With the last big court battle of this lockout (the 8th circuit court date) upon us, and 'secret settlement talks' (confidential by court order) sending 'experts' Twitter feeds into a frenzy, the hopeful among us would suggest that the lockout situation could be moving towards a resolution.
So for Marvin Lewis and the other 31 head coaches, these next few days/weeks will be spent in eager anticipation for the doors to open once more. When free-agency rolls around and business starts up again, many expect there to be a manic rush to get players signed/released/traded etc in order to get the rest of the team ready for training camp ASAP.
Here's five things Coach Lewis needs to get done as soon as the war ends to prepare the Bengals for 2011.
Johnathan Joseph is perhaps the most important free-agent that the Bengals need to consider bringing back. If Andy Dalton is going to take the reins in 2011, it's going to be a bumpy road and the defense will have to bear much of the workload. Dalton will need the ball as much as possible and the defense are going to play the role of damage control, the likes of which they haven't had to play to a huge extent during Carson Palmer's tenure.
Joseph and fellow CB Leon hall have proved a formidable partnership in the Cincinnati backfield and there is doubts that Pacman Jones can be relied upon to replace him if the Bengals get outbid for Joseph's services. With no other real replacements already on the roster, Lewis relying on Jones to step up would seem oddly counter to his fairly logical and rational offseason campaign thus far. Cinci should look to make a deal with Joseph while the rest of the league have their eyes on Asomugha, otherwise it could become difficult to get him back.
Cedric Benson is after a big contract, and believes himself to be deserving of one. Unfortunately for Ced, his numbers don't exactly back up this sentiment. Add to that the fact that a lot of teams took running backs in the draft and you'll realize the market for Ced might not be what he thinks it is.
While it may ruffle his feathers, Benson may have to sign a smaller contract with Cinci than he desires and it is something the Bengals should make happen given the opportunity. With the offense taking on a whole new look, Dalton will be looking to rely heavily on a smash-mouth running game in 2011. Benson knows the Bengals and has had some success here.
With Jay Gruden's new run-first system, Benson could once again thrive in the Queen City. While it would be unwise to give the erratic Benson a long-term deal, getting him back on board right now would be incredibly beneficial to the teams 2011 campaign.
I have to admit I am a fan of Ochocinco. I follow him on Twitter and I laugh at his ridiculous antics. However, it's all become a little bit stale of late. Bengals fans who may have rolled their eyes at Ocho in the past are now vocal about the need to ship him out of town.
I have to agree with this line of thinking. Ochocinco is not what the team needs going forward. The only reason to keep him on board would be to act as a mentor to young receivers like A.J. Green and Jordan Shipley, but Chad has done little to make one think that he wants to play that role. I would suggest better mentors would be the likes of Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell who have quietly worked hard at their respective games and persevered to the point that they could at some point start. I know who I would prefer to talk to my rookies.
Ocho has been incredibly vocal about his desire to leave and at this point it seems like the right thing to let happen. If Tank Johnson of all people refers to you as 'forming a dark cloud over the team', then something must be seriously wrong.
Whether he's under contract or not, cut the ties, and ship him to the highest bidder The Ocho era is over.
With the ample time handed to him by the NFL lockout, Jay Gruden has had plenty of extra time to come up with new schemes and packages and, ironically, the lockout that gave him this ability has also meant that he will not be able to implement as much as he might like.
With the lockout dragging on, one cannot be certain who has playbooks and who doesn't or if anyone is really making much sense of them anyway. Jay will be given a tough test when workouts roll around to get players on board with his new system quickly and it will be a great test of character on his part and of the team also.
While I'm very much excited to see what Jay can conjure on offense, I would urge Lewis and Gruden to cull a lot of what they have planned in favor of a simpler system. It is very likely that they will do so and it will be necessary to getting things off the ground quickly in 2011. That way, at least Gruden can add to things as the season goes along and prepare for a more extensive library of looks next year.
Gruden walks a similar line to his older brother and Jon is famous for demanding a lot out of his players when it comes to play calls, throwing a lot of words into them, and expecting the players to study hard. One can expect the same from Jay, but he will be wise not to throw too much at both new faces and veterans highly accustomed to the old system, at least right away.
This is one thing I can't see happening despite the teams distinct need for it. The Bengals are thin on the ground in terms of the safety position. Regardless of the fact that they took Robert Sands in the draft's fifth round, they remain in need of stability in that area of the field.
Coach Lewis has already stated that he expects Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson to start in 2011, and it remains likely that Chinedum Ndukwe is likely leaving Cincinnati. Despite these comments, Lewis remains a hard guy to read, after all he said the team wasn't interested in T.O. and look how that ended up. So, it would not come as a surprise to see the Bengals make a move in free-agency.
Crocker and Nelson are not bad players and improved by leaps and bounds in 2011. However, they do give cause for concern, and it might be wise for the Bengals to look to free-agency to solve this issue. There are plenty of good safeties on the market, the likes of Michael Huff and Brodney Pool come to mind, and would both provide peace of mind for Mike Zimmer in that area of the Bengals defense.
With an offensive line desperate to make an impact, and the potential return of Joseph and and Hall, teams will be aware that Crocker and Nelson represent the soft spot in Cincinnati's defense, and they will exploit that. Lewis would be unwise to not consider making a move for a better prospect at the position...
The Carson Palmer situation remains at a stale-mate. Each side continues to wait for the other to blink, and it's become, to Bengals fans at least, their own second mini lockout.
Lewis, Gruden and Owner Mike Brown have sung from the same hymn sheet for the last few months and show no signs of changing their tune. But what happens if Carson comes back anyway for a variety of reasons? The team's moved on and nobody seems desperate to have him back. He has already lost his team's faith and it will be tough for Palmer to win them over if he turns up on opening day and demands to start. If he does this for leverage and Brown turns around and forces him to start, the on-field ramifications would be dreadful.
So maybe a new approach is needed, and while I subscribe to Jay Gruden's mentality, it might be worthwhile to at least go out to San Diego and sit down and talk to Carson about all of the changes the Bengals have made and the plans for 2011.
“For the privilege to play quarterback in the NFL, you shouldn’t have to beg anyone. I’d cut off my right leg to play quarterback in the NFL. I’m not saying (Palmer) doesn’t want to compete. I just don’t know how much out of the way we have to go, to beg him.’’
That way they will have the situation resolved quicker either way, and if Palmer does in fact decide to return it will be out of enthusiasm for the 'new' Bengals and not out of spite or for monetary or leverage reasons. While he'll have to win over the players and the fans who have buried him, Palmer being willing to do so will only be encouraging.
Even if it's simply to cut ties with Palmer, Lewis should be ready to book a flight post-lockout.