As we reported last week, significant progress is being made between NFL owners and the NFLPA. ESPN's John Clayton reported this morning that the deal should be officially announced on Thursday with the 72 hour negotiating window for teams to talk to their own free agents to begin on Monday, July 25. That means that the Bengals should be able to begin training camp at Georgetown on schedule on July 28.
In addition to the big free agent questions to be answered, there are several critical issues to be decided during this year's preseason. The answers to those questions could determine whether the Bengals enter 2011 as legitimate contenders or are in rebuilding mode.
Carson and Chad
At the top of the list is the situation surrounding the Bengals' dynamic duo, QB Carson Palmer and WR Chad Ochocinco. Both are under contract, but neither wants to be in Cincinnati this season. Once one of the premier quarterback-wide receiver combinations in the NFL, the two managed to hook up for only four of Palmer's 26 touchdowns last season. It's no big secret that their relationship has been a stormy one over the years. How many shots have we seen on Sundays of Carson and Chad arguing on the sideline over who misread the route? It would appear as if that relationship is over. The question is whether either will remain with the team.
The Bengals really have no leverage with Palmer. He's a very wealthy man who can afford to walk away from the game if he wants, and that's what he's indicated he's prepared to do. Mike Brown, as we all know, is not one to blink in these kinds of stare downs, so I'd be very surprised to see Palmer take a snap this season. Chad, on the other hand, needs to play. The game is much more important to him, personally and financially, than it is to Palmer. The real question is whether the Bengals want him or not. If Marvin Lewis is prepared to launch into full rebuilding mode with new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, new quarterback Andy Dalton, and a corps of young receivers including first round draft choice AJ Green, then Chad becomes a very unwelcome distraction. There is no indication from 85's past that he would be a valuable "mentor" on this team. If, however, the Bengals believe they can win now, then Chad can still be a valuable contributor. We should know the answer to that question very early in training camp. If Chad is there and participating, the Bengals think they can win now.
This is it for the big tackle who the Bengals drafted in the first round in 2009. Perpetually out of shape or injured, we've heard about the flashes of brilliance from the coaching staff, but not much has materialized to this point. Smith needs to show up to camp in shape and somehow avoid the injury bug or his NFL career might be in jeopardy. If he can do that, he certainly possesses the traits to be the dominant player the Bengals drafted him to be. If not, Cincinnati is left with another big hole to fill on the offensive line and, in all likelihood, a rookie quarterback operating behind it.
We'll take a look at the questions to be answered on the defensive side of the ball tomorrow.
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