I promised to do eight of the post-lockout team checklists. With the negotiations possibly reaching a crescendo this week and given that I’ve done only two of the eight that I promised to do, I’d better get moving.
I’ve previously looked at the Steelers and the Browns. Here’s a team that plays both of those franchises twice per year. Which is the nicest possible thing I can currently say about the Cincinnati Bengals.
1. Make a final decision about Carson Palmer.
Palmer, the first overall pick in the 2003 draft, has by all accounts decided that he wants out of Cincinnati. He plans to retire if he’s not traded or released.
Though the Bengals are prepared to move on without him, owner Mike Brown has said he doesn’t plan to grant Palmer his wish. By taking this position, Brown could be trying to increase Palmer’s trade value. Alternatively, Brown possibly means it.
In the end, Brown needs to pick between two alternatives: getting value for Palmer’s rights or sending a powerful message to all current and future Bengals regarding their contractual obligations. Three years ago, Brown easily stared down receiver Chad Ochocinco, who wanted out but who wasn’t willing to play for no one in lieu of playing for the Bengals. Palmer seems to be intent on never returning to Cincinnati; thus, Brown has to choose between turning his commodity into a draft pick or two and squatting on Palmer in order to let other players know they can’t get out by threatening to retire.
Regardless of what Brown chooses to do, he needs to make a final decision and act on it as soon as possible after the lockout ends.
2. Make a final decision about Chad Ochocinco.
Ochocinco has tried unsuccessfully in the past to get out of Cincinnati. With one year left on his contract and a base salary of $6.5 million due to be paid, he seems to be playing the passive-aggressive game, pretending to want to stay while possibly hoping that the Bengals will choose to move on.
And that’s a choice the Bengals need to ponder simultaneously with the Palmer dilemma. The increase in the cap floor will make it easier to justify paying Chad’s full salary, and he could serve as a valuable mentor to rookie A.J. Green (assuming Chad isn’t a bad influence on the fourth overall pick in the draft). Plus, Ochocinco sells tickets and generates interest in the franchise.
On the other hand, owner Mike Brown could decide that the Ochocinco routine has played itself out, and that he’s a relic of the past, not a cornerstone of the future.
Regardless of what Brown chooses to do, he needs to make a final decision and act on it as soon as possible after the lockout ends. (Is there an echo in here?)
3. Make a final decision about Cedric Benson.
The Bengals’ Statue of Liberty approach to free agency and the draft has resulted in a few periodic coups. And perhaps the biggest steal came when owner Mike Brown gave running back Cedric Benson, the fourth overall pick in the 2005 draft, a second chance.
Benson has delivered, with nearly 750 yards rushing in 12 games during the 2008 season, more than 1,200 during the 2009 playoff campaign, and more than 1,100 last year.
Benson is now an unrestricted free agent, and the Bengals must decide whether to bring him back or move on once the lockout ends.
The outcome may depend on whether Benson can get more from another team than the Bengals will pay. If he does, the Bengals will have to decide whether to fill the void via free agency or bump Bernard Scott up to the top spot on the depth chart.
4. Spend money on a cornerback.
If the new CBA includes a requirement that more than 95 percent of the salary cap be spent in cash, the Bengals won’t be able to hide behind the 86-percent salary floor and/or rely on accounting tricks to comply with the spending minimums.
One way to do that would be to break out the checkbook for cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
OK, you can stop laughing. We realize that Cincinnati signing Asomugha would be an even bigger surprise than Reggie White choosing Green Bay 18 years ago, and that it most likely won’t happen. But whether it’s Antonio Cromartie or Ike Taylor or Carlos Rogers, the Bengals need to invest in one of the top free-agent cornerbacks.
5. Spend money on the defensive line.
After (or in lieu of) getting a big-name cornerback, the Bengals need to spend some of that cap minimum on the defensive line, preferably in the form of a high-end pass rusher. Antwan Odom has fallen off dramatically since popping an Achilles’ tendon and getting popped for performance enhancing drugs. Odom has eight sacks through six games in 2009. He has zero since.
Ray Edwards could be a terror on the outside, if the Bengals are willing to pay.
Again, willingness to pay may not matter. The Bengals will have no choice but to spend if the salary floor moves closer and closer to the salary cap. So if they have to spend it, why not spend it on a guy like Edwards?
6. Get quarterback help.
We’ll finish where we started, sort of. With Carson Palmer not coming back, the Bengals need one or two more quarterbacks, preferably with game experience.
Jordan Palmer isn’t the answer, and neither is Dan LeFevour. Andy Dalton very well may be the future, but the Bengals need some protection in the event the Dalton isn’t ready to start as a rookie.
The Bengals will have several options. The sooner they make a move on the guy they want after the lockout ends, the better off they’ll be.