Earlier in the week, Cincy Jungle's Josh Kirkendall made a compelling argument regarding the Bengals' need to sign head coach Marvin Lewis to an extension. His main point of contention revolved around the control that he has seemingly wrestled away from the Brown family and turned this Bengals franchise into a competitive one. This will likely be an ongoing debate until a final decision is made between Lewis and the club.
The examples that Josh pointed out are obvious and I've noted them often throughout these weekly mailbags. The last few drafts and their selections definitely have Lewis' thumbprints on them, as do the other organizational changes that have occurred since Lewis' last extension. The only hurdle that remains, in terms of organizational changes, is that of the construction of an indoor practice facility. Lewis wants one and Brown is hesitant to oblige and there has only been a little bit of movement as of yet.
Regardless, we've heard that the Brown family has approached Lewis a number of times about an extension since the conclusion of the 2011 and no agreement has been made. As of today, the ball is in Lewis' court.
As well it should be. Lewis inherited a mess of a situation with his contract extension in 2011, with his franchise quarterback quitting and the team fully acknowledging that they were in full rebuild mode. Lewis did awesome things with the hand he was dealt, thanks to two stellar seasons from rookies, and now he has all of the leverage in any negotiations.
Josh explained that the Bengals would be best served to sign Lewis now in an effort to keep the momentum built over the last two seasons. There's a lot of logic to that opinion. The Bengals aren't going to sign any big name coaches if Lewis leaves and would likely be relegated to signing an unproven guy as their new head coach--likely an in-house promotion in Mike Zimmer or Jay Gruden (interesting to note that Lewis was an unproven commodity himself when the Bengals hired him over Tom Coughlin). Gruden and Zimmer might not be bad choices to some fans, but the fear of Zimmer being the second-coming of Dick LeBeau and Gruden never living up to the hype of his older brother tend to linger.
What of Lewis, then? In his past nine seasons, Lewis has resurrected this franchise from being "the worst in all of professional sports", while bringing accountability, respectability and competitiveness to the club. He's brought the organizational changes that we've all sought for twenty years in new assistant coaches, a better draft philosophy and more scouts. He's just missing two things in his resume: a Super Bowl win and a lone playoff victory. And herein lies the biggest point of contention with fans and critics of the club. With any other franchise, Lewis wouldn't have the opportunity to last through three or four contracts to get this feat done.
At some point, the debate has to start as to whether Lewis is truly the savior of the Bengals franchise, or if he's merely a Marty Schottenheimer clone; a man that is good at resurrecting a club, but can never get it to take the big step towards being a champion. If Lewis fails to get the team to playoffs again and/or win a playoff game, there will likely be a line of fans calling for Lewis to step aside.
Some suggest that Lewis might be better served as the General Manager of the club, overseeing the day-to-day operations and taking charge of the organizational changes that he has instituted thus far. It's a good idea in theory, but there's a couple of unknowns with it.
First, we have no idea if Lewis would truly excel in this capacity. It's nice to believe that Lewis would work magic in the front office, but his best abilities may come as a coach, not a manager of operations. I liken it to a good salesman who is offered a sales manager position. More often than not, those types fail as a manager and/or are unhappy and miss "being out in the field". Secondly, we don't even know if Lewis wants to have that role in the organization. There are signs that point to it being something that Lewis would do because he has undertaken so much already, but we still don't know. Lastly, and most importantly, we don't know that Mr. Brown is willing to cede that much control to Lewis. The Brown family trusts Lewis, more so than any other coach they've ever had, but I'm not sure that that's enough to push the stubborn owner to give him that control.
So, if Lewis should remain the head coach, when should the negotiations resume? Even though both sides are at an impasse in negotiations, I feel like they're doing the right thing. The Brown family is pushing to sign Lewis ASAP to endure long-term stability and build upon the foundation that's been laid over the past two years. Lewis has all of the leverage right now and he's wise to hold off until he gets absolutely everything he wants out of the Brown family. There's a fine line that Lewis is walking though, especially if he waits until the end of the 2012 season to complete the negotiations. If the season goes well and he gets the team deep into the playoffs, he could get a lot of money and everything he's holding out for from the family. If the season ends up being a disappointment and Lewis hasn't signed an extension yet, that's where things get sticky and you'll likely hear the fans clamoring for a new coach.
And rightfully so. While it's a risky situation to not have a coach you trust under contract after the current season, as a Bengals fan, I'd view this as a make or break season for Lewis. While Josh contends that Lewis should be re-signed immediately, I think we and the management staff should see what happens in 2012 before giving Lewis the house.
Why? Really it only benefits the Bengals and the fans if they wait until after the season to extend Lewis. If Lewis has a successful season, he'll likely get everything he's asking for from the family. These things he is wanting likely coincide with the longtime wishes of fans (i.e. indoor practice facility, more scouts, a G.M. outside of the family) and would benefit the club and its mode of operation. He'd have proven himself once again as worthy of the contract and no fan could really gripe about Lewis staying if he's earned it. The positive continuity would continue and we could see the Bengals build towards something great in the future. While it's a risk that the team could lose him if he has a successful 2012, I think if the family offers him a good amount of money and the things he wants changed, he'll stay. I think he's proud of what he's built here and wants to make this club a winner.
If the team has a disappointing season and they haven't signed him yet, then Lewis has has literally a decade to get the team to win a playoff game and a championship and he hasn't done it. He will be in the Schottenheimer-mold, a great motivator and foundation-layer, but just isn't a coach that would get the team over the hump. Again, it's likely that the team would roll the dice with an unproven head coach and the future would then be uncertain. Still, it would be time to move on, I'd think.
So, while both teams are playing their cards right in these "behind the scenes" negotiations, I think it's best to stand pat and see what happens in 2012. No matter the result of the 2012 season, Lewis will be available to be had if they want him so at least make him earn his opportunity. While I agree with Josh about the team needing to sign Lewis, I believe that it's all about when they choose to re-sign him. I think it's best for all parties (Lewis, the Browns and the fans) for the contract to be signed after the 2012 season.