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Talking No. 1

4-17-03, 9:15 a.m.

Before delving into your e-mails with a pre-draft Hobson's Choice, here's one take about the events at the top of the NFL draft board that has been sitting on the Ohio River the past four months. Which, by the way, were status quo Thursday with all indications that the Bengals continued to keep three prospective No. 1 picks in the mix in the hopes of getting a deal by the weekend.

When you're picking at the top of the NFL Draft, it's pretty black-and white even if the Bengals are negotiating with three players for the prize.

And, if you're an agent for one of those guys, it's also pretty black-and-white, even if there are economic summit issues like escalators, option bonuses, and likely to be earned incentives.

But there are reasons why it's not cut-and-dried and why there is no easy formula in which to plug in the name of (in alphabetical order), Byron Leftwich, Terence Newman, or Carson Palmer. Reasons why there looks to be no deal yet and the clock is now down to eight days Friday.

The Bengals are no doubt arguing in negotiations that the rookie pool for each team is the same as it was last year, and the reason is because the NFL is trying to get money to proven veterans instead of unknown rookies. They have always thought it's the salary cap and rookie pool meant to drive the market, so the deal should not be altogether different than the one Houston quarterback David Carr signed last year at the top.

Plus, the Bengals don't want to become like the Colts, whose deal for their No. 1 quarterback, Peyton Manning, is so big that it has hampered their ability to sign impact free agents and get Indianapolis back in contention. They probably figure if they craft a cautious deal with the top pick, that means they can spend more on free agents next year.

The agents are probably arguing that even if it is a flat pool, that hasn't stopped routine increases, as well as several agents from negotiating deals hiked at numbers like 10 percent over the previous year in the same slot. It's hard for the agent to recruit players for the next draft if they can't get a boost from last year's market in this one.

Carr got about a six-percent increase over what fellow No. 1 quarterback Michael Vick got in 2001, and although that might not be the number the agents want to hear, it does show there have been increases. And, the agents have argued in years past that the salary cap doesn't drive the market, but the talent and value of the player does. And besides, they say, you can make numbers crunch any way if you really want.

All of which means, stand by, because nothing is easy as it should be on top of the draft board.

Some Hobson's Choice from you:

I live in the Charleston, West Virginia area and according to our local paper, Marvin Lewis wants to draft Byron Leftwich but the front office wants Carson Palmer. Have you heard anything similar to this information? **Ricky Blankenship, Madison, WV

RICKY: One of the things Lewis is trying to stop is the perception that the coach wants to do one thing and management wants to do another. From what is known, this one is off base. Maybe the most surprising thing of the offseason is that Lewis appears to have put the quarterback position on the same pedestal as Bengals President Mike Brown.**

Geoff, How much money over the life of a contract (signing bonuses incl.) do the Bengals save signing Newman over, say, Palmer or Leftwich? Also, there has not been much mention of

any teams interested in trading up recently, do you expect it to heat up in this last week? Or is the current negotiations the front office is doing with potentials scare off other teams?
Just some thoughts. Love Marvin. Who Dey!! **Kevin, Clifton.

KEVIN: It could be as much as $10-20 million less for a cornerback overall than a quarterback. Newman would still be looking at an option bonus in the $15 million range, but he wouldn't have the kind of back-side escalators that the quarterbacks have that can potentially take their deals in the $50 million range.

Any trade opportunities were blown up when no consensus No. 1 pick emerged and had nothing to do with the current talks. The money is just simply too big because you can sit in the top 15 and get a fairly similar player without having to sacrifice your salary cap with a No. 1 deal. Plus, the two players that might have kicked up some interest, Newman (shoulder) and Michigan State wide receiver Charlie Rogers (masking agent), were the subject of reports that may or may have not been true, but could have put them in question for teams.**

Geoff, Just my two cents worth: ( as a 26 year, 2.5 hour one way drive to all home games Bengals fan )1.)Draft the corner ( T. Newman )in the first round. We desparatly need a "great" corner, to add to our existing "good" corners. He should come at lower cost than a QB also.

2.) Grab a QB in the second. There should be at least a couple of decent QB's available in the second that could be worked with for a year or two. I think Palmer will be a good quarterback, but why risk the chance of him being a former "1 year wonder" in college ?? At our (fans) expense.. 3.) Offensive lineman in the third and/or fourth. They are holding up fairly well, but we seem to be getting older there. 4.) Finsish off the last rounds with fullback, and defense. Get the best of what's left on the board. ( smart players, sleepers, ect. )

And lastly, and just as important, ask the media, reporters, ect. to refrain from "messing" with or stirring anything up with Corey Dillon, or questioning his absence from the minicamp. He has more then paid his dues, AND carried his load during his tenure there during the bad years. He shouldn't have to prove anything at this point. The man has a life....let him enjoy some of it ...and get hyped for the new regime. Thanks. **Mike Duncan Marysville,OH

MIKE: Last things first. How did Dillon's teammates react? They gave him the benefit of the doubt, knowing he'll show up in shape and geeked to run hard. That's good enough for me. He has shed enough blood, sweat, and tears to make me think he'll have no problem doing it again. Plus, you can't knock a guy when he feels like he has to be with his family. We've all been there.

That said, you can't blame the media, either, for doing its job. Dillon is the best player on his team and when he fails to show up for his coach's first six practices, both coach and player can't be surprised the story is going to carry the day. Probably two days. By Sept. 7, look for Dillon to be firmly in the Lewis camp because he's got a coach who won't take guff and Dillon respects guys who don't take guff.

Your draft scenario is, in this opinion, the way to go. Any quarterback taken in this draft is going to be a roll of the dice. Why not wait until the second round and make it a $6 million gamble instead of $50 million? **

The Bengal's have been and always will be my team. Now that we have a world class coach, we need a world class quarterback. Carson Palmer is the best quarterback in the draft and I firmly believe that the Bengal's should draft him with the first pick. Jon Kitna will do a good job for us this year but we need to get someone who will be the leader in the future.

Carson has all the skills and Jon can teach him the ropes. It will be interesting to see how the news media will spin this pick into "yet another terrible pick" just because they do not like Mike Brown or the Bengal's. I for one have never been on the Mike Brown fan club however, it will have to take my hat off to him for bringing on a coach that I believe will give the Bengal's a new set of fangs that will leave their mark all over the NFL this year. Who-Da is back, **Bob, Hill AFB, Utah

BOB: The news media might not rip this one if they take Palmer because it's almost a religious cannon that you have to take a quarterback at No. 1 and he doesn't have the injury questions that hover over Leftwich. If it is Palmer, the guys the media are going to be all over is the Bears at No. 4, or the Jaguars at No. 8, or the Panthers at No. 9, if they pass up Leftwich because Baltimore won't at No. 10.**

Geoff, Great job, as always, writing about the new Bengals regime. I have a question about Akili. Maybe this will be moot if and when they draft Palmer or Leftwich, but have Marvin Lewis and Ken Zampese seen enough of Akili on and off the field to form an impression? Is there any chance of the Bengals drafting Newman, not drafting a QB in the second round, and still grooming Akili to be the QB of the future? Or is he considered a lost cause? Thanks, **Dave Purcell, Newport, KY

Thanks for the kind words. Publicly, the Lewis staff has been very respectful of Smith. Privately, the reports that persist that say they are looking to take a quarterback in the first two rounds would seem to be an indication they are looking in other directions for the future. But that still doesn't mean he won't be on the team, and if he's on the roster, anything can happen.**

Geoff, I have been a loyal Bengalis fan since the mid 1980s (I'm only 35). I have supported Mike Brown in arguments with friends thought-out the years. I have lived through good decisions and bad decisions. I am at a point where I hope that Marvin Lewis will make the right decision and choose Byron Leftwich with the pick (whether at No. 1 or trading down). He is far superior to the eight game wonder Palmer. Did we not learn with Akili (who I have rooted for and will continue to root for---even though I realize it is a lost cause) that one year in the Pac 10 is not sufficient.

I recently moved from Columbus to Frederick, MD. If Leftwich slips through to the Ravens, I am afraid that I will have to turn my back on my passion for the Bengals and become a Ravens season ticket holder. I believe that strongly in the abiltity of Byron Leftwich. If you had ESPN plus and watched all of Marshall's games as I did you would be a believer too. Did anyone see the game where his linemen had to carry him to the line of scrimmage after competing a long pass while injured. That quality is what the Bengals need. He has guts and he has talent. He knew that he was risking millions of dollars but he would not let down his Herd.

Maybe it is time for the Bengals to quit thinking about qualities. I have hope for Marvin Lewis, but I will have trouble thinking of him as a winner if he chooses Palmer over Leftwich. I will always bleed black and orange, but I will do so from a distance if they lack the insight and fortitude to take Leftwich with their pick, whether No. 1 or 3. Byron Leftwich is the real deal. Carson Palmer is no better than Akili. Been There Done That. For the love of god, I beg that the Bengals move on and draft the winner, and not what Kipper or some drug store Jerry tells them that they should.

In support of Byron Leftwich (JUST WATCH THE TAPE), I am, **M. Bryan Little, Esq.

BRYAN: The major thing that has kept Leftwich in the race has been his winning personality, which impresses both Marvin Lewis and Bengals President Mike Brown. They know all the things you do, that he is the best passer in the draft and has the character traits that make him a Boomer-like leader in the locker room.

But calling Palmer Akili-like isn't all that accurate. Smith had less than 20 starts at Oregon, while Palmer played all four years and enough to be the Pac-10's all-time leading passer. Yes, he would have gone in the fifth round last year if he came into the draft, but he was working on his fourth different offense of his college career. He's not a one-year wonder, he's a one-system wonder. The first time he was in a system for two straight years, he won the Heisman Trophy.

Whatever they decide, it's not a slam dunk, which is why they can't get anybody to trade up for a quarterback.**

re the Bengals leaning towards Byron Leftwich over Carson Palmer? In my opinion, Palmer has "mediocre to bust" written all over him, wherease Leftwich seems to be a natural leader, very intelligent, and has awesome (67% completion rate over his last 2 seasons) numbers. Going into the last college season, I am sure Leftwich was regarded as the better prospect than Palmer. I hope the few months of success won't sway the Bengals to go with Palmer, even if he is a "nice guy." An alternative solution is to take the pressure and risk off of a #1 QB draft pick by selecting Rogers or Newman #1 and follow that up with Chris Simms or another QB in the second round.

Thanks. **Simon Weierman

SIMON: My thoughts exactly. If Rogers were 6-4 instead of 6-2.5, he's the guy. Is he Johnnie Morton (a very nice solid player) or Randy Moss (a game-changer)? So, to me, you take Newman and he's your Opening Day cornerback and punt returner, an upgrade of two spots.**

Hey there, Great site. I've been a Bengal fan for well over a decade now and I'm really excited about the changes being made this off season. (It's been a long time coming) Thing is, I'm still worried about some of the weak spots. FB most notably. What do you think the chances are of getting Ron Dayne in the orange striped jersey if the Giant free him up?

And what are your thoughts about the draft? Why bother with Palmer or Leftwich when you've got a guy like Newman just waiting to find a home in the new and improved Bengal D? By the way, Spikes was great, but I think Simmons is going to put up better numbers this year than Takeo ever did at the OLB spot. Better open field speed will be the key. Hardy's gonna control his patrol, and all will be well in the front seven if Newman comes in as the shutdown corner to give the beef up front the time they need.

Any thoughts you could share would be great. It's hard to find anyone who knows anything about the Bengals up here in frozen Edmonton Alberta Canada. **Scott Langevin.

SCOTT: Thanks for the kind note. The one thing in common with Cincinnati and Edmonton is "The Great One," played some games in both cities once upon a time. Ron Dayne doesn't look like he is going to join the list anytime soon. They need a guy to block, not a guy griping he's not getting enough carries behind Dillon. The Simmons move could turn out to be the best addition of the offseason. You can view it almost like another free-agent signing.**

Why would a team with a history like the Bengals draft a player they don't expect to contribute for two or three years? Jon Kitna is more than capable of moving the team, and he is young by NFL quarterback standards. The Bengals need to acquire a player who will step in and start. That player, in my estimation, seems to be Terence Newman. In order for them to carry this new regime energy into the season, they need to give us hope.. NOW.

Quarterbacks are always a risky proposition (Klingler, Smith, and I can't think of the QB from Washington several years ago who bombed, Jack Somebody)... By drafting a starter, they will improve their chances of winning immediately. What are they going to do if Kitna is the answer? This is a QB rich draft. They don't need to expend the first pick on one. They can get a good one, if they choose to draft one, in a later round. Is Akili THAT bad, or can Zampese salvage something out of him? He (Akili) talks a serious game. Why do we need to top 3 QB picks on the roster?.... Come on, Bengals.. draft a shutdown corner who can do it all. I think we, the fans, would rather go to the playoffs next year than watch Carson Palmer wear a visor every week. ** Dave Lawson, Anderson Twp.

DAVE: You make good, solid points and if you were in charge, the Beechmont Mall would still be alive today. You're talking to a guy who backs the Impact Player Theory. Line up with Newman and James at corner, and make a run at 7-9 or 8-8.

But, the QB talk does give an insight into Marvin Lewis. They know Kitna can get them to 9-7 because he showed it last year even without a training camp. But they must be thinking another quarterback can take them all the way and Lewis must be thinking he has the time to develop him.**

I am and have been a Bengals fans for many years. My sons are Bengals fans. I live in Los Angeles now but still watch them every week and attend one or two games a year back in Ohio. As a fan I have struggled to keep my energy toward the team. I am so pleased that Mike Brown has relented and allowed a real football person to guide the operation. My concern is that this draft is going to be a bust if they choose a QB. Jon Kitna is very capable and getting better. The Bengals do not have the luxury of the time it takes to rebuild. Sports franchises must win now.

There are capable players in this draft who could step in day one and make an impact. The Bengals could use a WR. Rogers from MSU would fit in. The impact player in my opinion is Terrence Newman. He could start right away and would help a very maligned secondary. Do the Bengals have the luxury of time and money to develop a QB while the wins and losses become more disparate. We can't keep losing. A concerned but loyal fan in Los Angeles. **Don Lawson

DON: One of the misconceptions is that Brown has hogged the football operations. Like his father, Brown has been highly respectful of a coach's role and has always given them a big say. The big difference here is that he turned to a guy outside the organization willing to challenge the status quo.**

Hey Geoff, good to talk to you again. Terence Newman seems very enthusiastic about the possibility of becoming the #1 overall pick in the draft. I have a two part question for you. If the Bengals do select Newman #1 overall or acquire him by trading out of the top spot, would he likely be competing against Jeff Burris for a starting job and if won would Burris likely be released after 2003 seeing as how the Bengals would then have Newman, Burris, Artrell Hawkins, and Tory James pulling down seven figure salaries? Playing James on one side and Newman on the other, while allowing Hawkins to rotate in at nickelback would form a pretty solid defensive backfield. **Drew K. Louisville, KY

DREW: Thanks for writing again. Yes, Newman would join James as a starter, with Hawkins projected as the nickel. The only thing I'm thinking is that maybe Lewis thinks this is going to be his last chance picking high enough to get a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback.**

Hey Geoff, With virtually every single analyst around saying that the "Bengals have too many holes to fill to draft a quarterback, or a non instant impact player", why have the Bengals virtually ruled out guys like Charlie Rogers of MSU? Either he, or Terence Newman would seem to be the best instant fit. Newman would be a great special teams return guy, and a shut down corner with awesome jumping ability.

He would be like getting two players with one pick. Rogers would compliment Chad Johnson and Peter Warrick well. It just seems to me like drafting Palmer or Leftwich is sending up a white flag to the rest of the league, saying that the Bengals really aren't that serious about contending this year. I just hope Marvin's smart and takes Newman with the first pick, and a DT to line up next to Thornton with the team's second pick. I would think that with all the QBs in this year's draft, a quality QB will slip into the 3rd round. What do you think? **

The third round is dicey. But my thinking is the league has been pulling Pro Bowl quarterbacks out of grocery store stock rooms, why not the third round, or seventh round, or college free agency?**

A cornerback? In all the research available in the world I have not found one case where a cornerback led his team to the Super Bowl. Not one. Given all the CBs we have, we can live another year or two without a high draft CB. I am disappointed there is no talk about the Oline. A center? Yeah we need one of those if Richie doesn't come back. We also need a right guard and we need to develop a replacement for Matt. In FA they were looking for a RG. Whatever happened to that? I haven't seen a word about a fall back plan. I mean, if they were going after a FA guard, what all the sudden happened that they decided they don't need one? The talk should be about the OLine not the D Backfield.

Oh sure lets give Palmer 60 mill and no Oline? That Cb will do a great job blocking for Carson or Kitna or whomever, won't he? Get Palmer and get him some primo O linemen. Even if we don't go QB we still need a strong OLine and we don't have one. It is in worse shape than the DBackfield but they are thinking CB? Man, that's insane. I am starting to wonder about ML. **Ray, Western Hills

RAY: One thing about ML. He finally went out and got a blocking TE this team has needed for years. They backed out of the guard market because they ran out of salary cap room after signing Falcons tight end Reggie Kelly. And a blocking tight end was their biggest need on the offensive line, not center or guard.

Yes, the coaches are saying they need to get younger and more athletic at center and guard, but they can line up there with guys who have played well in the past. They've got bigger fish to fry in the earlier rounds. One thing about ML. If they get to the second and third rounds, he'll take the best player on the board. How often is that an interior lineman? He wants to do away with drafting for need, figuring you can never pass up a good player no matter the position. That hasn't always been the case.**

Just to raise an issue other than who to pick at #1, is there any talk of trading Dillon for more picks? Bennett would be serviceable for a year, and Dillon could command allot of value in picks this year and/or next. Maybe to Houston for a #2 this year and a #1 next year? This rebuilding isn't a one year program, and it better allows us to absorb the cap hit of sending Dillon away, but he, if anyone, needed to buy into Lewis' philosophy, which he clearly hasn't.. .

Unless Dillon gives back his signing bonus, the Bengals can't unload him because of a $6.6 million hit on the salary cap. No matter how you say it, you can't do it.

Geoff, I just cannot believe that this franchise can be content with Brock Gutierrez as the starting center going forward. Al Johnson of the University of Wisconsin will almost assuredly be available at the top of round two and IMHO if this franchise passes him up they will be making a huge mistake. **Sincerely, Paul McMillen

PAUL: Being content and playing a guy are two different things. They've played well with Gutierrez. Do you pass up a speed wide receiver, a versatile defensive lineman, or a cornerback in the second round to take a center when you've got one and have the right of first refusal (Rich Braham) on your guy for the last four years?**

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