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Also See
Clayton: What to watch at the combine

Pasquarelli: No sweat

Kiper: Top 25 NFL prospects (Jan. 20)Insider

2003 NFL Draft Combine

Kiper: Ranking sack artists, run stuffersInsider

Kiper: Ranking possession WRs, moreInsider

Kiper: Ranking big, deep-threat WRsInsider

Kiper: How RBs can improveInsider

Kiper: How QBs can improveInsider

Kiper's Mock Draft: QB Palmer solid at No. 1Insider

PFW: Mock draft No. 1

Pasquarelli: What offseason?

Clayton: Coming attractions



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Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Updated: March 25, 3:49 PM ET
 
Bengals looking at options for No. 1 pick
By John Clayton
ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Having been part of a Super Bowl championship team, Marvin Lewis admits he feels a little uncomfortable having the first draft choice in the NFL, earned by the Bengals' 2-14 season.

"I think the one thing about the first pick is unfortunately we earned it," Lewis said Wednesday during a break at the scouting combine.

Carson Palmer
If the Bengals keep the No. 1 overall pick, Carson Palmer is expected to be their choice.
What has consumed a lot of Lewis' time since taking the head coaching job at Cincinnati is trying to figure out what to do with the first choice. Quarterback Carson Palmer of USC is the logical selection and generally considered the top prospect in the draft, but it's too early for Lewis to limit the Bengals' options. Keep it. Trade it. Take a non-quarterback. It's not that easy.

Ideally, Lewis would love to trade the first choice. His team has more needs than just a quarterback of the future. Lewis said the team is about five player acquisitions away from competing against the best teams in the AFC. But Palmer or Byron Leftwich of Marshall might be too good of quarterbacks to pass up.

Lewis has had to go about this planning as if he were making a defensive game plan during the season. It's all about being prepared.

He has studied the salary-cap impact of taking a quarterback in the first round. Quarterbacks taken first end up with contracts worth $50 million to $70 million once all the buybacks, escalators and incentives are earned. The Colts' Peyton Manning, for example, is in the sixth year of his six-year deal, and he eats up $15.3 million of cap space and will make $11.3 million this year.

It's not as simple as just taking a quarterback for the sake of taking a quarterback, which could limit the number of teams willing to move up to the top of the draft looking for a quarterback.

Lewis has done the research to get a pretty good idea of what the Bengals would want from another team in a trade. Though he wasn't specific, he would appear to be asking for a minimum of a first- and a second-round choice from any team in the top five looking to move up to No. 1. Teams with lower first-round picks would have to come up with more.

The Bengals won't give away the pick.

"Obviously for us, you want to gain at least an additional player out of the deal," Lewis said. "We're a football team that could use an upgrade at five or six places. If we could garner that on the first day, we would have really helped ourselves. We are going to help ourselves some through free agency here. But that's our goal. We're five or six players away from competing with the leaders in our division and having an opportunity to compete for the playoffs."

What are the Bengals' positional needs?

"I think we'd like to acquire another receiver," Lewis said. "We need some help defensive line-wise, one or two guys in the secondary, interior offensive line, the quarterback position for the future. I probably named seven areas there. And one of our better players (linebacker Takeo Spikes) is a free agent."

While the salary cap, the debate about drafting a quarterback that won't be ready immediately and other factors complicate the Bengals' thinking, it still comes down to one simple premise.

"Let's make sure we make the right pick and get the best player available," Lewis said. "As time goes on, we'll weigh all options."

For example, Michigan State's Charles Rogers fits one of the Bengals' main needs for a wide receiver. Because they're also looking for defensive tackles, they could use Jimmy Kennedy of Penn State or Dwayne Robertson of Kentucky.

I think we'd like to acquire another receiver. We need some help defensive line-wise, one or two guys in the secondary, interior offensive line, the quarterback position for the future. I probably named seven areas there. And one of our better players (linebacker Takeo Spikes) is a free agent.
Marvin Lewis, Bengals coach

"The thing that I've tried to impress upon since taking over is I feel it's important that you don't start drafting by need," Lewis said. "If you draft by need, then you get your feelings hurt at some point. We want to make sure we pick the best player available. We're going to do all the research that way. We're going to put everybody's grade on a guy and go into that room and hash it out and come out with what we feel is the best prospect for the Bengals. Hopefully things will fall into place."

And Lewis certainly hasn't ruled out simply drafting Palmer.

Lewis has already said that Jon Kitna will be the team's starting quarterback next season, so if Palmer is the choice, Cincinnati can give him time to learn the pro game.

"The one thing we don't have to do is throw the guy to the wolves right away," Lewis said. "We don't have to throw him into the fire this year, which will be a good thing if it is indeed a quarterback.

"If you research with the (USC) coaches, they feel the team got better," Lewis said about the reason for Palmer's great senior year. "Carson got put out there as a young player. He's developed every year. They changed offenses and changed coaches in mid-stream. There's been a lot of change occur in his life. But he's been able to deal with it.

"He's been a successful guy in high school football and basketball all the way through. He's got that temperament you're looking for."

As to whether he'll wear a Bengals uniform or not, stay tuned.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.