Six-Pack of Hu-Dey: Sign Mike Zimmer to a long-term contract as soon as possible

Introducing to the inaugural edition to the "Six-Pack of Hu-Dey ", a selection of topics that we weigh in on. We hope to have this going weekly, but we'll need your help. If you have topics that you want examined or weighed in on, email them to me. Also, some veterans may recognize the spelling is actually correct. Hu-Dey beer once existed by Hudepohl Brewing Co.

Bengals need to sign Mike Zimmer to an extension as soon as possible. This is one of those topics that we tend not to examine simply because of the obviousness of the issue. You know, like John Madden saying football is played by football players or that Cincinnatians are from Cincinnati. But here's the truth. Mike Zimmer is coaching under the final year of his two-year contract. The Bengals need to sign Zimmer to a long-term extension as the team's defensive coordinator as soon as possible.

In 2007, the final year with Chuck Bresnahan as the team's defensive coordinator, the Bengals defense ranked 27th overall and 24th scoring. The Bengals signed Mike Zimmer in the offseason and the Bengals defense has steadily improved. In his first season, the Bengals total defense improved to 12th overall and 19th scoring. And through nine games in 2009, the Bengals have the 10th best overall defense, the second-best scoring defense and the league's second-best rushing defense.

With those accolades, Zimmer will be a hot head coaching candidate in 2010. Even if no head coaching opportunities are granted Zimmer, he could find himself a rich contract as a defensive coordinator with a powerfully rich team -- say the Washington Redskins. Give him a share of ownership with the team. Whatever. Zimmer will be the biggest free agent the Bengals have to sign back this offseason.

Brandon Johnson is the best backup player on defense. After Keith Rivers suffered a broken jaw during the seventh week of the 2008 NFL season, backup Bengals linebacker Brandon Johnson became the starting weak-side outside linebacker. He finished the season with 112 tackles, second on the team. Johnson's two picks also ranked second on the team and he was one of three defensive players in 2008 to record a sack and interception in the same season.

During the offseason, the Bengals offered Johnson a $1.545 million restricted free agent tender, which he signed on August 16. He waited a long time looking for another team willing to offer the Bengals second-round compensation if they signed Johnson. No takers.

Even though his overall numbers are down this year, considering he plays in mostly pass-obvious situations, Johnson's contributions for an injured Keith Rivers the past two weeks show that Johnson's play is no let-down by any means. He replaced Rivers in the third quarter against the Ravens and recorded a team leading nine tackles and sacked Joe Flacco 1.5 times. He leads the team with eight special teams tackles.

Anytime that Johnson is forced to replace Rivers, he not only matches Rivers' production, but he plays well enough to that Rivers' absence isn't as noticeable. Which brings us to...

If no collective bargaining agreement is created, then signing Brandon Johnson long-term isn't urgent. With all of that said, Cincinnati should still work on signing Johnson to a long-term contract after this year. Most likely, he'll look for an opportunity to start. And unless something happens from now until the start of free agency, more than likely, he'll find a place. In a perfect scenario, Johnson signs, plays the backup role one more season until Dhani Jones' contract expires. Then the Bengals could place Rey Maualuga at middle linebacker and place Johnson either on the weak-side or strong-side, based on the strengths of both he and Rivers.

That is, if the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is worked out and the same free agency rules apply.

There is a certain dynamic here. If the league doesn't replace the existing Collective Bargaining Agreement before free agency in 2010, then Brandon Johnson could be forced to stay in Cincinnati. Currently, the CBA says that players only need four accrued seasons to be an unrestricted free agent. In 2010, the CBA changes, based on the final year of the deal, in which players need six years to become unrestricted free agents. Therefore, Johnson would remain a restricted free agent and could be here for at least two more years.

The Bengals shouldn't start Andre Smith this year. What I think is astronomical is that the Bengals still haven't played their first round pick, Andre Smith. The current Bengals offensive line has played so well, that Smith has become a luxury rather than a necessity. Only time I can remember this applying is when the Bengals decided to bench Carson Palmer his rookie season in favor of developing him behind Jon Kitna.

The dynamic that Paul Alexander has created with this offensive line shouldn't be shuffled anymore than it already has been. As a unit, they've only allowed 14 quarterback sacks and have been a large part of Cincinnati's rushing success, which is ranked 11th in the NFL with 1,101 yards rushing.

Cincinnati's weakest part of the schedule is coming up at Oakland, Detroit and at home against Cleveland. Conventional wisdom may suggest that the team could take the opportunity to give Smith a start, at least, to see what we have. But the best solution might be to use Smith in a Dennis Roland/Anthony Collins role, which would essentially make Smith the third offensive tackle on rushing plays. This would allow Smith to ease himself into the speed and strength of the NFL, while not disrupting the cohesiveness that the Bengals offensive line already have.

Then again, there's working him in as an eventual replacement for Bobbie Williams at right guard...

Bengals now have to beat teams that they should beat. So, I'm a little melodramatic. But I strongly believe after sweeping the Steelers and Ravens (I'll never get tired of that term), with wins against the Bears, Packers and Browns, Cincinnati losing any of the next three games could run the risk of losing everything they've earned.

The next three games on the schedule are against teams with a combined 4-22 record (Oakland, Cleveland, Detroit). Losing any of those games not only hurts the team's legitimacy, as well as their confidence, but it would bring Pittsburgh right back into the mix. It's one thing to lose against a very good football team with a winning record. But they must beat teams that they should beat. That's what winning teams do.

Successes of others helps ease the fall of Antwan Odom's injury. Since Antwan Odom was injured against the Houston Texans, the Bengals defense has recorded 11 quarterback sacks (which includes the loss to the Texans). A large part of that success has come from the combination of Jonathan Fanene and Robert Geathers, recording a combined four sacks against the two divisional powerhouses Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Geathers has recorded sacks in back-to-back games.

More surprisingly is Frostee Rucker's successes dating back to Chicago where he his playing time increased because of Odom's injury. In that three game stretch, Rucker has a quarterback sack, an interception, a deflection and three quarterback hits.

Odom clearly set the season with seven quarterback sacks in the first two games of the season. The rest of the defense continues to follow suit.

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