Admitting to being fence-sitters: Why signing Coles is a good/bad move

We commend the Bengals for making a move to acquire Laveranues Coles, in which they've shown some second-hour activity and willingness to bring in an outside free agent for a cost. However, we're not so sure that we agree with it. Actually, I'm not solid in my position. Is it a good move, or isn't it?

The point of being a hypocrite is very well understood, if not completely accepted. We'll complain when the Bengals don't make moves yet, again, some of us aren't sold that it's the best move in the long run. We're the type of fans that C Trend and Lance McAllister have been talking about; complaining of no moves, then complaining of moves.

I'm going to try to present both arguments, so let's do it.

Why the move is a good move.
Coles is a good, good receiver. From all indications, he'll improve our offense. In fact, where T.J. Houshmandzadeh was best on the underneath routes, picking up first downs, Coles has a threat to opposing offenses that additionally helps other receivers. Chris Henry will face slower, bulkier safeties, possibly an outside linebacker and at the very most, the opposing defense's third best cornerback. The match-up problems are noted, and possibly an improvement even comparing with Houshmandzadeh. However, let's examine what Coles mimics or additionally brings when considering the past three years, compared to Houshmandzadeh -- that's his replacement, so how does he statistically make our offense better?

Comparison of Laveranues Coles and T.J. Houshmandzadeh last three seasons.
  Rec. Yards Y/R TD 1st
Coles 216 2,594 12.0 19 131
Houshmandzadeh 294 3,128 10.6 25 179

Also note, that both receivers played 44 games each during the span of three seasons.

There is the argument of respective systems and how a player may thrive or depreciate with a quarterback. You can make that if you want, but it's no different than debating how one player would play in a completely different era of football.

The biggest (and really only) advantage Coles has over T.J. is his yards-per-reception -- a 1.4 increase. We suspect this has everything to do with Houshmandzadeh's reckless abandonment over the middle, willing to take massive shots for a three-yard gain that leads to a first down. We're going to miss that. A lot. However, back to the original question: does introducing Coles provide difficult match-up problems? We say it actually creates more problems now, than it did with Houshmandzadeh -- specifically speaking, the long ball. Our underneath routes will suffer, but if we get what we paid for with Ben Utecht, with Kenny Watson hitting the flats, we could supplement that. I'm basing that on conjecture and hypotheticals at this point.

Signing Coles also works in favor of Marvin Lewis specifically. We're coming close to examining his future in Cincinnati, and if the Bengals have the win-loss discrepancy they had in 2008, there runs a very strong chance that Lewis could find himself out of a job (obviously not for long, just in Cincinnati). He needs veterans, contributors and proven players in order to rebound 2008 to produce a strong 2009. We're not actively saying that Lewis is on the hot-seat, however, another season with six wins or less, we believe, will generate the justified argument.

With that said, we don't think that Coles is an upgrade over Houshmandzadeh, but he does fill a need with an experienced wide receiver that's instantly effective with (hopefully) sustained production. If you expected the Bengals to make the playoffs, this is a great move. If you didn't expect playoffs...

Why this move might not be a good move.
Coles will pair up with Chad Johnson as the likely starters for the Bengals offense; both will be over thirty years old. We also project that Chris Henry will be the team's number three receiver, provided there's truth to this rebuilding, reimaging project that he's in the process of doing with Carson Palmer in California.

So our question is this, where does that leave the wide receivers that we drafted last year? If there was ever a season in which we should give Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell a lot of playing time to learn and grow, it would be now. There's a better argument that we're not expecting this team to make the playoffs in 2009 -- too much needs to perfectly fall into place, and we're simply not built to be competitive against the Steelers and Ravens right now. So why not move the receivers into a role that gives them playing time to develop so when the Bengals are ready for a playoff run a few years from now, Caldwell and Simpson aren't just ready, they're established.

Yes, yes, I know. Every season we should be focusing on a playoff run. However, that's not the reality of this team. We had it in 2005, narrowly missed in 2006, then we aged in 2007. We've had little effort on turning our personnel over, struggling to develop younger players on offense, save for Anthony Collins. There's a lot of work to be done right now and believing we make the playoffs in 2009 is only going to cause dissent and bitter disappointment because of the overwhelming expectations. The reality is, this team needs to develop their newest core. Bringing Coles in doesn't allow our young wide receivers to be that core.

Yes, my primary point against the move, is youth -- and developing that youth.

We're also not buying into the argument that Simpson and/or Caldwell are disappointments. Name any receiver in the league that they could have drafted last year and subsequently benched Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. And while you're at it, remind yourself that Reggie Kelly was the third leading receiver with 31 receptions. Even if they were on the field more, the likeliness that they'd have greater contributions is misleading; the only way they could have is if Johnson or Houshmandzadeh sat the bench. We weren't a passing offense last year. We ran mostly two-wide receiver sets. We were a nothing offense last year. Simpson and Caldwell shouldn't take the blame for that either.

I have nothing against Coles. In fact, I'm pleased that maybe we won't be as bad offensively as we were last season. Well, that's likely the case with Palmer's return anyway. However, Caldwell's and Simpson's playing time should be vastly increased now. Otherwise, why did you prepare for Houshmandzadeh's departure by drafting them last year? Wasted draft picks that could have been used on other positions? Not only were they ineffective in 2008 because of a generally bad offense buried behind Johnson and Houshmandzadeh -- who aren't going to get benched for rookies -- but now they're likely given the same role in 2009. Are the Bengals holding them back truly thinking they're going to make the playoffs? If they do, then hell yea. But at this point right now, on March 4, 2009, I don't see it. It further stunts their growth too where we could face a rotunda of free agency receivers to build the depth.

If the Bengals were pushing for the post season in 2009, my opinion changes obviously. We build through free agency for immediate production. That's the way it's done in any sport. If you have the cash, and the foundation of players you developed with expectations of making the playoffs that year, you sign a few free agents out and plug them in, like bridges over gaps with more productive players. However, we finished the season 4-11-1 and with the Steelers coming off a Super Bowl win and the Baltimore Ravens losing to the Steelers in the AFC Championship game. Well, let's face facts, we're a long way from leaping over both teams.

With all that said
The Bengals offense is improved right now with Coles, who will alleviate coverage schemes against Chad Johnson that would have suffocated him otherwise. And hopefully the team can rotate the younger guys in for experience and growth. Hell, maybe the Bengals make a run for the playoffs. I believe even that argument could be made, with a heavy emphasis on "everything going perfectly, being lucky and injury free". But if they don't, and they can't get Simpson and Caldwell more playing time, then we just wasted a good year to develop these players in which later drafts will require more wide receivers.

What say you, jungle nuts?

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