the street here at the NFL annual spring meeting (and at least one NFL insider's Twitter account) is that starting outside linebacker Manny Lawson is close to returning to the Bengals. But apparently the contract wasn't done Tuesday night.

Lawson's backup, Dan Skuta, became the first restricted free agent to make a trip last week, according to Adam Caplan via If the Chiefs signed him to an offer sheet and the Bengals didn't match then Cincinnati wouldn't get any compensation because Skuta arrived as an undrafted free agent out of Grand Valley in 2009.

Skuta can also play the middle, but he's made his mark as one of the club's leading special teams players since he got on the field in the last eight games of his rookie season. He's got 39 special teams tackles in 40 games.

Lawson, who signed a one-year deal last season, replaced Rey Maualuga when he went to the middle and started every game but one. He played nearly half the snaps, most of them on first and second down.

CARSON TAKE: It will be recalled that the Saints bounty hunters of '09 and '10 played the Bengals twice, once each in the preseason and regular season. The man in the crosshairs, quarterback Carson Palmer, doesn't remember anything untoward in a text.

"I don't remember any questionable hits," Palmer texted. "I just remember they were good pass rushers and the front seven played really hard but I don't think there was anything outside the rules going on at all."

HARBS SAYS: Ravens head coach John Harbaugh may have given Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton some bulletin-board fodder during his Tuesday media availability when he was asked about the AFC North quarterbacks.

"Andy Dalton, everybody is singing his praises. He went to the Pro Bowl in his first year. We'll reserve judgment. We're looking forward to defending him and everybody else," Harbaugh said.

Dalton threw for a career-high 373 yards in Baltimore last season, but the Ravens held him to a 65.7 passer rating in the season finale in Cincinnati and both were Bengals losses. Maybe it wasn't that bad of a shot because Harbaugh also said:

"Potentially, we've got a chance to be the strongest division in the league when it comes to defenses and the strongest division in the league for quarterbacks," Harbaugh said. "That's pretty telling."

Harbaugh, the former University of Cincinnati assistant, never pulls any punches. So this was a classic with the owners set on adopting the postseason overtime format for the regular season Wednesday.

"I think sudden death is what makes the National Football League great," he said. "I probably shouldn't say this because we had a seminar yesterday where they told us if you wonder if you should say something, you probably shouldn't say it.

"But I like sudden death. I don't know how the Ravens are going to vote. But my two cents says sudden death. It's been around forever and it's worked pretty well."

For the record, if it passes, the Bengals won their last sudden death OT format in not so sudden death when Shayne Graham kicked a field goal with eight seconds left in the extra session in Cleveland on Oct. 4, 2009.

BELICHICK AND P.B.: One of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick's favorite topics is the influence of Bengals founder Paul Brown, and during his media session here Tuesday he lit it up. The week of New England's 2004 win over the Bengals in Foxboro, Belichick regaled the Cincinnati media with facts and figures on Brown's life.  

The connection begins with Belichick's godfather, Bill Edwards, a former P.B. player who also coached for him. When Brown came to run the Bengals, Belichick and his father, Navy assistant coach Steve Belichick made the trip to Wilmington College to visit training camp .

Then when Belichick became coach of the Browns in 1991, the year Brown died, he became good friends with Brown's Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, a guy often at odds with the coach. But there was also apparently a lot of respect there.

"Jim and I talked a lot about Paul and his relationship with Paul and how Paul ran the team," Belichick said Tuesday. "It was remarkable to me how similar things were at that point in the '90s and things haven't really changed that much 15 years later from the '90s structurally. I'm talking about game plans and scouting reports and practice schedules all those kinds of things relative to the way Paul did them after the war.

"Film exchange and things like that, they weren't going on back then. I'm sure Paul took a lot of that information, developed the system that he did which is really the foundation of the West Coast offense. The West Coast offense is really the Ohio River offense. It's Paul and what he did in Cleveland and what he did in Cincinnati. That's the grandfather of all the West Coast teams. I think his influence in the coaching ranks from a coaching schedule and how to coach and all of that, he truly wrote the book on it. And Bill Walsh's book is really a follow-up on what Paul did. I'm sure a lot of what Bill learned was from what Paul did and it still applies today."

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