The offseason is a time to take a hard look at the future. Front-office personnel and fans alike analyze and debate their team's strengths and weaknesses and try to make out a road map for the immediate years ahead. A handful of meaningful signatures alter the shape of a team and a new facade is constructed year after year. This year for the Bengals however, one man has yet to scribble his name in ink. Without that, it becomes impossible to speculate about Cincinnati's future in any great detail.
It has been written that Marvin Lewis wants more control of the organization with his new contract. He will enter his eighth year with the Bengals this upcoming season and is six away from the most wins in franchise history; his request for more pull seems fair and deserved. With the Draft rapidly approaching, it would make sense to think negotiations on that front should be heating up. After all, if Marvin gets what he's after then this should be his draft, but if team ownership is unwilling to concede some of its absolute power then it becomes Mike Brown's draft, and I for one just don't like the sound of that.
Speculating on the inner-workings of the Bengal brain trust is like trying to become an expert on North Korea—there's very little to work with—but it does seem that Marvin has surpassed his coaching predecessors in the influence he has over player-personnel decisions. I remember in 2003 when Lewis first arrived, Cincinnati loaded up on mid-range free agents that seemed hand picked by him. As average as those guys seemed at the time—Kevin Hardy, Tori James, John Thornton, Reggie Kelly, and Carl Powell—they immediately gave the Bengals an injection of credibility and helped build a foundation of Marvin Guys.
Then in training camp last year, Marvin himself said that the 2009 team was composed of "his guys" and that the season was "on him". To me, that sounds as if some of the players prior to that season were not Marvin Guys, but instead Mike Brown Guys. Marvin's Guys bulldozed the AFC North and made the playoffs, while players like T.J. Houshmandzedah and Stacy Andrews have already rankled people in their new cities.
At this point, Marvin appears to know exactly what kind of system he wants his team to operate within. He knows the kind of people he can effectively work with and what personalities to prune for the good of the team. If given the final say on player moves, there is little reason to think the Bengals won't continue to win. But if he is refused such power in Cincinnati, I think he will move on and find it elsewhere and a new wave of ruinous instability will wash through Paul Brown Stadium once again.
History has shown that Mike Brown is comfortable running the entire front office alone. Any dumbbell can do the math and see that his track record without Marvin is laughably poor. It seems extremely unlikely that Brown will suddenly cave and bring in a general manager from outside the organization, so that means the promotion of Marvin to such a post is our only hope of attaining any operational normalcy compared with the rest of the NFL.
I see the optimal contract for Marvin being a four to five-year extension as head coach with extended responsibilities, and then making the transition to full-time general manager and appointing his own successor on the sidelines. A move like that would do wonders for the near-fatally damaged public image of Mike Brown. To admit someone like Marvin, who is of sound football intelligence, can do the job better than he, would personally impress me and force me to back off my torment of the man.
Yet if Brown is to do so, it should be now. Drafting players with an uncertainty of who may be coaching them in the near future is risky and bad for business. There is something poetically profound in Bill Parcells' statement that "if they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries." Marvin Lewis should be allowed the same consideration; it's up to Mr. Brown to stay out of the kitchen.
Mojokong—chronicler of the power struggle.