During time with the media at this week's NFL owners meetings, Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and president and owner Mike Brown hinted about how re-signing quarterback Andy Dalton to a long-term deal was their top personnel priority.
According to Bengals.com, Brown on Sunday said the contract extension was "central in the planning and strategy of keeping together" the foundation of a team that has been to three straight playoffs for the first time in its history.
But the Bengals appear to have pulled the trigger on another starting player's contract, and could make an announcement in the coming days. The team website reports that the Bengals and defensive tackle Domata Peko are closing in on an extension that would keep Peko in Cincinnati through the 2016 season. He would become the fourth defensive lineman signed through that year, joining fellow tackle Geno Atkins and defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Margus Hunt. Atkins and Dunlap signed extensions last offseason that will keep them in Cincinnati through 2017.
On the surface, the move looks like a smart one. We'll write more about that later.
For now, let's focus on the timing. Barely a day after Lewis spoke openly about his belief in Dalton and how he believes it would be smart for the Bengals to lock up their starting quarterback as soon as possible, the team actually closed in on another deal? Re-signing Peko would leave some in the fan base scratching their heads, as some fans have been concerned about Peko's effectiveness as a starter next to the Pro Bowler Atkins.
As debatable as that point is, Peko's production is unlikely the reason he will end up getting this extension. He's getting it primarily because of his experience and effectiveness as a leader. An unofficial captain of the defense, the eight-year veteran has a vocal presence in the locker room and is respected. His community service efforts around Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky -- coupled with his charismatic, positive attitude -- have made him a fan favorite in the region. Brown's loyalty to those he respects has been noted, and it seems clear that he wanted to get this homegrown Bengal -- Peko was drafted by Cincinnati in the fourth round in 2006 -- recommitted long before his contract expired next March.
While the Bengals may be making a push to sign Dalton, they also recognize the time has come to be proactive with some of their other contracts. Yes, Dalton remains the priority, but don't be surprised if more free-agents-to-be in 2014 and 2015 start getting contracts before Dalton does. Why? Because it's clear Brown has learned a valuable lesson about waiting on his star quarterback's deal to get done.
"At some point we are going to have to do something more than just let everyone else leave waiting to get something done with that situation," he said to reporters in Orlando on Sunday.
Brown knows it's all about building a team, not just an offense. Stay tuned.
Here's more on Peko and Dalton in this Thursday edition of the Morning Stripes:
Here's the story from Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson on negotiating with Peko, who has a cap value of nearly $4.4 million for the 2014 season. Expect that number to increase with a possible new deal. How much will it increase? That's the big question with Dalton, receiver A.J. Green and linebacker Vontaze Burfict all looking for extensions before the 2015 season.
Peko isn't the only Bengal involved in the community. According to the Fort-Worth Star Telegram, Dalton and his wife, Jordan, will be hosting a fundraiser in Fort Worth, Texas, on Monday for the Andy and Jordan Dalton Foundation. Earlier this offseason, the couple opened "The Hub," a place at the Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth that has iPads, video games and other electronics that can serve as distractions for children with or recovering from cancer.