Whirlwind week beckons


Andrew Whitworth

Even though there have been no final decisions, the Bengals appear to be sticking to their original timeline of a July 28 report date to Georgetown College followed by the first practice on July 29 as the NFL enters what is reportedly the last week of the lockout.

The dates and places are so iffy that even the tentative timelines are tentative. But as the moving boxes start to sprout up optimistically around Paul Brown Stadium, so do the published reports that point to next Monday—July 25—as the possible start of the NFL year.

Various media outlets report the owners hope to ratify the new collective bargaining agreement this Thursday in Atlanta, followed by a Friday labor seminar to introduce four representatives as well as the owners of each team to the new rules. It would be hard to see free agency coming off any time before Monday and it's a tight enough fit that an exclusive window for a club allowed to negotiate with its own free agents may be out the window.

So all forms of free agency, including signing drafted and undrafted rookies, could end up percolating together on the 25th.

USA Today's Jarrett Bell tweeted Monday night the seminar begins 90 minutes after the CBA is ratified Thursday. 

What we do know for sure is that time is ticking on the start of training camp and it is believed some form of free agency is going to have to get off the ground before players report. Could the opening of camps be delayed while the machinery of transactions begins to rumble? Unclear. But it's believed the Bengals are still preparing to give players physicals on the 27th with an eye to pulling into Georgetown, Ky., the next day.

According to ProFootballTalk.com Monday evening, the sides continue to steam to Thursday by wrapping up remaining issues. Citing multiple reports, PFT said the proposed new CBA includes $1 billion in new benefits for retired players over the life of the 10-year deal. More than $600 million will be put into the "Legacy Fund" for retired players over the next 10 years, the report said.

But the schedule is tentative until then and putting together a schedule is merely a portion of what happens in the next week.

While the Bengals sign players, they'll also be faced with a numbers dilemma. Reports have said teams can take up to 90 players to camp, 10 more than the usual minimum. Yet teams haven't been able to coach their players since the end of last season and have just about 45 days to get ready for the regular-season opener.

So do they need that many players since the regulars need to get as many snaps as possible? Or do they need that many because the chance of injury is higher with no previous offseason workouts?

Also on the docket this week is learning exactly what the mechanics of the new rookie pool are and how hard the new cap is for the drafted players. The price is going to be much cheaper, but how much negotiation will be allowed under the new rules may dictate the speed of the signing of No. 1 pick A.J. Green. That could impact Chad Ochocinco's status as the club's all-time leading receiver heads into the last season of his deal.

Plus, the Bengals have the difficult task of combing through the Cedric Benson situation since he doesn't have a contract and the Bengals aren't allowed any contact with payers until the lockout is over. Benson, who has led the Bengals in rushing the past three seasons, was charged with misdemeanor assault with injury on a former male roommate, according to published reports out of Austin, Tex., this past weekend.

Reports have Benson going to court next month in Austin for an assault charge stemming from a May 30, 2010 incident, but one in which NFL commissioner Roger Goodell chose not to discipline Benson after he met with him just before last year's training camp.

"Benson was reminded of his responsibility to take precautions to avoid putting himself at risk when he is in public. He also was informed that based on our current understanding of the facts, no disciplinary action is planned," the NFL said in a press release last August.

"Cedric expressed to us his understanding that NFL players have a special responsibility to meet high standards of conduct," Commissioner Goodell said. "Like most public figures, Cedric and other NFL players occasionally may find themselves facing risks that other individuals do not. They must exercise good judgment and restraint when confronted with those risks. Cedric said he recognizes this and has committed to working hard to make better decisions and avoid any further incidents. We support him and expect him to be successful in meeting this commitment."

Where this latest incident puts Benson with Goodell and how it impacts the Bengals' take on free-agent running backs is unclear and is made even murkier by the no-contact terms of the lockout.

It is a situation just as tentative as any post-lockout timeline.

According to published reports, all free agents with at least four years experience are going to be available on the market with no right of first refusal. The Bengals probably have their eye on re-signing third down back Brian Leonard in the backfield, but defense appears to be their biggest focus in their own free agency.

Cincinnati's top priority figures to be cornerback Johnathan Joseph, but defensive tackle/end Jonathan Fanene and outside linebacker Brandon Johnson were key members of the run to the 2009 AFC North title and are expected to be courted. With SAM backer Rey Maualuga expected to move to the middle, Johnson's situation could impact the status of incumbent middle backer Dhani Jones, a free agent who has played outside, as well as put the Bengals in the market for a veteran outside backer.

If it seems so much is in flux, it is. Which is one of the reasons a possible 15th trip to Georgetown is comforting.

"They've prepared like we're coming, which is what we've asked them to do all along," said Bengals business manager Bill Connelly.  "We know what to expect. They know what we want and they go out and get it done."

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