INDIANAPOLIS — With the NFL and its players gingerly waiting around for a June 3 court date, Bengals president Mike Brown emerged from the latest owners meeting here Tuesday and wistfully spoke of this vacant spring.
"In a normal year you would be working with them now and have a feel for them," Brown said of the club's draft class. "I miss having that look at them. I always enjoyed that. If the draft were Christmas, the presents were left under the tree but no one is allowed to open them up.
"This is a wonderful game. It's something when it's threatened you look upon it with concern. You know what it means more because it shouldn't be taken for granted."
Some see the owners as Scrooge and some see the players as The Grinch, but Brown is optimistic Christmas will come this year because it always has.
"I'm not going to comment on any of that," Brown said of the labor issue, which is just as well since it is mired in the courts. "The only thing I would say on that is I do remain positive. I think everyone in the league does. At some point this thing will come together and there isn't anybody that feels we can't get a deal done to play our season."
Brown agrees with Colts owner Jim Irsay that it is important the preseason be played in full, but he wouldn't comment on July 4 as a drop-dead date. Asked if the owners are discussing different scenarios, he indicated that was for a future time. Perhaps for the June 21 meeting in Chicago. Brown said the day after the lockout that he didn't have plans to furlough employees, as the Cardinals and Lions have recently, and he didn't appear to back away from that Tuesday.
Asked by a media member if anything should be read into the Paul Brown Stadium offices closed Thursday, Friday and Monday for Memorial Day, Brown said, "We're doing some of that. Summer hours. We've had some before but we're having more now." The lockout not only finds the Bengals making the transition to a new offense, but to an in-house radio network.
"With the lockout a lot of things are harder," Brown said. "There isn't much that isn't, but we brought this on to ourselves and we have to work through it."
What Brown is really missing are his players, especially the new ones at the top of the draft in Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green and TCU quarterback Andy Dalton. Brown is still saying things like Carson Palmer gives the Bengals the best chance to win and they hope he comes back instead of retires, but Dalton, Brown says, is the future.
"We still do think it would be best for the team if Carson is our starting quarterback. That message has been sent. I think he knows that. It's his decision," Brown said. "Obviously the message from our point is, yes, we want him back. We feel he gives us our best chance for the season. But if he were to decide not to do that, we've taken a step to cover ourselves and Andy Dalton is a good young prospect and we'll have him for the future and how soon the future is with him is something I don't know as I talk to you now. "
As for Green, Brown thinks the future could be now.
"Green has the tools to be a fine NFL receiver. He has great quickness and he's got height and can catch the ball," Brown said. "He has the potential to come right in and be a starter in the NFL."
Dalton comes out of TCU as roughly the same size as future NFL MVP Kenny Anderson when he came out of Augustana at 6-2, 213 pounds. Brown has seen them in all shapes and sizes and thinks Dalton is big enough for the job.
"Dalton was the guy we wanted at that position," Brown said. "I met him when he came in during the draft. He's what you want as a personality. He's a football guy. He loves football. He's focused on it. He's a down to earth kid with both feet on the ground.
"That's why we picked him. We think he's a good bet for the future. I don't know how soon that future is going to come."
That goes for a lot more than Andy Dalton these days around the NFL.