Updated: 8 p.m.
An estimated $15 million charged to the 2009 salary cap later, the Bengals did what they said they were going to do a week into free agency.
Now the biggest question left before the draft, it seems, is if they are going to do what everybody says they're going to do and trade wide receiver Chad Ocho Cinco.
Because it looks like there isn't enough cap room to pursue another significant deal. Head coach Marvin Lewis says the club is going to "chip away," and that could mean fullback and a backup offensive lineman that may or may not be a center.
The Bengals have filled the spots of the four most vulnerable positions on the depth chart (kicker, wide receiver, running back, backup quarterback) and re-signed their other offseason priority, safety Chris Crocker.
"A lot has been said that they don't do this and they don't do that. Well, that's not really true. We do do, and we do it at a very, very high level," Lewis said. "We have more things to do. We'll continue to kind of fill some of the areas I really thought (needed to be filled). It was a tough year. I sat many times and looked at our football team and spent a lot of time talking with Mike about areas I felt we needed to make sure we get better in, and to his credit he allowed that to occur. He just kind of grins, but I've got to make it work."
Coles counts for nearly half of the recent outlay with a salary cap hit estimated at $7.2 million for '09. The flurry started two weeks ago by putting the franchise tag on kicker Shayne Graham at $2.48 million. Also in the mix is an estimated $3 million hit for running back Cedric Benson and $2 million on Crocker. New backup quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan figures to count around $1 million.
The Bengals are still in the market for players, such as two that visited Thursday, Vikings restricted free agent fullback Naufahu Tahi and backup guard/tackle George Foster. But with the $5 million parceled out for draft picks and another $3-4 million for incentives, plus an injury allowance, it is going to be an extremely difficult proposition to roll out starting money to someone else if the estimated $25-30 million figure under the cap at the start of free agency was accurate.
Which means it's doubtful they're going to re-sign center Eric Ghiaciuc, now making it the most vulnerable position on the roster (slightly ahead of fullback). Their strategy indicates they weren't going to do it anyway and are prepared to go with two of their young centers that have had a season in the system but haven't played games (Kyle Cook and Dan Santucci), yet this is also a center-rich draft.
The Coles deal is getting ripped in some quarters, presumably because if the Bengals were willing to let 31-year-old T.J. Houshmandzadeh go to save cap room, why did they give it right back to another 31-year-old receiver?
It proves that when quarterback Carson Palmer wants to use his sway internally (which isn't often), he's got $130 million worth. It also shows he knows his biological clock (30 on Dec. 27) is ticking. It also may show that he's not yet comfortable with the young receivers the team plucked in the draft last year. And, yeah, it could mean that Ocho Cinco is going on the block like everybody in the national media is writing.
(One example: ESPN's James Walker said in a chat he expects the Bengals to explore a trade. But a Dallas observer said Thursday don't count the post-T.O. Cowboys as interested.)
When it came to the young receivers, second-rounder Jerome Simpson and third-rounder Andre Caldwell, Lewis was vague about how they'll be able to develop behind two receivers with more than 1,200 catches, which was a problem last year. The main snag in the development was injuries.
Instead, he talked about the duo having more competition and mentoring.
"Carson has been beating me up since (free agency) got started last Friday morning about Laveranues," Lewis said. "We got it done. He's concerned that he has great weapons and guys he can count on all the time. We had a consistent player (in Houshmandzadeh.) We had to make sure we found one just as consistent and maybe had some other areas that right now (Coles)has been a little more productive in."
The $15 million is a bargain if it means the Bengals can get help on either side of the line on the first day of the draft. Now they've got Coles and don't have to take Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree at No. 6, although they would be wise to act like they will so they can get somebody to trade up.
And the signing of Benson means they can get their rookie running back also on Sunday instead of Saturday.