Because a number of their recent high draft picks have failed to pan out (e.g., Chris Perry, David Pollack, Odell Thurman), and because owner/de facto GM Mike Brown refuses to make any splashy trades (Ochocinco to the Redksins in 2008) or spend the money on any big time free agents, to be competitive the Bengals have been compelled to squeeze value out of veteran players that other teams had given up on. And to their credit, they've done a remarkable job at it. Many of the key players in the Marvin Lewis era have been retreads and scrap heap reclamations that were recycled into serviceable-to-very-good players. For example:
- There was the 2004 trade with Denver (a rare wily maneuver by Brown) that landed Deltha O'Neal for a swap of first-round picks (Cincy used their new slot to grab Perry). Although he had a Pro Bowl season in 2001, O'Neal was a guy the Broncos had completely given up on, falling so far out of favor defensively that coach Mike Shanahan tried shifting him to wide receiver. O'Neal went on to be a very useful player for the Bengals in his four years with the team, even making the Pro Bowl in 2005 with some bloated interception numbers (10).
- There was the 2007 pick up of linebacker Dhani Jones who, after having been released by both the Eagles and Saints, become the captain of the Bengal defense for the last four years (although his tenure may now be up with his free agency and the team's plan to shift Rey Maualgua to MLB), as well as being the most interesting guy on the team.
- And we're all thankful for the 2008 flyer the team took on running back Cedric Benson, a former first-round pick by the Bears whose career looked to be completely toasted before he impressed in his twelve games with the Bengals that season and became their bell cow the last two years.
- The list of great Bengal salvage jobs also includes some crucial players from the last few years like cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones (suspension), safety Chris Crocker (released by the Dolphins), Reggie Nelson (in a 2010 swap for David Jones), and Brian Leonard (picked up from St. Louis for DT Orien Harris, whom the the team later re-signed and then waived).
But not every hand is played to perfection. Sometimes you fold a winner. With that in mind, we're going to take a look at the ones that got away, rolling out a list of the top five players that the Bengals gave up on and who subsequently have become serviceable-to-very-good players in other organizations. For the purpose of continuity, we'll stick to position players, otherwise the list would pretty much start and stop with former assistant coach Bill Walsh (who, not promoted by Bengal owner Paul Brown, went on to revolutionize football with his version of the West Coast Offense, guide the 49ers to three Super Bowl wins, and make the Hall of Fame) and former head coach Dick LeBeau (who has orchestrated the daunting Pittsburgh Steeler defenses since 2004).
We'll begin with #5 on our list:
WR Kevin WalterWalter, an Eastern Michigan U product, was originally drafted in 2003 by the New York Giants in the seventh round (255 overall), but was released during training camp, with the Bengals then picking him up. In his first two seasons with the team, Walter was principally a special teams player and backup, collecting only 11 catches across that span. Walter, like current Bengal Jordan Shipley and Patriot Wes Welker, exuded all the proper
In 2005, he was able to crack the starting lineup for two games, finishing the season at 19 catches for 211 yards. During that offseason, Walter became a restricted free agent. The Bengals chose not to match the offer the Houston Texans extended to Walter, netting a seventh round pick in compensation (which the team used to select S Ethan Kilmer).The rationale at the time was as follows:
"Kevin has been a fine player for us, and he deserves the opportunity he'll get in Houston to be a starting receiver," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. "But as we build our roster for the upcoming season, we believe it's in the best interest of our team to allocate these funds to another position."
"I’m glad it worked out this way because this is where I wanted to be," Walter said. "We’re a team on the rise. I want to have a great year to help us get where we want to go. I really didn’t want to go anywhere else."
"You can’t have enough Kevin Walters on your team," Kubiak said. "He stands for everything we are. He’s a great kid, a hard worker, a player who does everything right on and off the field.
"It’s important that he’s back with us because he’s a big part of what we do."
Since Walter's departure, the Bengals have been trying to find receiver depth, signing guys like Chatman, Laveranues Coles, and (hate to bring it up, but) Antonio Bryant. Those dudes obviously didn't work out, but the issue with Walter was always matching price with need. Although he's flourished as the #2 receiver opposite the frighteningly good Johnson, Walter is really more of a slot receiver type, and at the time of his departure the team already had a better Kevin Walter in T. J. Houshmandzadeh. Sure, they could have signed him in 2010, but the cost was high for a player of his perceived caliber and they went with the more ostensibly game-changing Bryant instead. Fortunately, they ended up getting a potentially better Houshmandzadeh in Shipley. Then again, like Kubiak said, you can't have enough Kevin Walters on your team. I guess that's why we drafted Ryan Whalen this year.
An honorable mention here (if that can be a thing) is former Bengal Dez Briscoe. A sixth round pick last year, Briscoe was cut by the Bengals with the intention of moving him to the practice squad, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went batty and offered Briscoe a boatload more money, provoking more venom from Marvin Lewis. Briscoe went on to log six catches for 93 yards and a Touch with the Buccos. Let's just hope he doesn't end up going all Kevin Walter on us.