By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Developments in Cincinnati and around the NFL on Wednesday probably have cemented the Bengals' hold on the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
By reaching a contract agreement with tight end Reggie Kelly (Falcons), the Bengals addressed yet another need in free agency. Kelly could be the fifth starter signed by the Bengals.
The other four potential starters are on defense, where they will plug specific holes.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis truly is in the position to practice what he preaches in the draft: He will take the best player available, and that is Southern California quarterback Carson Palmer.
With starting quarterback Jon Kitna in place, the Bengals can afford to let Palmer mature for a season. The errors of previous first-round Bengals quarterbacks - David Klingler and Akili Smith - would not be repeated. Palmer would not have to be rushed.
Signings throughout the league Wednesday appear to have removed other potential trading partners.
Former Bengals quarterback Jeff Blake signed a contract with Arizona, effectively eliminating the Cardinals - holder of the No. 6 overall pick - as a possible trade option for the Bengals.
With the Cardinals filling their need at quarterback, replacing Jake Plummer (now with Denver), Chicago appears to be the default winner of the Kordell Stewart sweepstakes. Announcement of a Stewart signing with the Bears could come today.
The Bears, who have the fourth overall pick, made quarterback their top offseason priority. If they sign Stewart, they will be able to use their pick on Arizona State defensive end Terrell Suggs, who is needed in Chicago since pass-rushing linebacker Roosevelt Colvin signed a free agent deal with New England.
Another team that went into the offseason looking for a quarterback, Carolina, also solidified that position in free agency. The Panthers, who have the No. 9 pick, re-signed Rodney Peete and signed free agent Jake Delhomme. Carolina now has four quarterbacks on its roster.
The Baltimore Ravens, who first tried to re-sign Blake, pick at No. 11 and are the one team still with a need for a quarterback. They have interest in Stewart but aren't going to offer more money than Chicago.
Brian Griese is not an option for the Ravens or any other team, for that matter. He could be acquired only through a trade, and no team would be willing to gamble without a physical examination - prohibited by NFL rules because he is still under contract in Denver. Griese probably will end up with his dad's former team, the Miami Dolphins, as a backup to Jay Fiedler.
The second-rated quarterback in the draft, Marshall's Byron Leftwich, could fall all the way to the Ravens with the 11th pick.
Back to the Bengals. Lewis not only landed five potential starters but signed five players who want to play in Cincinnati.
The defensive line is better with the acquisitions of John Thornton and Carl Powell.
Lewis made the choice to let Takeo Spikes go at linebacker and replace him with Kevin Hardy.
Cornerback Tory James is an upgrade and makes the entire secondary better.
Kelly gives the Bengals a dominant run blocker who should make life easier for tailback Corey Dillon.
Give Lewis, his staff and the Bengals' front office credit for recruiting and signing top players. Indianapolis wanted Kelly. Minnesota badly wanted James and settled Wednesday for Denard Walker (Denver). New England and Arizona wanted Thornton. Dallas had tried to re-sign Hardy.
Now the Bengals don't have to draft to try to fill a need.
They are in a position to draft the player Bengals president Mike Brown has wanted for so long - a franchise quarterback - and Lewis and Co. will be able to resist rushing Palmer because the team around him will be better.
There's no denying the club's interest in Palmer. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese attended Palmer's pro workout Wednesday at USC.
TODAY'S BASKETBALL GAMES
Scores and game wrap-ups
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DAUGHERTY: Committee holds UC's fate
Like Mardi Gras for Southern Miss
Other Conference USA games
C-USA Tournament Glance
Marquette's Wade C-USA player of year
XU right at home in UD Arena
West again A-10 player of year
Dayton finally gets to play
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