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Posted: Tuesday March 22, 2005 11:14AM; Updated: Tuesday March 22, 2005 11:26AM
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YES, PAUL. THE BEGNALS HAVE JOINED THE NFL. From Paul Henderson of Florence, Ky.: "I know it doesn't make a big splash to just re-sign your own players, but I think the Bengals have positioned themselves pretty well. They now have all the key components of their offense under contract for several years to come. They have all their draft picks available to bolster a defense with some decent young talent. Seems like a quiet, but still successful offseason, thus far. Would you agree?''

Good points, Paul. Marvin Lewis has gotten the players (and their agents) in Cincinnati to believe they can win. For a long time, that hadn't happened. When I heard Rudi Johnson (Rudi Johnson, for crying out loud) say a couple of months ago that he wouldn't play for the franchise number, I thought: Here we go again. I figured this would be another good player who got ticked off at management and talked his way out of town. But Johnson didn't. He signed a good deal for himself and the team, and deals like that have been more common now that Lewis has taken over the football operations in Bengaldom.

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LOOK FOR BURGESS TO BE A VERSATILE RAIDER. From Kevin O'Brien of Lancaster, Pa.: "In last week's MMQB you called Derrick Burgess the "best deal of the past week." Now I'm not going to call Burgess a one-playoffs marvel, because he certainly has talent. But even if he stays healthy for the Raiders (and that's a big if given his injury history), why would a team which primarily runs a 3-4 defense want an undersized (6-foot-2, 266 pound) defensive end? Burgess is a nice player for a 4-3, but to give $6 million in bonus money to a player who doesn't really fit into your system is a big risk in my opinion.''

Intelligent point, Kevin. Very prescient on your part. Let me tell you why Burgess will be a good Raider -- assuming, of course, he stays healthy. Every team that runs a 3-4 the majority of the time is going to run schemes with four defensive linemen on the field on some downs. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was schooled under Bill Belichick, and he learned how to use the players he has to his advantage from Belichick. Therefore, if Burgess is getting overpowered in the 3-4, Ryan will play more four-man line than he'd planned. I could see Ryan moving Warren Sapp inside some this year along with Ted Washington, and playing Burgess opposite either Tyler Brayton or Bobby Hamilton. Believe me, if Burgess is making an impact on four-man lines, Ryan will adjust what he's playing to fit. Also, I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility that, a la Willie McGinest, Burgess could at some point play a hybrid DE/OLB spot for Oakland.

THE RAIDERS HAVE SOME FANS OUT THERE, IN CASE YOU HADN'T HEARD. From Rick Mitchell of Welland, Ontario: "Let me thank you for providing lunchtime reading fodder every Monday and Tuesday. Being a Raiders fan, I am an eternal optimist and this offseason is getting me really excited for the upcoming season. With the signings of new proven players and the up-and-coming players already on staff, I see huge potential for success in the 2005 season. Although I do not like Randy Moss the person, I have to respect the talent he possesses and, together with the signing of LaMont Jordan, Oakland may be able to stretch the field with three worthy receivers and punch up the middle. Am I delusional or do you see the same thing I do?''

Rick, you're seeing a vastly improved offense, obviously. But, as you know, fixing the offense doesn't mean fixing the team. The important thing now is how much they can address the defense -- a unit that last year allowed 30, 35, 31, 31, 42, 24, 23, 24, 34, 35, 35 and 31 -- and whether they either can find a home for Charles Woodson or make him play like the great player he's supposed to be but never has been.

DAG HAS A POINT. From Dag Aastorp of Rotterdam, The Netherlands: "Why is there so little action on Patrick Surtain? The Dolphins seem more than willing to trade him. Name a better, more consistent corner in the NFL today.''

I can name a few. But I understand what you're saying. Jimmy Johnson thought Surtain was the best all-around corner he'd coached in a long time, and he should have gotten a few suitors this offseason. I'd guess the reason is twofold: The Dolphins aren't going to give him away, and if it costs you a player or pick to get him, then you have to sign him for $6 million a year. That's a pretty steep price for a guy who will be 29 in June.

THESE THINGS HAPPEN WHEN YOU WIN A SUPER BOWL. From Bill Everman of Tampa, Fla.: "What do you make of the Buccaneers situation? Who is really at fault with their cap problems? Did Rich McKay start the problem or has it all been since he was forced out by not getting along with Jon Gruden? I'm beginning to have my doubts about the Gruden-Bruce Allen combination here in Tampa. We seem to be losing ground.''

Well, this is obviously a crucial year, Bill. The Bucs' cap is still screwed up but getting better because Gruden and Allen swallowed some medicine they had to take last year by cutting Sapp and John Lynch, among others. What has to happen is they have to be able to count on a quarterback -- whether it be Brian Griese (my pick if he stays upright) or Chris Simms -- for 16 games, and they have to have a running game that can put some fear into the opposition. I agree with Gruden's oft-stated contention that McKay made some bad picks and left the cupboard semi-bare, but the coach has to get off that bandwagon now. He's had two offseasons to make the calls, and now if the Bucs don't win, he's got to take the heat. But having said that, I will say one other thing that I know Bucs fans are sick of hearing: You won a Super Bowl. You've got to give Gruden credit for putting this team over the top and bringing the Lombardi Trophy to Tampa.


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