Two league sources tell Brad Biggs (we assume, because the article didn't say who the league sources spoke to, if in fact, there's league sources), that the Bengals have been trying to trade Levi Jones for a couple of weeks now. He writes, "the belief is if the Bengals can't find a taker, they will release him soon." (h/t Dave)
On April 26, 2008, Jones briefly campaigned for a trade during NFL Draft weekend, calling it a disagreement with the coaching staff. On July 26, 2007, Jones complained that the training staff "overlooked the pain issues I was having" when he reported to camp, which forced him to miss time, while the Bengals eased him back into playing shape, far longer than Jones thought was necessary. It was widely assumed that it was Jones' rehabilitation (he said he was ready, coaches said not so fast) that caused "disagreement" with the coaching staff.
In January, Marvin Lewis failed to give Jones an endorsement during a sit-down with local beat writers. "Well, Levi’s signed and he’s undergoing some physical things as well, right now, but you know, I’m not really going to effectively help us right now to sit here and go position-by-position with where we are with anybody."
Then in February, Geoff Hobson said "that it looks like left tackle Levi Jones isn't coming back".
We figured awhile ago that Jones' return seemed unlikely. His injuries have taken a toll and his cap number is no longer worth the risk of a wait-and-see approach with his rehabilitation. Like Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh before him, and god knows who else right now, Jones has requested departure from Cincinnati in the form of a trade, and he's likely sitting back hoping that he's released. The irony here is that there's no way he'll get the money that he's earning right now. No team will offer him anything near what the Bengals are paying him. Would he even find another job? It's not that we think he's finished, however he has a hell of a lot to prove. Alternatively, who would have thought that Stacy Andrews would have received a six-year deal worth $40 million? Jones is only two years older than Andrews; however, Andrews has played four years less -- and lacking college and high school experience included. Anyway, I'm digressing.
Most of our angles, when we talk about the team's offensive line, includes Jones' departure; we've rarely foreseen the team's 2009 roster with Jones. There's little reason to suspect differently.
During free agency, the Bengals made an attempt to sign one offensive tackle. George Foster. Even so, that came and went within a single day.
With independent reports, one using league sources, another a beat writer with the Bengals, we can assume that Jones will be cut if no trade can be worked out. And honestly, who's going to trade for Jones with $16.3 million owed to him during the next four seasons? Even if another team works out a trade, they'd have work with Jones' agent to find a contract number that's desirable for both team and player. Based on Jones' degradation in his body, it wouldn't surprise anyone if that number is too far-ranging, or in Jones case, far-fetched. Therefore, we can't make the argument that another team would pull the trigger on a trade.
We're not sure of the cap hit if the Bengals simply release him. Go-Bengals.com used to chart player's cap numbers, but their chart hasn't been updated since February 28, 2008, in which says that his cap hit could be in the $5-6 million range. Since his cap value is in the same range, the team would see an indifferent change in projected cap values -- approximately half a million in savings. Keep in mind, these are NOT official numbers, using a chart that hasn't been updated for a year.
Presuming all of that is correct, then it's very unlikely the Bengals will find a trade partner who is willing to offer Jones what he wants, if a new contract is negotiated. Even so, what could the Bengals see in return? Anything more than a fourth round pick, I think, is crazy. A more realistic scenario is that the Bengals release Jones, save half-a-million against the cap and $3 million on payroll, then draft an offensive tackle.
We've pointed this out many times since the conclusion of the regular season. The Bengals only have three offensive tackles on roster, including Jones. If he's cut, the Bengals have Anthony Collins, Dennis Roland and, for arguments sake, Andrew Whitworth. Rather than changing two positions by moving Whitworth to tackle and finding a guard in the draft, the Bengals would likely just draft a tackle, and keep Whitworth at left guard. It's easier that way, in the minds of complacency. Argue with me all you want, but we're talking about the Bengals.
Jason Smith is largely considered the best tackle in the draft. Many project him going to either the Lions or Rams. Eugene Monroe is considered the second best, and projected to Seattle. Does the Seahawks trading Julian Peterson suggest that Seattle drafts Aaron Curry, provided the Chiefs don't pick the outside linebacker? Maybe not. Field Gulls says that the Seahawks have "good young depth at linebacker" and could still draft Monroe. However, for certain, it seems like that Seahawks primary target will be outside linebacker and offensive tackle. What about B.J. Raji going to Seattle, as Mocking the Draft suggests. Either way, most of us have prepared for Jason Smith and Monroe to be taken before the sixth pick.
Which leaves Michael Oher and Andre Smith. Oher's case is a mystery. Once considered one of the top tackle prospects, it seems that Oher stock keeps falling in various mock drafts. However, Dan still likes him, says that "has all the tools to be an All Pro offensive lineman." Other mock drafts have Oher being selected in the top-half (first 16 picks) of the first round.
As for Andre Smith, there's a lot of concern. His work ethic is questionable, bench pressing 225 pounds only 19 times. Four wide receivers put up more during the NFL Combine. Russ Lande suggests that Smith could have fallen as far as the third round after his disastrous Pro Day.
Even before his pro day workout, Smith showed up at the NFL Scouting Combine out of shape, refused to work out and then left abruptly without informing league officials. On Wednesday, Smith (6-4 1/4) weighed in at a slimmer 325 pounds but still looked soft. Scouts observed him "jiggling" when running the two 40-yard dashes in 5.30 seconds and 5.36 seconds. His lack of preparation showed the most in the 225-pound bench press -- he managed 19 repetitions but seemingly struggled to complete each one.
His character is even more questionable, ditching the Combine unannounced and then lacking preparation for his Pro Day. Lande used words like "soft", "jiggling", "lack of preparation". This is a guy that you'd figure the Bengals should be far away from. However, Smith would seem like the perfect guy for the Bengals to tag as a "project", and thus, not surprising us if he is drafted.
The question exists, and the mind-boggling nature of the issue persists. How have the Bengals charted Smith, and if the top two tackles are gone, will they pick a safer pick in Oher, or reach for Smith who many claim as having a ton of potential, if you're willing to take the risk. If the Bengals pick him, fans will justifiably complain at the risk. If they don't pick up Smith, and he becomes a Pro Bowl tackle, fans will justifiably complain that the Bengals weak scouting department is to blame, once again.
For all of the reasons above, if the top two tackles are gone, it would seem safer that the Bengals decided to deflect their need at offensive tackle for a defensive play-maker -- something that fans wouldn't mind, if the scenario suggests it. Remember, the Bengals picked up Anthony Collins, who in large part helped the team's stability in the rushing offense, in the fourth round. Why couldn't they do that again while strengthening their defense?