February 17, 2009

If Housh is gone, why should Bengal fans be happy?

The Reds probably deserve the majority of my attention at this point, but I had to get in some thoughts on this TJ Houshmanzadeh thing going on in Cincinnati. The Bengals made the decision yesterday to put the franchise tag on kicker Shayne Graham instead of Housh (who is also a free agent). TJ announced immediately after the decision that he was 99.2% percent likely to leave Cincinnati. So if you're scoring at home, the move looks on the surface like the Bengals let their best player walk in favor of tagging their kicker.

Anyway, I figured I would try to gauge the reaction of Bengal fans to this move, and let's just say that people are not pleased. If you look in the comments section on the Cincinnati Enquirer website under the article on the move, there are people who are literally clinging to their guns and their religion in fear over the move. It wouldn't even surprise me to see a "Breaking News: Bengals fans with pitchforks burn down Bengal owner Mike Brown's home" headline coming across the ESPN ticker any minute. If you're a Bengal fan, the move looks like the Bengals are trying to drive the final stake into the hearts of Bengal fans who had any hope left for this franchise.

But is that really the case?? Am I the only Bengal fan who actually LIKES this move?? Oh my, that's maybe the first time I've used the words "Like this move" and "Bengals" in the same sentence other than my annual "talk myself into the pick" state of mind on NFL Draft day about two hours after complaining about the Bengals' pick.

Seriously though, this is not a typical Bengals move. A typical Bengals move would have been to tag TJ, watch him grumble all offseason and not show up for any offseason activity, undermine Carson and Marvin all season, beg out of games/practice with phony injuries, and then run to the media every five seconds about wanting out. We've seen this a hundred times. The Bengals drag these guys along with no plan of action, use the franchise tag on them in desperation, and then watch as the guy sabotages the team in protest. NFL players do not want a a franchise tag when they know the team they play for has no desire to sign them to a long term deal. TJ is a really good player, but he's 31 years old. Putting a $10 million franchise tag on a 31 year old receiver is a complete waste of resources. Just let the guy walk and rebuild with young players.

I'm actually relieved that the Bengals don't appear to have a desire to sign TJ to a multi-year deal. Does anyone really think that would been a smart allocation of resources?? The Bengals have tried this move in the past with long term deals for Rudi Johnson and Willie Anderson and even Chad Johnson, and it has backfired. Older NFL players aren't worth the money that you pay for them. If you are locked into big contracts for old guys, you lose roster flexibility.

Look at the Steelers. They do this every year. They let players walk when they get old, and then they go all out to replace them. It allows them to be flexible as a franchise. Antwan Randle-El is a perfect example. The Bengals would have panicked and kept him. The Steelers let him leave and replaced him with Santonio Holmes. They probably used the cap savings to sign a lineman and maybe a linebacker, and they maybe even are more willing to trade down in the draft to get extra picks because they have more money to spend. That's what smart organizations do. I'm glad the Bengals finally did something smart.

In the NFL, you win with younger players and linemen. Focus on the draft to get your young players (linemen and defense in the Bengals' case), and then use your remaining dollars to go after targeted free agents that fit your system (ie - the Steelers always seem to get one really good LB in free agency that fits their 3-4 defense). If the Bengals have learned this lesson, they may actually be learning some lessons from all of their inept decisions of the past. The Bengals have always been dumb thinkers, and that always annoyed me. If they make smart decisions, I can live with them even if they don't work out. Just have a plan.

Obviously, the Bengals are still a mess, and past mistakes still haunt them. The decision not to trade Chad Johnson last year for #1 and #2 picks from the Washington Redskins will probably loom over this franchise for a long time, but there's nothing they can do about it now. They need to either get what they can get for the guy even if it is just a #2 pick or something like that and build the franchise the right way with guys who embrace the team concept and want to be there. The Steelers win with TEAM guys who want to be there. The Bengals can learn a lot of lessons from their neighbors to the east.

As for the WR position, I'm not even worried about the position, and I am PRAYING that the Bengals don't use their pick on Michael Crabtree. Please please please do not draft this guy. He's a system WR. Just go ahead and change his name to Ashley Lelie right now. I don't trust any Texas Tech players in the pros (yes, I know Wes Welker is a TT alum) If that happens, I'll join the pitchfork crowd again (I've spend enough time in that crowd that I can easily fit right back in). I am fine with the Bengals WRs even if they don't have Chad Johnson. Chris Henry is capable of being a #1 WR, Caldwell is a good young WR who played great when TJ was hurt last year, and maybe Jerome Simpson can fill the #3 spot. I'd probably try to find a solid Derrick Mason type vet to fill the void if one of those young guys can't contribute. That's not a great WR corp by any stretch, but you don't win in the AFC North with your WRs. The Ravens had Derrick Mason as the their #1 receiver and went to the AFC Championship game.

Is today's move a sign that the Bengals are finally embracing a new line of thinking or just a blip in the radar of a long history of being completely inept?? The Bengals obviously don't deserve the benefit of the doubt, but there are some signs that they are making progress. Letting Willie Anderson walk last year and TJ this year along with recent drafts emphasizing youth and defense is a sign that they are adjusting a bit.

The Bengals may end up being the worst team in the NFL with no TJ and maybe even no Chad, but I'd rather take two steps back followed by five steps forward than the typical Bengals parade of two steps back followed by two more steps back.

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