With the NFL Draft less than a week away, head coach Marvin Lewis says right tackle Andre Smith's contract situation won't dictate how the club picks the 21st player in the first round. But he did admit Friday that if Smith isn't signed, "it changes the parameters, no doubt."
Lewis also said he thought the Bengals could strike a deal with former Steelers linebacker James Harrison before the draft.
"I think both sides would like to get something concluded. I think it will happen shortly at some point here," Lewis said. "Not long. Because I think everybody realizes when we go into the draft, then it becomes different situations."
Lewis says Smith wants to be back, but the numbers don't add up.
"We'd still like to get Andre signed. We're getting down to the time of that," Lewis said. "We just feel it's important. He wants to get it done. But we just have to get his representation and our people to come to an agreement that we get him back here and get him going. He's anxious for it to occur and hopefully that occurs here quickly."
Lewis insisted the Bengals won't reach at No. 21 to fill the position, and with the draft's top three tackles probably gone by then, we'll find out how they view the rest of the crop. He also said backup right tackle Anthony Collins provides experience.
After Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan's Eric Fisher, and Oklahoma's Lane Johnson go off the board, it's anybody's guess. Some NFL.com mocks have the Bengals taking Alabama's D.J. Fluker or Florida State's Menelik Watson, but others don't have them rated that high.
"I don't think that's going to affect (it)," Lewis said of the pick. "I think the overall drafting (of) an offensive tackle if he's the best player even if Andre were signed would be something we would still consider. Because these players that we would be speaking of in those terms, I think it's good for the future of the team.
"We know we would have another guy along with the guys we had last year. Anthony (Collins), etc., that could upgrade us and I think some of these guys that have an opportunity to possibly be there, it may be a good fit to be in the mentor program or else he may have to be in the accelerated program. We'll see what happens. I think we feel good about that."
Helping things along, Lewis says, is that the offensive line is more experienced last season with guards Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler heading into their second year together. He also indicated that veteran Kyle Cook and sophomore Trevor Robinson are headed to a competition at center. The signing of veteran backup guard Mike Pollak last week provides depth the O-line didn't have last year.
"We have experienced guys and we would plug and play with one guy possibly and that's good. Just like we were last year a little bit," Lewis said. "I think the emergence of what Boling did and Zeitler being in his second year and however the center thing gets resolved (is good). But the backup group is intact and then we added (Pollak) into the mix because we felt that gives us another guy that has played multiple positions inside and provides some depth, and he comes in here and competes to see what he can do."
Lewis said he'd be comfortable with either Harrison, a staple of the Steelers for the past decade, or Karlos Dansby, a guy that has played all linebacker spots during his decade in the NFL. The Bengals won't sign both.
"I think either player comes in and we make some adjustments to things we do and we feel good about it," Lewis said. "They bring some playmaking ability to us and they would be good to have. They're good men. They would continue to enhance the defensive room and the team. Both guys are smart. We won't sign both."
No matter who the Bengals sign, he'll be another veteran defensive player picked up late in free agency, a trend that has worked out well lately for the club, ranging from defensive tackle Tank Johnson and cornerbacks Adam Jones and Terence Newman.
"There are some guys, their temperament fits us and that's what's been important. It is good when they come in and spend time with us. It is for us to figure out if he fits us," Lewis said. "I don't take stock in asking people from some other club about the guy unless I know that guy personally enough. I have found that there are different emotions in things that occur in the scope of a season that it is hard to determine what that guy's attitude is unless someone has been with him long term. It's important to spend the time with them here.
"I have the ability to ask them some questions and they can ask me questions about things. It is a critical point in their career – what is my role going to be, how do they envision that and are they going to be accepting of that role? They have to buy into it and it has to be face to face. It can't happen over the phone, that's part of the deal, but it is the face to face and them envisioning the role whether it is step up or down."
LEWIS WAVES BYE: Lewis like the latest bye in his 11 seasons as Bengals head coach. It is Nov. 24, the last one on the schedule, and it was a topic he had already covered with fellow NFL competition committee member Ozzie Newsome, general manager of the Ravens.
"We one-upped them because he was hoping they would have it. I think teams like having the later bye for the most part because you get to focus on what you need to get done," Lewis said. "We have to get off to a great and fast start, it will be important playing good teams. We have three division games early and have a chance to make headway in the division early."
The Bengals play the Steelers and Browns in September before getting the Ravens and Browns back-to-back in November.
"We're going to Soldier Field and it will be a great opening day; quick trip for us," Lewis said of the Sept. 8 opener in Chicago. "Then we have the opportunity to open at home in prime time against the Steelers, so that's pretty good stuff. It's great for our fans, the team and our city. We play Green Bay at home, so two of the first three are at home and you can't beat that.
"Then a quick trip to Cleveland and play New England at home, two big-time football games. The Patriots, going to the (AFC) Championship Game last year and the Super Bowl two years ago. Big and important game with Tom Brady and so forth. And then we've got a tough stretch with four of the next five on the road. They are two quick trips then a home game against the Jets and then get ready for a Thursday night game against Miami, a little cooler and will be at night. That part of the schedule worked out great for us."
PRIME RARITY: Just how rare are Cincinnati's two prime-time dates against the Steelers in the same season?
Very, according to the NFL. The only other time since 1970 that two division foes have matched up for the networks also involved the Steelers when they played the Oilers in 1990. It has happened the last two seasons, but only because the games were flexed. Last year the 49ers played Seattle twice in prime time and the year before that the Cowboys and Giants did it twice.