In case you locked yourself out from Bengal news for the last five months, rumors abound that the team is looking to put an end to its relationship with Chad Ochocinco, the organization's all-time leading receiver. Although the team has picked up his $6 million dollar option for this season, Chad's numbers and image have taken a hit over the last three years to the point where it appears to no longer be a tenable situation for him in the Jungle. After his rock star seasons of 2002-07, Chad's pretty much been a wedgie for the team. Heading into the 2008 season in less-than-tip-top playing shape, on the heels of a botched attempt at strong-arming the team into trading him during the offseason, the Ocho suffered a shoulder injury and went on to garner his worst receiving statistics since his rookie campaign. 2009 was a bit of a bounce back season, but his off-the-field self-promoting had already worn on the organization, particularly head coach Marvin Lewis. Chad may have surpassed the irritation threshold last season when the team struggled while, some argue, he was more concerned with his side projects, like his TV show with teammate Terrell Owens and his Mad Chad phone application. That perception of Chad ultimately led to some nasty back and forth between him and Lewis that has yet to come to a resolution. Some say he'll be back this year, while more think he's gone, the speculation being that Chad may be held onto for leverage during negotiations with rookie A. J. Green and then unceremoniously dumped in the preseason.
But despite the growing belief that the team would be better off without him, I'm going to be a contrarian and say that Ochocinco will be a Bengal this year, and after the jump I'll give you five reasons why I think so.
- At $6 million buckeroos, Ochocinco carries a pretty palpable veteran price tag for a 2011 season where the Bengals organization will have to find a way to actually spend some money to meet the new salary cap floor. Reports are that the team in currently $39.5 million under the cap, a number that goes down (or is it up?) when the team puts Carson Palmer on the "Out to Lunch" list. They still have rookies to pay and some of their own free agents to re-sign, so that'll eat up some of that dough. But draftees will be cheaper to sign with the new rookie wage scale, and other than Jonathan Joseph (and maybe extensions for 2012 free agents Leon Hall and Jerome Simpson) the team won't have to shell out a fortune to re-sign their own. The could use all that extra money to pick up some available veterans, but free agency will be fast and furious in this truncated offseason, and players that could help the Bengals the most (e.g., Eric Weddle, Ray Edwards) will be in high demand and likely carry some hefty price tags. It's hard to see a notoriously parsimonious team suddenly signing guys to monster contracts, but even supposing they do Chad's option is much more reasonable than it appeared before the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. [Editor's Note: If the Bengals cut Ochocinco they owe him $3.5 million. Keeping him thus costs the team $2.5 million].
- So what do you get for $6 million? Well, insurance for one thing. I think most of us are OK with a 2011 depth chart of Green, Jerome Simpson, Jordan Shipley, Andre Caldwell, and two of either Quan Cosby, Ryan Whalen, Bart Johnson, or Landon Cox. But suppose the team doesn't pick up any other free agent wideouts (like Steve Breaston or newly unemployed Derrick Mason) and Green or Shipley go down with an injury? We'd then be rolling with Simpson and Caldwell as our top guys. That may have worked at the end of last season with Carson Palmer slinging it, but we don't know yet what Dalton brings to the NFL table and we also don't know whether Simpson has finally found the plot after 2 3/4 seasons. Yes, I remember Simpson putting up some studly numbers those last few games of 2010, but I also remember Lewis's uncomfortable shifting in his chair when asked about Simpson all the times prior. And I also remember that those were two non-pressure games when the season was already lost and the team was content to just throw the ball around. Who knows what Simpson will look like over the course of a full 16 games. I do think Caldwell is a very serviceable receiver, but he's inconsistent, looking tough-as-nails one game and dropping some easy balls the next. A solid number three, but a number two for a full year? I don't know about that. Gresham and Shipley will have increased roles this year and take some of the load off, but without Ochocinco around the receiving core could become shaky real quick, especially in the vertical game. The organization has to realize that.
- Is there any importance to be placed on veteran leadership within a subgroup of position players? There has to be, right? Six million also gets you that veteran presence. As Green adjusts to playing wide receiver at the NFL level, who does he turn to with questions? If Ochocinco is given the heave-ho, the most established receiver on the team becomes Caldwell, who has all of 12 starts and 87 career catches to his name across three years. Amongst the receiving corps, that's the blind leading the blind. I know it's hard, but don't let Chad's media personality color all our thinking about him; that's dudes a good football player. You don't rack up 751 catches for over 10,000 yards (and on some bad teams) simply being a clown. Yes, he's an attention whore, but he doesn't drink, smoke, or get arrested, which is damn near saintly in Bengaldom. And he knows the league's defensive backs. And he knows how to digest a playbook, which is important when a team implements a new offensive scheme, as the Bengals are this season. And I think (and maybe I'm getting too subjective here) that Chad's a guy that likes to teach and mentor (he worked out with Terelle Pryor last month). Maybe the organization wants his veteran presence and can talk him into being the Obi-Wan to Green's Luke Skywalker (heck, pitch it to him that way -- he LOVED the whole Batman-Robin thing with Owens).
- Yes, Chad has said that he and Marvin Lewis can no longer coexist. But he's also said that he sees Lewis as a father figure and that he'd like to come back to Cincinnati. And Marvin's taken some conciliatory steps in praising Ochocinco in the media. So I suspect their friction can be easily alleviated with some face-to-face dialogue, especially if my reason number five forces the issue.
- Take another look at Mike Brown's recent comments about the Palmer situation (and John Clayton's comments about Brown). Now, Brown can be saddled with a number of lively expletives, but that old fart has principles and he sticks to 'em -- you gotta respect that (while simultaneously deriding the stubbornness of it). When Brown has a player under contract who he thinks still offers some value on the field, expect that player to fulfill that contract. Brown didn't trade Ochocinco in 2008 when reports were that the Redskins were offering two potential first-round picks, and that's when Chad was being a real dingleberry. So, why in the world would Brown, a guy that so deeply believes in the symbolism of a contract, cut him now? And if you think Marvin Lewis has a say in this, think again (remember Chris Henry, who Brown let back on the team despite Lewis's apparent objections?).
So, expect Ochocinco to finish out his contract with the Bengals this season. And rightfully so. Beyond the police blotter, Chad's been (for better or worse) the face of this organization for the last ten years, and he'll go down as one of its all-time greatest players. He deserves more than a "thanks for stopping by" in the preseason. I mean, what's the worst that can happen, right? Right?
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