Few NFL teams face as many offseason questions as the Bengals on the coaching and player personnel fronts.
Except for Lewis, signed through 2010, and possibly wide receivers coach Mike Sheppard (finishing his first season), contracts will expire after the season for all coaches. In February 2006, the Bengals announced two-year extensions, through the 2007 season, for all coaches, including coordinators Bob Bratkowski on offense and Chuck Bresnahan on defense.
The Bengals have a dozen potential unrestricted free agents, including five current starters. It's believed that conversations, not necessarily firm offers, have started with offensive lineman Stacy Andrews, linebacker Landon Johnson and safety Madieu Williams. Contract talks are believed to be continuing on a potential multi-year deal for defensive end Justin Smith, whom upper management would like to bring back.
Linebacker Dhani Jones, a street free agent signed in September, has performed well and led the team with 11 total tackles Sunday in the 19-14 upset of the Browns. He can be an unrestricted free agent.
Blow up the defense or stand pat? The answer probably lies somewhere in between, closer, though, to the stand-pat end of the spectrum. With the salary cap ballooning to $116 million from $109 million, will the Bengals make a splash on a major free agent the likes of Indianapolis safety Bob Sanders? The answer is probably not.
Even with six relatively solid efforts in the past seven games -- the defense was horrible at San Francisco -- the Bengals are still ranked 27th in total defense, 23rd against the run and 25th against the pass.
But the Cincinnati offense, despite its 10th overall ranking in total yards, has not played well. The defense gift-wrapped both of its touchdowns on interceptions inside the two-minute warning of the first half against the Browns. The Bengals won with 19 points for the second time in three games. The offense has scored 19 or fewer points in four consecutive games and six times in 15 games this season. The Bengals have scored 13 points three times, all losses, and 10 in the recent of two losses to the Steelers.
Players with years left on their contracts might be released on offense. Attention has focused in recent weeks on tailback Rudi Johnson, inactive Sunday for the fourth time this year because of a hamstring injury. Johnson is scheduled to be paid a $3.2 million base salary in 2008 and $3.6 million in 2009. His contract includes a $200,000 workout bonus. The Bengals would save an estimated $1.4 million on the salary cap next year if Johnson were released. He has just 497 yards and a 2.9-yard average this season. How confident are the Bengals that injured tailbacks Kenny Irons and Chris Perry can come back, and do they trust the current tandem of Kenny Watson and DeDe Dorsey?
-- QB Carson Palmer's 19 interceptions this season are a career high in four seasons as a starter. He threw 18 in 2004.
-- RB Rudi Johnson (hamstring) is the most prominent Bengals player rumored to be a salary casualty this offseason. He has two years remaining on a five-year deal, and his production slipped in 2007. He has missed four games due to injury and has been telling team support staff that he doesn't expect to return.
-- RB Kenny Watson has 1,057 yards from scrimmage this season. He should be getting another start Sunday at Miami against the NFL's worst run defense. Watson had his second 130-yard game last week against the Browns. He has rushed 157 times for 694 yards and six touchdowns, and he has contributed another 51 catches as the third-down back for 363 yards.
-- RB DeDe Dorsey is done for the season, but he is a player who figures in the Bengals' plans. He suffered a high-ankle sprain on his first carry, for eight yards, against the Browns. He finished with 21 carries for 183 yards (8.7-yard average) and blocked a punt for a touchdown.
-- TE Reggie Kelly, an excellent blocker, had a huge catch in the middle for 24 yards Sunday against the Browns. It gave the Bengals first down on the 1 -- they scored on the next play. He has 18 receptions for an 11.3-yard average.
-- WR Chad Johnson, with 1,309 receiving yards, is a first Pro Bowl alternate. Another big season for Johnson, nonetheless, has been overshadowed by the career year of fellow Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
-- WR Chris Henry has faded from the game plan. Coach Marvin Lewis said Henry has not been getting open in the red zone, where he had terrorized defenses. Henry had just one ball thrown to him, and he dropped it.
-- WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh's 103 receptions still lead the NFL by two over New England's Wes Welker. Houshmandzadeh was named last week to his first Pro Bowl team.
-- CB Johnathan Joseph, like the team, is playing inconsistently. He followed a poor performance at San Francisco with a strong game against Cleveland, when he made seven total tackles, broke up two passes and snagged his fourth interception of the season.
-- CB Deltha O'Neal lost his starting job to rookie Leon Hall seven games ago but, to his credit, continues to play well in situational roles. Though he has asked to be released with one more season remaining on his contract, O'Neal might be a valuable third cornerback behind starters Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall.
-- CB Leon Hall's fifth interception tied him for the franchise record for rookies.
-- RT Willie Anderson is likely to play more Sunday at Miami, though Stacy Andrews will probably get the start. Anderson has four years remaining on his contract, though he is finishing his 12th season. Despite speculation that he might not be back -- which has originated with Anderson -- he will be back.
-- K Shayne Graham set a single-season franchise record with his 30th field goal Sunday against the Browns. He is 30-for-33, and he needs just nine points Sunday at Miami to tie his franchise-record 131 from 2005. He is 132 of 151 as he closes his fifth season with the Bengals.