4-4-02, 6:00 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Yes, the Bengals are still in the hunt to trade for Drew Bledsoe. But no, they are not going to give up their first-round draft pick for the Patriots quarterback.
Certainly not now. Not when they figure they made a shockingly similar deal nine years ago. Not when they figure the New York Jets and the Cincinnati Bengals set the market in a deal for a thirtysomething Pro Bowl quarterback looking to revive his career with a change of scenery.
(See chart of both players comparing their careers heading into the season they were traded or were expected to get traded.)
The Bengals dealt 31-year-old Boomer Esiason, a Super Bowl runnerup,
to the Jets for a third-round choice two months before the 1993 NFL Draft.
The Bengals can't talk about Bledsoe publicly, but there is only one 30-year-old Super Bowl runnerup quarterback who has continually been linked by in news reports to the Bengals in a trade. Bledsoe, like Esiason nine years ago, is about to enter his 10th season with more than 25,000 passing yards.
"Boomer was at a certain age when we traded him and he was coming off a couple of lean years after playing at a high level," said Bengals President Mike Brown of the 1993 trade that also included some conditions that weren't reached. "That was a comparable example in how it was priced and we were on the other end. And Boomer was more valuable in the sense that it was done before free agency."
For the first time in a full season, Esiason threw more interceptions than touchdowns
in 1991 and 1992. Bledsoe threw just 66 passes last season after he lost his job to injury and Tom Brady and his passer rating hasn't been above 77.3 since 1998.
But the Bengals have high regard for Bledsoe and would love to have him at the right price. Which looks closer to a third-rounder these days. His other suitor, the Bills, don't seem ready to come off a third-round pick for him.
There are those inside the Bengals arguing Bledsoe is clearly more valuable than anyone they could select with the 10th pick in the first round. Brown isn't so sure because of recent performance and potential years with the team.
"Just because they did it once upon a time doesn't mean they're going to do it again, especially when it's been a few years since they have done it," Brown said. "The rookie is going to be here six, seven years. With a trade for a high-priced veteran, how long can you keep him?"
While the Bengals wish for Bledsoe and see Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington as a possibility at No. 10, Brown could also see the Bengals coming out of the draft with no quarterback and not be devastated if they line up in training camp July 26 with Jon Kitna starting, Akili Smith backing up, Scott Covington clipboarding, and a college free-agent sweating. With Smith saying his hamstring will be ready for the first day of camp, Brown knows there are immediate starters available at other positions with the tenth pick.
Jim Lippincott, the club's director of pro/college personnel, fears the draft's quarterback crop isn't very deep. Which means after the Texans take Fresno State quarterback David Carr No. 1 and Harrington and Tulane's Patrick Ramsey come off the board, he thinks teams will end up reaching for a quarterback in rounds two, three and four in taking players a round sooner than they should go.
But with the team needing a tight end and a safety to simply line up at minicamp, Brown doesn't see the Bengals reaching for a quarterback on that first day.
"I don't know if we're in a desperate need for a quarterback," Brown said. "We've got three who look like they're going to be ready to go for camp. If we're going to take one, we're not going to overpay him. And if we take him, he's not going to come in here this season and contribute no matter how much he'll help us later on. You would like the player you draft in the first round to help right away like Justin Smith did last year."
At least one AFC general manager isn't impressed with Harrington's arm strength, which appears to be the reason he could slide to No. 10. The Bengals, however, like his productivity and intangibles and doubt he'll be available.