The preseason games began for the Bengals long before their 23-13 loss to the New England Patriots Aug. 12. They're the kinds of games that preceded most of their past 14 seasons without a winning record.
Indeed, they've preceded many of the winning seasons receded into distant memory. It's how the Bengals do business.
When the Bengals brought in Marvin Lewis, the likelihood of real change seemed incomprehensible. But real change, fortunately, has been the rule.
The Bengals actually signed Carson Palmer before they drafted him. The Bengals actually have won as many games as they've lost in the past two years. The Bengals actually look like a representative football team with realistic playoff aspirations. The Bengals actually sold 55,544 seats for their preseason opener.
The shadow of Bengals past has never been far from view, however, and now it's come back in a big way. You knew it had to happen sometime. But why now, right when the Bengals are on the verge of winning?
The Bengals are a family business. Families often are better at being families than at being businesses.
Begining with the 1990s, the Brown family ran a bad football business on the field, if not in their accounts. Finally, they decided to bring someone in who could improve the situation. And they basically let Lewis run the operation his way.
Now that Lewis has brought the Bengals to the edge of prosperity, the family wants to be more involved. Bad news.
Suddenly, they're back to warring with their players. They're picking nits over money, tiny amounts of money in the scheme of an NFL franchise. The organization is distracted by Mike Brown's obsession with dubious principles, which he famously championed at the expense of his team's performance for more than 10 years.
Much due to Brown's insistence on picking fights with his players over small amounts of money, the Bengals went without two of their key players for more than two weeks of training camp over, perhaps, $1.5 million. The Bengals brought twice that much through their gate Aug. 12.
The team's contractual skirmishes with wide receiver Peter Warrick and David Pollack are of a piece, for each raises the matter of how much money a player should be paid for not playing. The Bengals wanted to dock Warrick for being injured last season. And they want to lessen, as much as they can, the amount they'll guarantee to Pollack.
We have here a true SOB, a Same Old Bengals production.
Warrick went to the Bengals with the fourth overall selection in the 2000 draft, and his performance for three years didn't set the league on fire, but the team's general ineptitude way outstripped his. Along comes Lewis in 2003, when Warrick pops up with a career-high 79 catches and 1,249 all-purpose yards. Hardly a Pro Bowl performance, considering it took 122 touches, but not terrible.
Last season, leg injuries limited Warrick to four games and 11 catches. As is customary throughout professional sports, the Bengals paid Warrick his full salary. And, evidently, they're bitter about it.
In the first two weeks of training camp, Warrick said he was cleared by two physicians, the reknowned orthopedist James Andrews and Angelo Colosimo. But the Bengals wouldn't suit him up for practice. Usually, a team is reluctant to sit a player when the doctors say he shouldn't play, but the Bengals got it backwards because, by accounts coming out of training camp, they wanted Warrick to take a pay cut from the $2.28 million he's due in the final year of his contract. They don't want to pay him this year because they paid him last year.
Brown, of course, is one of the hard-liners in opposition to renegotiating contracts. And he's right about that for the same reason the Bengals are wrong about wanting to cut Warrick's pay. As Brown said in a story on Bengals.com dated July 27: "If you make a deal, fulfill it."
Did Warrick not fulfill his contract by playing in only four games last year? Well, he injured himself in the line of duty. Injuries are part of the game, a risk every team knowingly takes when signing contracts with their players. Warrick's injuries are a tough break, but he didn't breach his contract.
The Bengals finally decided Aug. 14 to let Warrick back into practice. The team spun the delay as a timing issue — the medical clearances came in last week, and he wouldn't have played against New England anyway. Since he's been around for a while, the missed time in camp probably won't kill him.
Meanwhile, the dance with the draft choice should be over by now, but the Bengals are having too much fun trying to squeeze nickels out of a kid who they picked to redress a glaring weakness. From watching the Bengals negotiate with Pollack, one would think their biggest problem is cash flow rather than their dreadful ineptitude at tackling ball carriers.
This one should be simple. The Bengals took Pollack with the 17th overall pick in the draft last spring. The No. 16 overall pick, Houston defensive tackle Travis Johnson, reportedly signed for five years at $10.2 million, with $7.77 million guaranteed. The No. 18 overall pick, Minnesota defensive end Erasus James, reportedly signed for five years at $9.8 million with about $7.5 million guaranteed. So Pollack should fit right in at five years, $10 million, about $7.635 million guaranteed.
That's the market. There shouldn't even be a negotiation. But reports have it that the Bengals were trying to take this kid with a five-year deal for $9.5 million, about $7 million guaranteed. And yet we actually have professionals in the media who blame Pollack for his absence from camp.
Bottom line: The Bengals are being cheap. By trying to cheat their players, they're cheating their own aspirations, their fans and the past two years of progress. SOB.