Columnists: James Hapner
The Cincinnati Bengals 2003 season ended at 8-8 with a disappointing home loss to the Cleveland Browns. Lee Suggs, Clevelands 3rd string running back galloped for 183 yards and eliminated the Bengals from the playoff hunt. Still 8-8 is a good year by recent Bengal standards so hopes were high this offseason. Several areas needed to be addressed: the QB situation, resigning the team’s own free agents, adding some talented free agents from other teams, resolving the Cory Dillon situation, improving the run defense, and either adding some pass rush or upgrading the defensive backs. Let’s see where things stand.
- Coach Lewis named Carson Palmer the starter shortly after the season ended, demoting John Kitna. Kitna had the best season of his career in 2003, but isn’t getting paid as the number 1 overall pick like Palmer is. This move was inevitable in the long run so Lewis got it out of the way.
- A few of the team’s free agents signed elsewhere. RG Mike Goff got a lucrative offer from the Chargers so he’s off to the sun and surf. FS Mark Roman eventually signed with the Packers. RFA K Shane Graham was signed to an offer sheet by the Jaguars but the Bengals matched the offer. RB Brandon Bennett is off to Tampa Bay. C Rich Braham was resigned. RFA RB Rudi Johnson is expected to sign the 1 year tender and negotiate a multiyear contract. WR TJ Houshmanzadeh is also expected to sign the 1 year tender. OLB Riall Johnson was tendered then had the offer withdrawn. So far so good.
- The Bengals were expected to go looking for a CB upgrade in free agency. There was a good group of FA CBs available this year but lots of teams were in the market. Ahmed Plummer, a Cincinnati native and former OSU player was thought to be headed our way but he got a great offer from the 49ers to resign. Antoine Winfield was thought to be another possible target but Minnesota quickly outbid the Jets for Winfield’s services. The team quickly settled on Troy Vincent as its number 1 priority. Despite offering more money than he eventually signed for, Vincent felt more comfortable as Buffalo’s #2 CB instead of the Bengal’s #1. Bobby Taylor likewise turned down his old Philly DB coach Bengals DC Leslie Frazier, and signed with Seattle. Eager to add an impact defensive player the team turned to Warren Sapp. Offering more than he was expected to receive, the deal seemed like a sure thing. Mike Brown decided to sleep on the offer however and Sapp’s agent called Al Davis, who’s apparently a night owl. In the morning Mikey woke up to find Sapp’s signature on a Raider contract. This was a PR fiasco but not decisive on the playing field. Still the team only added a few 2nd tier players. Joining the Bengals are MLB Nate Webster formerly of the Buccaneers, FS Kim Herring, formerly of the Rams who played for Marvin in Baltimore in 2000. WR Patrick Johnson was signed as a kickoff returner. DT Daryl Gardener is expect to sign with the Bengals after the Broncos cut him on June 1. He played for Marvin in Washington in 2002. Webster, Herring and Gardener are expected to be starters this season.
- After the last game, Cory Dillon threw his equipment into the stands, cleaned out his locker, and vowed not to return. He later went on TV and blasted his teammates ensuring most Bengals fans didn’t want him back. There were lots of trade rumors involving Dillon to Dallas, Detroit, Washington, New England, and most all Oakland. At the owner’s meeting in March Mike Brown announced the price for Dillon was a 2nd round draft pick and he wouldn’t take less. No one thought he would get it but a few days before the draft New England stepped up and traded Miami’s 2nd rounder for Dillon. Good deal for both teams.
- As free agency wound down, the Bengals turned their attention to the draft. The 8-8 record had the team drafting 17th in the odd numbered rounds and 18th in the even numbered rounds. The team got a rare 3rd round compensatory pick from the league for the loss of Takeo Spikes after the 2002 season. The 2004 draft was heavy on offensive talent, especially at WR. Since the Bengals were looking for defensive players, it looked like we would get someone good at pick 17. The Broncos thought so too and traded up from 24 to 17, giving us CB Deltha O’Neal and their 4th round pick. IMO this was not good value for the Bengals. If we had waited til we were on the clock, we would have had a better sense of our options and probably could have received more from the Broncos than a 4th and a player they were considering cutting before camp. The Bengals could have taken Vince Wilfork here. The Broncos selected DJ Williams. When pick 24 rolled around, Wilfork was gone but several running backs were available. The Rams called and offered to trade pick 26 and their 4th rounder for pick 24. This was a good offer and the Bengals accepted. The Rams picked RB Steven Jackson. Finally pick 26 comes up and the Bengals are on the clock. They have a glaring need at CB and there is good value here with Chris Gamble. It’s a natural match. Naturally the Bengals take someone else, namely RB Chris Perry. I think this is too high for any team to take Perry, especially a team without a first round need at RB. He might have been on the board at pick 49. Marvin said the team had Perry rated the #1 RB in the draft. Aye Caramba!
On to the second round.
- The team had the 17th and 24th picks of the 2nd round. When pick 49 rolled around, there were several DTs and DBs to choose from. Dockett, Starks, Sopoaga, and Washington were possible DT picks. Strait, Ware, Thomas, and Jones were DB options. And the pick is Keiwan Ratliff. We had to go DB because of the Perry pick. Ratliff is an ok pick. The knock on him is size and speed. He is an Ohio guy who went down to Florida and became their first 2 way starter in over 30 years in 2002. In 2003, he concentrated on CB and made 9 picks, winning SEC defensive player of year honors. He has good ball skills and is comparable to Leto Shepherd. Strangely the Eagles were reportedly trying to trade into this area to draft Ratliff themselves. I would have taken Perry if he was still available here or Matt Ware since the DTs were falling. At pick 56, the team selected FS Madieu Williams of Maryland. Draftniks around the country proclaimed this a reach but Madieu is a good player. Sean Jones was selected 3 picks later by the Browns so these 2 players will be compared to each other for their whole careers. I would have selected Isaac Sopoaga here. He didn’t go til early 4th round so what do I know?
- The draft went slowly so it was late when picks 80 and 96 came up. Continuing on the defensive side, the Bengals took linebackers Caleb Miller and Landon Johnson with these picks. Both are fast, smart, and hardworking. Both are probably reaches though. I would have taken Washington’s offer of their 2nd rounder next year for pick 80. I think Miller would have been on the board at 96 though some say Green Bay wanted him. The comp pick isn’t tradeable otherwise I would have traded up from 96 for Ware. Sunday morning, teams realized lots of guys were overlooked on day 1. The Bengals were in position to capitalize with 3 4th rounders. At 114 we took DT Mathias Askew from Michigan State. This is a good pick. Askew was an early entry player who was dominant at times but generally inconsistent. He was considered a mid first rounder in next year’s draft if he worked hard and stayed healthy. Hopefully Marvin can get him focused. At 117 we took DE Robert Geathers from Georgia. Another early entry, this pick is a mystery to me. His dad and uncle were linemen in the NFL, but Robert was in danger of losing his starting position at Georgia. I would have taken Mewelde Moore if we didn’t get Perry earlier. At 123, we picked Stacy Andrews, older brother of Shawn Andrews. Stacy is a shotputter who has barely any experience on the football field. He is large, strong, and athletic however. This is a boom or bust pick and worth the chance at this point in the draft.
- In the 5th round, our pick was WR Maurice Mann. He is said to be fast and had a big game against Washington. Now you know as much about him as I do. I would have taken MLB Rod Davis of Southern Miss here.
- In the 6th round we got CB Greg Brooks of Southern Miss. This is great value IMO. Brooks is fast and has good ball skills. He is strong in deep coverage, weak vs the run. He has decent height but is thin. He should make the 53 man roster as the dime back.
- The 7th round brought us QB Casey Bramlet of Wyoming.
Who? I would have taken the best punter available, Kyle Larson. We signed
him as a FA though. Bramlet is a longshot to even make the expanded practice
squad. We have a starter who is basically a rookie. Kitna is a good backup
but we don’t need a developmental QB.