Stick with me on this one, as it's likely to go in a couple of different directions. With the recent news that Dallas Cowboys has been strictly reigned in by the club, my internal wheels began turning and visions of Bryant in orange and black stripes danced in my head. If you were to rewind back to the 2010 NFL Draft process, the two prospects that were linked to the Bengals were Bryant and current Bengals tight end and the ultimate pick by the club, Jermaine Gresham.
In 2010, the Bengals still had the reputation as a club that was a safe haven to players with "issues". Though the casual NFL fan still believes that this reputation is accurate, it was in this draft that Mike Brown, Marvin Lewis and Company shed that image. They chose the safe and rational pick in Gresham, who had the squeaky clean background and filled a glaring need at the position. Though he's gone on to have a solid career, the recent injury to Gresham, coupled with the Bengals' need for a receiving threat opposite A.J. Green and the odd restrictions placed on Bryant made me wonder if the Bengals made the right decision. We're not focusing on the "they took the wrong tight end that year" contention. After all, the Bengals had the chance to grab whichever player they truly wanted and grabbed who they thought was their guy.
In case you're wondering what the stipulations were that the Cowboys placed on Bryant, you can check them out at ESPNDallas.com. In short, the Jerry Jones doesn't trust Bryant enough to give him the freedom that every other NFL player enjoys. Does he have a point? Sure. Is the approach extreme? Yes. But that's not necessarily what we are talking about here.
The Bengals are grasping at straws as to who will be their No.2 wide receiver. While there have been some flashes from Brandon Tate, Armon Binns, and Marvin Jones, none of them are immediate major threats to push the offense towards elite. Chances are that those three will make the final roster and take over the No.2 receiver spot as a committee. As much as we hope that one of these players pans out, there is nobody here that will relieve the constant defensive heat that A.J. Green will face.
Furthermore, the team is arguably in need of a punt returner. Tate did an admirable job in 2011, but many fans were angered with his frequent play-it-safe style. And, if Tate is the winner of the No. 2 receiver job, it's possible that the team wouldn't allow him to hang onto the return job because of safety concerns. Adam Jones can't get on the field and Andrew Hawkins hasn't shown anything in the return game and there could be a gaping hole here.
Bryant has done a little bit of everything in his time in Dallas. He's been the primary target at times, played second fiddle to Miles Austin at others, and has also been a tertiary option behind tight end Jason Witten. The Cowboys also had him return punts, where he has had two returns for touchdowns in his two years. So, would the Bengals have been better served to take Bryant over Gresham--off field issues and all?
Let's have a look at the numbers. Aside from the two punt return touchdowns, Bryant has five more touchdowns (15 to 10) and 422 yards more than Gresham (1,489 to 1,067). He's done this in three less career games to boot. Now, this can be attributed to better quarterback play and the fact that a tight end doesn't get as many balls thrown his way as a wide receiver. It can also be argued that Gresham isn't necessarily in a tight end-friendly offense. There's a lot of logic to that.
But, then there's the argument that if the Bengals haven't been a tight end-friendly team (remember Gresham was the first time that the team used a first round pick on a tight end), why would they select him over Bryant? Going into 2010, the Bengals had a need at both positions, but the one at wide receiver was more glaring. Chad Johnson/Ochocinco was getting older and grouchier and the team decided to pair him with his buddy, Terrell Owens. We know what a disaster that turned out to be and the nightmare probably would have been avoided had the team drafted Bryant.
In turn, if the team had drafted Bryant, the Green pick in 2011 might not have happened. If fans had a choice between Green and Bryant, I'm sure that the vast majority would choose Green for a number of reasons. But, that's not what we're focusing on here. The team took Gresham ans still chose Green, so they very well could have taken Bryant and Green, if they so chose.
Really, this argument stems from the the continuing sentiment that Gresham isn't living up to the hype that surrounded him, nor is he performing at the same level as his fellow draftees at the position, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The obvious argument that the Bengals could/should have taken "Gronk" instead of Gresham exists, but that's not what we're focusing on here, as that's been beaten to death at this point.
So, really this leads to a hypothetical question for Bengals fans: would you rather have Bryant and all of his off-field drama coupled with Green and manning the punt return spot, or are you pleased with the team's current situation with the safe and reputation-saving choice of selecting Gresham, who filled another big void at the tight end position?