Pre-draft breezes

4-17-02, 2:15 p.m.

Drew Bledsoe is still in the hearts of Bengals' fans with the NFL Draft 72 hours or so away. But their minds are starting to get caught up in improving the kicking game and trading down the 10th pick to get extra choices.

A sampling of Bengaldom in Hobson's Choice as D-Day approaches:

What are the chances of the Bengals trading down in the draft? It seems that most of the mock drafts have the Bengals taking either Joey Harrington or Phillip Buchanon.From what I can tell, the Bengals aren't thinking quarterback and the recent signings at cornerback make that position less of a priority.

The chances of a top notch OT being available at #10 are slim, and it seems unlikely that there will be a DT or safety of top ten quality available when the Bengals pick. Assuming none of the top players slip, wouldn't it be better to trade down? **Pat, Pittsburgh.

PAT: It might be better to trade down even if a left tackle like Bryant McKinnie slides to No.10. The Bengals have already felt out some teams, but the problem is that it takes two sides to make a deal.

Would the Bengals love to have the Raiders' picks at Nos. 21 and 23 and come out with something like cornerback Lito Sheppard and safety Ed Reed? You would think. But they can't wish it true if other teams won't bite. Would Oakland do it on the clock if one of those four defensive tackles isn't going to get past the Colts at 11 and the Cardinals at No. 12? Who knows? You probably can take the Saints out of the mix at No. 13 because they just signed Grady Jackson.

As Chris from Chattanooga noted, you might be able to get three good players in the top 50 or so in the range of left tackle Mike Pearson. Be careful when you say, "The Bengals aren't thinking quarterback." With 18 touchdown passes in the last two seasons, the Bengals are always thinking quarterback.**

I have heard rumors that the Bengals are considering trading (Peter) Warrick and our first-round pick from 2002 for Bledsoe. My question is why? It seems like he has not had time to completely develop, and he has not been under ideal situations with Jon Kitna and Akili Smith as the quarterbacks. I just feel like they are giving up on him too soon. What are your thoughts? **Juwan, Washington, D.C.

JUWAN: They aren't giving up on Warrick because they haven't tried to deal him. In fact, they haven't offered any of their wide receivers for a trade. And if you think the Patriots would take Darnay Scott's $3.2 million salary with one year left on his deal, think again. They also couldn't deal Warrick because of the hit they would take on the salary cap courtesy of his big signing bonus.

Despite reports that said the Bengals would consider trading their first-round pick, Bengals President Mike Brown insists that he never said it and that he wants to keep the pick. **

Mike Brown continues to talk about the $3.5 million committed to the rookie pool limiting the Bengals flexibility to go after Bledsoe. I thought teams only had to count rookies drafted in

the first 3-4 rounds against the current year cap because of the "TOP 51" rule which basically says only the team's highest 51 salaries get counted against the cap (i.e. draft picks from rounds 4-7 are typically not in the top 51 salaries on the team and therefore approximately $1-2 million of the $3.5 million rookie pool would truly be available to use on Bledsoe)

I cannot believe the Patriots would not accept a 2nd and 5th rounder to get rid of Bledsoe's salary. I think the Colts got a similar return when they traded Marshall Faulk to the Rams to get him off their cap. They did not get a first-round pick nor should the Bengals give one up this year. Can this deal happen? **Ray, Cincinnati.

RAY: No, it can't happen because the Patriots don't want it to happen. From what can be gathered, the Pats haven't come off a first-round pick as a price and they haven't given Bledsoe's people permission to talk to other teams. It sounds like they want the national coverboy to do it one more time before they promote him to Ted-Yaz-Russell-Bird-Orr status in New England.

That's not to say something couldn't happen Draft Day. Maybe if the Bengals don't get Harrington, they call the Pats about trading their second-round pick. But that's more likely to happen with Buffalo, or maybe even Baltimore or Washington. Brown has said it would be a tough trade to do on the clock because of the salary implications.

As for the rookie pool, the top 51 rule is in effect until the beginning of the regular season, when all players on the roster count against the salary cap. The Bengals constantly run different versions of their budget. One takes into account the top 51 and another takes into account the full complement of players on the final roster, signing their draft picks,having a practice squad, and accounting for contingencies such injuries.

There can be confusion because there are several different numbers out there when it comes to the rookie pool, how the draft signings fit into the top 51, and how the draft signings fit into the final cap count. The Bengals don't want to get into the position of cutting players to sign their rookies and they want to make sure they are in line for the Sept. 8 count.

According to ESPN.com, seven teams have more cap room than the Bengals, which is currently figured by the top 51 salaries.**

Most of the attention that has been given to the upcoming draft for the Bengals has been geared towards the QB and the CB positions. I definitely agree that those positions, if addressed appropriately, will make a difference in the 2002 season. One position that is not getting much coverage is our kicking team. I think that you will agree that a kicker will be the difference in at least one game per season and arguably could be the difference in many more. (Neil) Rackers, without a doubt, has the physical ability to kick field goals, but what is more important than the leg, I feel, is the mental toughness that a kicker needs to get through a few missed field goals. I think most will agree that Rackers lacks that mental toughness needed to be a successful kicker in the NFL. Why not take the top kicker in the draft like Jeff Chandler (Florida) or Travis Dorsch (Purdue) maybe a round sooner than they may be expected to go just to secure a solid kicker for next year? **Jason, Union, Ky.

JASON: If the Bengals could have hit 80 percent of their field goals last year, Jon Kitna would be looking pretty good right now because the one thing he was able to do was get them to the 30-yard line. He should have come out of it with more points than he did. And it's just not the misses that took away valuable points, it's the points that didn't happen when coach Dick LeBeau opted to punt or go for it for obvious reasons.

Frankly, all the Bengals had to do in the offseason to upgrade for a run in 2002 was come out of free agency with a cornerback, re-sign Artrell Hawkins and Reinard Wilson, and find a solid, veteran kicker. They did the first three, but didn't see a kicker they loved, although they have to be hoping Todd Peterson doesn't hurt them with the Steelers.

Rackers is a good guy, works hard, and has tremendous talent. But he's clearly worn out his welcome and has to really step up in training camp and the pre-season games. There's no doubt the Bengals are pondering the kickers in the draft you have mentioned, as well as others.**

Why is Akili Smith meeting with Bob Bratkowski to learn the offense? Isn't Ken Anderson the quarterbacks coach? No wonder we can't develop a quarterback in Cincinnati when the team doesn't have enough confidence in the coach to let him teach the position to his players. **Rich, Milford, Ohio.

RICH: Anderson has been out on the road scouting college quarterbacks while Bratkowski has been home re-tooling the offense and meeting with Smith. After the draft, Anderson resumes his normal meeting schedule.

Smith has been fried the past three years for not knowing the offense, so why not go to Bratkowski,the offensive coordinator and the man whose offense he is running? Maybe the question should be, "Why isn't Smith tethered to Bratkowski like he's on a space walk?" But two to three hours meeting a day seems to be a goodly amount.**

I went to Bengals' games last year and both games special teams killed them big time, and are we taking a cornerback or a quarterback? **Nate, Dayton, Ohio

NATE: You must have seen the Tennessee game (an opening kick return) and the Tampa Bay game (a blocked punt for a touchdown). It's amazing that so much time is spent talking about the big picture (salary cap management, quarterbacks, scouting, free agents) when the little things and the fundamentals on special teams mean the difference between 6-10 and being in the thick of the playoff hunt at 9-7.

Competent special teams play would have won the Tennessee game, a 20-7 loss which included LeBeau passing up two field goals of less than 40 yards, and the Tampa Bay game, a 16-13 loss that never would have went to overtime if Nick Harris could have got off the punt.

They will draft a quarterback and a cornerback, but it remains to be seen in which rounds.**

Most clubs invite players that they have an interest in drafting to their facilities for a day, almost like an orientation of sorts. What are the Bengals doing in this area, if anything? **Ted, Dallas

TED: The NFL allows 20 college players to visit teams before the draft and prospects from local colleges don't count.

The Bengals, who hosted their group of players last weekend, traditionally set aside their 20 for lower drafted players and free agents who weren't invited to the March scouting combine so they can get medical information on them by giving them physicals. They also use the opportunity to sell the potential free agents on the team and coaches when they go to war to sign them minutes after the draft.

In 1999, the Bengals did bring in the draft's top quarterbacks to get to know them a little better. Just last week, they did bring in one of the draft's top two tackles to check out Mike Williams' knee, which passed inspection. **

Would Drew Henson be available as a draft pick or free agent and would that be an option if his baseball career doesn't work out? I think he's a better football player than baseball player. **Steve, Springboro, Ohio.

STEVE: Henson, a former Michigan quarterback,is ensconced in the Yankees farm system at Triple A Columbus and has shown no inkling of playing in the NFL because he hasn't filed any petitions. He isn't eligible this year for anything, but automatically becomes eligible for next year's draft even if he doesn't petition because it is five years after his high school graduation. Given what the Bengals are about to do in this draft,you have to figure he is no factor in their plans.**

When can I start packing? I have had a change of heart and want to join an up-and-coming team like the Bengals. **Drew, Franklin, Ma.

DREW: Good gag. Solid. Except that he lives in Medfield, Mass., and apparently the house isn't on the market.

Funny thing about this whole deal. Apparently Bledsoe has been telling people close to him back in Boston that he never told the Bengals he didn't want to play here and that he would consider them. And even though the Patriots let Terry Glenn barnstorm before a trade, they have never given any indication that they let teams talk to Bledsoe through this ordeal.**

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