Coach Marvin Lewis gave Bengals players and assistants no hints on Monday about whether he's inclined to return.
Lewis told owner Mike Brown what needs to change for him to consider staying in Cincinnati, where he's had two winning records in eight seasons. The Bengals completed their worst season under Lewis, finishing 4-12 with a loss in Baltimore on Sunday.
Neither Lewis nor Brown would discuss their meeting. Brown said through a team spokesman that a resolution could come as soon as Tuesday.
Lewis wants changes in how the organization operates, including more control over roster decisions. He also has lobbied years for a covered practice field — the Bengals are the only northern NFL team without one. Lewis turned down an extension last season, saying their differences had to be resolved before he would agree to stay.
A 13-7 loss in Baltimore on Sunday ended the final season on his contract. Brown evidently would like to keep Lewis — a firing would have happened quickly Monday if the owner wanted change.
"I think he wants to be back, and I think everybody wants him back," safety Chris Crocker said. "But it's going to be a decision between him and ownership. One thing is when you lose and you don't have a good season, something changes. You don't know what's going to change."
Lewis presided over standard end-of-the-season meetings with players and his assistant coaches on Monday, making sure not to tip his hand about his intentions.
"He always handles his own business and keeps it to himself," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "It really was just a normal exit meeting. He didn't really get on the subject."
Some players listened for subtle clues and came away disappointed. Asked if Lewis' comments felt more like a farewell or a see-you-again, defensive lineman Domata Peko said, "It was kind of mixed. It was a little bit of both. I'm not sure what's going to happen."
Same with the assistant coaches. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who is likely to be the top in-house candidate if there's an opening, said Lewis avoided the topic during their meeting on Monday.
"You're not going to get any of that kind of stuff out of me," Zimmer said, "so don't even try it."
In some ways, change has already begun.
A few players cleared out their lockers following the team meeting, carrying personal belongings in bags or boxes. Running back Cedric Benson — a free agent — tossed an orange jersey in his box of stuff and left with a smile.
Benson was the focal point of a run-based offense that won the AFC North last season. The Bengals shifted philosophies and signed receiver Terrell Owens at the start of training camp, hoping to be more balanced. Instead, the offense regressed during a 10-game losing streak that tied the club record for futility.
He's open to returning if the Bengals return to their run-based approach.
"I think there's a time for change," Benson said. "Now's a pretty good time. We found ourselves being very successful a year ago and kind of didn't master the things going into this year that made us successful the previous year. Somebody missed that somewhere."
Owens also is a free agent. The club has a one-year, $6 million option for Chad Ochocinco, who is Owens' close friend and cable talk show co-host. The nameplates above their lockers were gone on Monday. Several defensive starters, including cornerback Johnathan Joseph, also can become free agents.
The Bengals have only two winning records in the 20 years since Brown took over the team. They went 15 years between playoff appearances before Lewis led them to a division title in 2005. He was coach of the year last season for getting the Bengals to the playoffs again.
The playoff appearances were more of an anomaly, and Lewis wants to change how the front office works to get the organization on solid footing. The Bengals have never won back-to-back division titles.
In most other NFL cities, there would be no discussion of keeping a coach with two winning records in eight seasons. Lewis works for an owner who doesn't like change and was willing to offer him with an extension last year. His overall record in Cincinnati is 60-69-1.
The question is whether Brown likes him enough to give him what he wants, something he wouldn't do for Lewis' predecessors.
Players are intrigued to see how it plays out.
"I do think that he's been honest in telling everyone he wants to come back," Crocker said. "I definitely think he does. I'm sure there's things he wants to change, and ownership wants things to change. I know both sides can't be happy because of the season."