SI.com 2003 NFL Draft 2003 NFL Draft


On the clock

Lewis not sure another QB is the answer for Cincinnati

Posted: Thursday February 20, 2003 2:09 AM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Marvin Lewis knows what he needs to do with the first pick in the NFL draft.

He has to find somebody who can help turn around the Cincinnati Bengals.

Getting there is another matter.

"One thing about having the first pick is, unfortunately, we earned it," the new Cincinnati head coach said Wednesday during the NFL's annual scouting combine. "It comes with great value."

That's about the only certainty for the Bengals, who have the first selection for the third time in nine years.

The question Lewis and Cincinnati, the only NFL franchise that has not made the playoffs since 1990, must answer is where is the best value?

The Bengals are considering taking a quarterback, and Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer is at the top of the list.

Lewis hasn't settled on Palmer, though, meaning the Bengals would consider someone else in a draft some anlaysts have compared to the quarterback-rich derby of 1983. Five quarterbacks were taken in the first round that year, including future Hall of Famers John Elway and Dan Marino.

Picking a quarterback, however, comes with great risks that the Bengals know all too well.

Since their playoff drought began, Cincinnati has chosen David Klingler and Akili Smith in the first round and neither worked out.

There also is a steeper price -- a hefty long-term contract for a franchise that has been loathe to big spending sprees.

"The first pick also comes with a big chunk of the cap for the next five to seven years if you take a quarterback," Lewis said.

Lewis is not yet sold on that option.

He said Wednesday the Bengals could use another wide receiver, perhaps Michigan State's Charlie Rogers, or an interior lineman.

The architect of the Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl-winning defense also said he would consider going with a defensive player and mentioned three players he believed were worthy in that top spot -- Penn State defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy, Miami defensive tackle William Joseph and Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman.

But Lewis isn't even certain the Bengals will keep the choice.

If they traded down, they could pick up something even more valuable -- additional players.

"We're a team that could really upgrade at five or six places, so if we do that [trade] and get another player on the first day, that would really help us," Lewis said.

Part of Lewis' indecision can be explained away as the usual gamesmanship that surrounds a team trying to raise the trade value for the No. 1 pick.

The other part is that Lewis appears genuinely uncertain which way to go.

In Baltimore, Lewis learned that in today's NFL, a "franchise" quarterback is no requirement to win. The Ravens won the Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer and last season's two Super Bowl quarterbacks, Tampa Bay's Brad Johnson and Oakland's Rich Gannon, were not hardly at the top of their draft classes. Gannon was taken in the fourth round, Johnson in the ninth.

And New England won the Super Bowl with a sixth-round pick, Tom Brady.

Those cases have Lewis debating whether the Bengals need to pick a quarterback, especially since he's Jon Kitna next year's starter.

"We've got a group of guys in their third to seventh or eighth years, who have endured being at the bottom," he said. "If you're going to make a jump, you want to make that jump now, and if you go with a rookie quarterback, you're not going to make that jump now."

Whatever the Bengals decide, Lewis knows this much: If they are to turn around a moribund franchise that has gone 55-137 over the last 12 seasons, they must get better players.

Not just more quarterbacks.

"You want to gain at least one football player some place," he said. "You want to make sure you pick the best player available. Hopefully, we'll find the right thing."


 
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