Category Archives: Cincinnati Bengals

Three pregame Browns-Bengals thoughts

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Three quick Bengals-Browns pregame observations and such…

1. Joe Thomas plays his 100th game today. He’s never missed a snap.

He’s a warrior. And a stud. And someday he’ll be in the Hall of Fame discussion.

Drafting hasn’t been the Browns thing — though drafting between third and seventh certainly has — but they got that one very right. Thomas is still playing at a high level and deserves better. Maybe, sooner than a bunch later, he’ll get it. He was great last week in the Browns first win of the season and will need another big game today.

He won’t likely see James Harrison much, but that’s good for Harrison, who has bullied a lot of bigger tackles in his outstanding career but never did much against Thomas.

2. However it goes, and however long this lasts, and even if he never starts another game, Brian Hoyer is starting a game in Browns Stadium today.

A Cleveland kid who grew up a season ticket holder, went to high school right over the bridge and has been dismissed a bunch is starting an NFL game 15 miles from his backyard.

That’s really cool. Really, really, really, really cool.

It’s a little too early to point out that the last time Rob Chudzinski was involved with an early-season QB switch here, that  new QB found a stud receiver and a star tight end and got really hot, engineering a magical season.

It’s possible. It’s not likely. More than a few people are going to have chills when Hoyer gets introduced today, and rightly so. We’ll judge again at about 4:15, but he’s truly living an incredible dream.

3. The Bengals are 2-1, should be 3-0, and are coming off a win over the Packers that made the rest of the league pay attention.

If they’ve truly arrived and/or are prepared to have the season they want to have, they win today. Even without Leon Hall and Reggie Nelson.

There’s not much margin for error, and there are no more excuses. The chips are in, the standards are high (for a reason) and the pieces appear to be in place. There are questions — every team has them — and there’s a long, long way to go, but if the Bengals are going to eventually be anywhere near any discussion of the elite or the true contenders they can’t afford a step back or even a slight bump. It has to be forward with proven maturity and positive results.

The Ravens are giving nothing away. You have to think, though, that a couple weeks ago the Colts saw Andy Dalton as the quarterback of maybe the AFC’s second-best team and thought they might as well try and go win the thing. The Bengals no longer want to be outsiders or the hunters, and they need to handle their business accordingly.

Lewis effusive with praise for D’Qwell

Marvin Lewis isn’t much for hyperbole, so what the Bengals coach said this week about Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson carries some serious weight.

And Lewis said a lot.

During his scheduled conference call with the Cleveland media ahead of Sunday’s Bengals-Browns game, Lewis was asked what makes the Browns defensive front seven so good.

“Explosive pass rushers, it starts there,” Lewis said. “And they have No. 52. He keeps playing. The guy has played in how many different defensive schelmes but the one thing that’s consistent is how great D’Qwell plays. He’s fun to watch on tape and he really has done an excellent job as a linebacker in the NFL.”

A second-round pick of the Browns in 2006, Jackson started immediately in Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 defense. Eric Mangini employed a similar 3-4 style in 2009-10, but injuries limited Jackson to six starts in those two seasons. The change to Pat Shurmur marked a change to 4-3 base defense in 2011-12, and now the Browns are back to a 3-4.

Jackson has been around so long that he’s changed numbers, from 58 to 52. He was starting when new Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski was in his second Browns stint as an assistant in 2007-08. With Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Phil Dawson and Joshua Cribbs gone from their teams, Lewis, Jackson, Ben Roethlisberger and Haloti Ngata would rank among the AFC North’s most grizzled vets and longest-tenured men with their respective teams.

“D’Qwell is probably one of the more unheralded great players in the league,” Lewis said. “You have to be over in this division and watch him week in and week out to know how good he is. He makes so many plays in the run game.”

Cost probably too high for Browns to chase QB

Traders up. The real fun in the NFL Draft starts Friday evening.

The Browns picked early and shut it down early on Thursday; with no second-round pick as ammo, they knew there was no way they’d buy back into the first round, even if they wanted to.

But what about the second round — and specifically for a quarterback? And specifically for West Virginia’s Geno Smith, who remains on the board?

How much it would cost remains to be seen. “Too much” is probably the answer.

The great part about this three-day draft format is four months of pure speculation turns into 18 or so hours of more speculation, usually centered around a few players. Smith is certainly this year’s “buzz” guy, not just because quarterback is always the buzz position. Mike Glennon, maybe the most NFL-ready quarterback at January’s Senior Bowl, and Matt Barkley also could get early second-round attention after E.J. Manuel went to Buffalo and became the only QB picked in the first round.

That pick was, um, interesting.

The chances the Browns, currently holding pick No. 68 in the third round as their next selection, go up and get Smith (or another quarterback) are slim. The Browns would almost certainly have to give up a 2014 first-rounder to get into the top of the second round, and in case Smith’s long wait in the green room Thursday night during the first round didn’t remind Browns fans of Brady Quinn, making such a trade would.

Jacksonville picks first Friday, at 33, followed by San Francisco and Philadelphia. The first two will take plenty of calls based on the value of their picks in this format, firstly, and also from quarterback-seeking teams based on fact that the Eagles, at very least, showed interest in Smith in the pre-draft process.

There’s a little thing called a trade value chart that every NFL team uses, to some extent, anyway. The numbers and values on the chart aren’t absolute — and there might even be multiple charts — but they do provide either a baseline or a ballpark figure on perceived trade value.

During Thursday’s first round, it was a good market for teams coming up and a bad one for teams looking for a potential trade down. On Friday, at least early, it will be the other way around.

The chart says Jacksonville’s pick is worth 580 value points. That’s too much for a 2014 first-round pick as the Browns don’t expect to be a playoff team and this year’s 14th pick was worth 1,100 value points; their pick at 68 (250), even coupled with a second-rounder next year, probably comes up short.

About that 580, well, that’s actually low. The value on Jacksonville’s pick would go up because it’s an extremely valuable pick as the first pick of the rest of the draft. The Browns would either have to give next year’s first-rounder (not happening) or put together a package that includes either Jabaal Sheard or Phil Taylor, plus that 68th pick and some other combination of things to swap in a package that leans Jacksonville’s way.

The Jaguars will answer the phone because they need lots of players. The Browns need too many themselves to give away valuable picks, especially in multiples. Despite what they’ve said, you still have to believe they are willing to part with one of their young defensive linemen as they transition to a 3-4, and it might be Sheard after the selection of Barkevious Mingo.

Thirty-one other teams know that, too, which probably drives down his value. And these hypothetical deals revolve around value.

If the Browns are really in the quarterback market and are interested in New England backup Ryan Mallett — and again, it’s purely a hypothetical at this point — it’s possible the Patriots asking price came down when they acquired the Vikings third and fourth round picks late Thursday night.

Then again, it’s just as possible that New England would want a second-rounder next year. Same story. Mike Lombardi has the number if it gets to that point.

As for Smith, if he gets past the Eagles at No. 35, how far does he slide? The Cardinals at No. 38, Jets at 39 and Raiders at 42 could be interested. The Jaguars and 49ers will anxiously await their calls. The Bengals, holding pick No. 37 and needing a running back and a safety, could be interested in selling their pick and trading down.

The Browns figure to be active in seeking a chance to either move up into the second round and/or acquire another third-round pick. Unless we’re all missing something with Geno Smith, it just seems the price for the Browns to be involved will be too high.

James Harrison? And the Bengals?

James Harrison? And the Bengals?

Let me try again.

James Harrison. And the Bengals?

Maybe it will happen. Apparently, the sides met this week in Cincinnati.

Harrison needs a chance to extend his career after being released by the Steelers in a move that certainly was salary related but was performance related, too. He’ll be 35 next season and isn’t the pass rusher he used to be. The Bengals feel like they’re ready to take the next step, already have a veteran locker room and — most importantly — can afford Harrison.

Even at a well reduced rate from what he’s been making, Harrison is still looking to get paid. If a team thinks he can get his body ready each week to contribute and bring his brand of violence, leadership and playmaking, it will pay him.

That James Harrison? In Cincinnati?

This is the NFL. Stranger things have happened.

Harrison has had a remarkable career, going from prop 48 and paying his own way at Kent State to undrafted to cut multiple times to NFL Europe to 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, multiple-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl hero.

Especially because the market has probably dictated that Harrison won’t get a ton of money, this potential pairing makes sense on many levels — except that the Bengals play a 4-3 base defense. They need linebackers, though, as right now at outside linebacker they have Vontaze Burfict (who might be best as a middle linebacker) and a bunch of either backups or developmental-type players. Or maybe both.

But the Bengals believe in their core, and they believe in their locker room, and they believe in the abilities of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to be creative and get the most out of what he has. Zimmer has never been scared of taking on a guy on his last chance, and for Harrison this almost certainly is that.

Last December, Zimmer had the Bengals playing about as well as any defense in the league. He has some tinkering to do and some guys to replace, but he has players who know him and believe in what he’s doing, too. If he sees Harrison as a rusher or as a spot player or whatever, he’ll make it work if there’s any way to make it work. Based on what we know about his other job prospects, it’s probably in Harrison’s best interests to try to make it work.

Again, stranger things have happened.

Again, it’s ALWAYS about the money. So, we’ll see.

Maybe Harrison’s body is only cut out for a certain number of snaps from here on out. Or, maybe he’ll play special teams ’til he’s 50 because football is what he knows.

For the Bengals, finding out might be a chance worth taking. Where the Bengals want to go goes through Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and even if Harrison isn’t cut out for full-go over a full season, he’ll be more than ready for those games.

On free agency: The Browns, the Ravens and the money

This and that on NFL free agency …

–I know nothing certain on this, but there are many in the league who expect the next Cleveland Browns shoe to drop to be a trade of a defensive lineman, either Ahtyba Rubin or Phil Taylor. Desmond Bryant gives the team a lot of depth on the defensive front, which is always a good thing, but for some reason it feels like his addition might have a ripple effect.

–This is pure speculation, but is it possible said trade could be with New England for a certain quarterback? Guy by the name of Mallett, perhaps? Bill Belichick can use a defensive lineman, and Lombardi has been rumored to be interested in Ryan Mallett for some time. It has logic, but again there’s nothing certain about it.

–These Mallett rumors simply are just too similar to all the offseason rumors about Mike Lombardi. Everybody talked around them, hemmed and hawed and pretended they weren’t true. Lo and behold … look who’s the GM of the Browns. The Mallett talk seems too similar to be a charade.

–All this is dependent, of course, on the Patriots bringing Matt Cassell back to be Tom Brady’s backup.

–The one need left on the Browns defense after this glut of signings remains at cornerback. The good news is nobody has been taken off the market in the initial wave, so the guys who sign might come at a relative bargain. Pittsburgh’s Keenan Lewis is the obvious first choice. But if the Browns really want to improve and really want to add a player who would be a dynamic tandem with Joe Haden, why not Aqib Talib? Yes, there are issues with him, but that didn’t stop the Browns from adding Bryant. Talib can play. Probably won’t happen.

–The national buzz on the team’s signing of Paul Kruger was not near as positive as the local buzz in Cleveland. This is not surprising. Local folks always are more excited to add a guy. But Kruger’s signing does have questions. Among the comments is this from’s Don Banks: “I don’t think he’s that kind of lead-dog player, and the expectations shouldn’t be that he’ll necessarily match the nine sacks he got in the 2012 regular season, or the 4.5 he generated in the four-game playoff run.” And this from’s Jamison Hensley, a Baltimore resident who sees the Ravens a lot: “Kruger, 27, is a solid player. He isn’t a special one. You just have to temper your expectations for him or you’ll come away disappointed. It’s hard to do that when a team makes this type of financial commitment to a player.” And this from’s Clark Judge: “(The Browns) paid a lot of money for someone with one year of productivity. ‘He’s a very good player and very good in the locker room,’ one scout said, ‘but that’s too rich for me.’”

–The Ravens lost a ton of defensive production and talent — both safeties could be gone if Ed Reed signs elsewhere — but can we please hold off on burying Baltimore? They start with the quarterback, then they have Ozzie Newsome picking the players. Clearly Newsome has made the decision that a retooling on defense would coincide with the retirement of Ray Lewis. Baltimore will be younger on defense, and perhaps not as effective. But Baltimore has lost guys in the past and kept on keeping on. They remain the best team in the division.

–Pittsburgh, on the other hand, seems to be in some serious transition. While the Bengals keep the core of a good, young team, the Steelers are aging and against the salary cap. Cincinnati seems poised to pass them — three playoff appearances in four years — as the division’s second-best team.

–Green Bay was said to be bringing Peyton Hillis in for a visit. Evidently a guy just can’t wear out his welcome at enough teams before the league decides he’s not worth the trouble.

–Thirty million dollars in guaranteed money for Mike Wallace? Really?

–Ex-Ravens Kruger and Danell Ellerbe have started 20 games between them. They earned contracts worth $76 million on Tuesday. Timing really is everything when it comes to free agency.

–This kind of spending always reminds me of what Carmen Policy once said about free agent signings: Teams pay guys as if they are the best at their position rather than the best available at their position. Happens every year. And it will keep happening.

–The national buzz on Bryant was a lot different than the buzz on Kruger. Folks actually thought Bryant’s addition was a good one. Wrote Hensley: “At 27 years old, Bryant is one of those under-the-radar players who has the chance to be a game-changer on the Browns’ new 3-4 defense. He spent four seasons on an underachieving Oakland Raiders defense, but he always showed great tenacity and a high motor.” Any motor reference is always comforting.

–A wise coach once told me “stats are for losers,” so keep that in mind: ESPN’s stats group reports that Browns linebackers had 19.5 tackles for loss or sacks last season, last in the league.


The fallout from Baltimore’s trade of Anquan Boldin

There are trades and then there are trades and then there are trades that are really something.

When the Baltimore Ravens gave up wide receiver Anquan Boldin for a sixth-round draft pick, that was a trade that ranked in the “really something” category.

The notion that Boldin would leave the Ravens was shocking in itself. There is no stronger or more physical presence at the position in the league. The guy plays, he leads and he contributes. His playoff performances as the Ravens won the Super Bowl were outstanding. In four games, he had 22 catches for 380 yards and four touchdowns. He also came down with a huge third-down catch in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl that set up a field goal that made Baltimore’s lead five points.

Boldin isn’t the fastest, the biggest or the most polished of receivers.

But he can block, he’s as strong as anyone and most important he shows up on Sunday.

Add him to a 49ers team that already includes Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis and Frank Gore and Colin Kaepernick and … well … that’s Super Bowl caliber again.

Even if Boldin doesn’t work out, all San Francisco gave up was a sixth-round pick. Which is well worth the risk.

Meanwhile, the fallout in the AFC North is not insignificant.

The Browns won’t have to watch Boldin beat them up twice a year, nor will the Bengals. Boldin had 32 catches for 488 yards and three TDs against the Browns, and 22 for 264 yards and four TDs against the Bengals.

That mismatch has moved on.

The other fallout could affect the Browns free agent plans. Rumors and logic have the Browns interested in Ravens linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe.

Trading Boldin clears $6 million in cap space for the Ravens. Whether that’s enough to keep Ellerbe or Kruger remains to be seen, but it’s a step.

Finally, Baltimore is not as good without Boldin as it was with him. But it’s hard to think that Ozzie Newsome doesn’t have a plan ready and waiting to replace him. The Ravens are consistent winners for a reason.

Cardinals cut Beanie Wells

Akron native and former Ohio State star Chris “Beanie” Wells is now a part of the NFL’s free agent market.

The Cardinals released Wells on Monday, a day before the start of the league’s calendar year, when every team must be under the salary cap and the player movement period begins.

Wells had just 88 carries for 234 yards and 5 touchdowns last season, when he played in eight games. Keeping Wells healthy has always been an issue, though he’s just 14 months removed his only 1,000-yard season. Wells scored 10 touchdowns and ran for 1,047 yards in 2011.

The Cardinals selected him in the first round in 2009. He played in all 16 games as a rookie, averaging a career-best 4.5 yards per carry and scoring 7 touchdowns.

Wells getting a fresh start is probably a good thing for his career. More teams are running the ball by committee, and Wells is big, athletic back who doesn’t turn 25 until this summer. He won’t get a huge contract and might not be a workhorse-type runner, but he won’t be out of work for long.

The timing might be right for Wells. Beyond Steven Jackson, the free agent market for running backs lacks sizzle.

Among the teams who could take a look at Wells include the Bengals, Jets, Raiders, Cowboys, Steelers and Packers.

New NFL ‘tampering’ rule won’t change a lot

At midnight, a new NFL rule goes into effect allowing teams to speak to and negotiate with player agents in advance of the March 12, 4 p.m. ET actual start of free agency.

This is the new NFL free agency period, and it’s really just like the old NFL free agency period.

Teams have been tampering — er, gently dancing around the prior rules — for years, and they’ve done it each year for weeks before this stuff technically begins. All this new rule really means is that such conversations with agents are now legal, actual meetings can take place without fear of the NFL having to enforce the rules, and the door is open for more details of these meetings to leak.

Agents talk about these things. In lots of cases, it’s in the agents’ be$t intere$t$ to do so. These negotiations are serious business, which is another reason neither side generally wants to wait any longer than it has to or can get away with.

The new rule provides for a three-day period for teams to negotiate with agents in the leadup to the actual start of the player movement period. Actual contact with players is still forbidden, and no visits can take place until Tuesday.

How many $40 million contracts are contingent upon a player actually seeing a team’s facility? Not many. Thirty-two teams have 32 different philosophies and 32 different facilities, and all 32 pay in green, American money — the kind that drives these decisions.

Teams send their key decision-makers and capologists to places like the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine because the agents are there, too, and both the teams and the agents know which players are eligible for free agency. Sometimes circumstances change, and sometimes players have a change of heart, but there really aren’t many secrets in the NFL.

Phones can legally ring at midnight tonight, but the agents have a good idea of who’s going to be call. And probably a good idea of flight schedules on Tuesday afternoon.

Remember when Rex Ryan and the Jets group were waiting outside Bart Scott’s house when free agency kicked off at midnight a few years ago? Don’t ya think ‘Ol Bart may have called the authorities if that wasn’t pre-planned on some level?

POLICE DISPATCHER: “We’ll send a car right away to check on it, Mr. Scott.”

BART SCOTT: “Can’t wait!”

That’s not the only example. Remember in 2006 when the Browns signed LeCharles Bentley, Joe Jurevicius and Kevin Shaffer within the first few hours of free agency? Or how Pierre Garcon was practically in D.C. before sundown on Opening Day last year to sign with the Redskins? There are more.

Here, exactly, is what the new rule says.

Beginning at 12:00 midnight ET on Saturday, March 9 (i.e., after 11:59:59 p.m. ET, on Friday, March 8) and ending at 3:59:59 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 12, clubs are permitted to contact, and enter into negotiations with, the certified agents of players who will become Unrestricted Free Agents upon the expiration of their 2012 Player Contracts at 4:00 p.m. ET on March 12. However, a contract cannot be executed with a new club until 4:00 p.m. ET on March 12.

During this negotiation period, a prospective Unrestricted Free Agent cannot visit a club (other than the player’s current club) at its permanent facility or at any other location, and no direct contact is permitted between the player and any employee or representative of a club (other than the player’s current club). If a player is self-represented, clubs are prohibited from discussions with the player during the negotiating period.

Clubs (other than the player’s current club) may not discuss or make any travel arrangements with prospective Unrestricted Free Agent players, their certified agents, or anyone else associated with the player until the expiration of those players’ 2012 Player Contracts at 4:00 p.m. ET on March 12.

The three-day negotiating period applies only to potential Unrestricted Free Agents; it does not apply to players who are potential Exclusive Rights Players or Restricted Free Agents, or to players who have been designated as Franchise Players or Transition Players.

Here’s what it means: Not a lot. A few free agents are going to get a ton of money. A few more are going to get a lot. More than a handful aren’t going to get as much as they previously thought or want.

It’s not midnight yet, but players involved have a pretty good idea of the group into which they’re going to fall.

Flacco worth every penny to Ravens

Joe Flacco will have a Super Bowl ring soon. He already did the Disney commercial and rode in the parade.

Flacco’s big, fat, new contract was finalized Monday, guaranteeing Flacco an exorbitant amount of money and ensuring that Flacco will be playing in Baltimore as long as the Ravens will have him.

It’s the richest contract a NFL player has ever signed, but that doesn’t mean Flacco is the most valuable or most talented player in his own locker room, let alone throughout the league. It means, above all else, that he plays the right position.

Quarterbacks. The best ones get paid. Even the pretty good ones get paid. The teams that don’t have a great or pretty good one wish they had one to pay — and spend countless resources and energy chasing guys who might be pretty good. Flacco came from Delaware (via Pitt), the 18th pick in the 2008 NFL Draft after making the decision to go to the Senior Bowl and show his talents rather than stay away based on some perceived draft standing.

You’d think more guys would learn from that.

Flacco landed with a great organization — one that happened to be a quarterback-starved organization — and immediately started winning. The Ravens are smart, have been smart and will be smart. Sure, one pass in Denver last January to Jacoby Jones made the Ravens seem a little smarter, made Flacco look a little better and ultimately loomed large in making him crazy-rich, but it falls in line.

When you get your guy at the NFL’s most important position, you pay to keep him. Any thought that Flacco was going to come within a mile of the free-agent market this offseason was simply a silly, short-sighted one.

Get the right quarterback, and the Jacoby Joneses of the world start making plays. Paying Flacco what he’s worth — plus some, just because he’s a quarterback — might end up costing you a Paul Kruger, Cary Williams or Dannell Ellerbe due to salary-cap concerns, and that’s not just the nature of the beast. It’s the price you pay for having the right quarterback. It’s the price any organization would gladly pay.

The Steelers have holes and age issues; they also have Ben Roethlisberger, so they keep mortgaging a long-term future with a bunch of contract restructuring to try to keep winning now. The Broncos paid Peyton Manning $18 million last year because he gave their talented roster a much better chance to win big prizes than the previous quarterbacks did. Arizona was in the Super Bowl five years ago and now, well, you, get the picture.

The 49ers are probably the closest thing the NFL currently has in terms of having top-shelf players at nearly every positional group. The 49ers changed quarterbacks at midseason last year. The 49ers watched Flacco raise the Super Bowl MVP trophy.

Getting the right quarterback, as difficult as it is, just makes everything easier.

The value of having your guy at that position is immeasurable. Not that Flacco needs the money, but he’d be a great fit if MasterCard is still doing those “priceless” commercials.

In the past four seasons (2009-12), Flacco and Aaron Rodgers are the only NFL quarterbacks to throw for at least 3,600 yards and 20 TDs while posting 12 or fewer interceptions. A year from now, Rodgers is going to get a contract that probably is worth more than Flacco’s. Assuming Rodgers continues to play at a high level into his 30s and keeps the Packers among the league’s best, it will be worth it and then some.

Flacco is 33-7 at home in the regular season, has 63 total wins and has won six games on the road in the playoffs. You can’t win the tournament if you don’t get there, and you rarely get there without your quarterback.

He might be overpaid in terms of raw numbers. In terms of what he’s meant to the Ravens and what he means going forward, Flacco is worth every penny.

VIDEO: Andre Knott and I break down the Browns quarterback situation

Bengals simply aren’t there yet

The epitaph for the 2012 Cincinnati Bengals says something like this.

“Succeeded to a point. Gone too soon in 2013.”

The Bengals aren’t there yet.

This isn’t the place to go blow-by-blow, nor is is the time to dissect the future. That future is still bright. The Bengals have big-time players in place.

They didn’t beat Houston on Saturday because Andy Dalton didn’t play well. The offense, in general, didn’t play well enough. Arian Foster was tough to tackle, and too many times Matt Schaub had too much time to throw.

Jermaine Gresham dropped too many passes, A.J. Green got zero first-half targets and one that might have won the game on third down in the closing minutes for Green was overshot by Dalton.

It summed up the day.

The Bengals go on extended vacation as a 10-6, second-place team. They won seven of their last eight regular-season games, rescuing a season that was headed nowhere — and fast. These Bengals have made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in 30 years, and winning in Pittsburgh in Week 16 to do is also not just an accomplishment, but a step.

But not the biggest one. Marvin Lewis still hasn’t won a playoff game. These Bengals are now 0-for-2 in early January in Houston.

This team — this young core, these players — has a chance to have much brighter days ahead. For now, though, disappointment lingers. The Bengals could have won a playoff game, and they just didn’t play well enough to do it.