The Cincinnati Bengals are known for showing loyalty to people that in most cases, don't deserve it. It has come in the forms of coaches and players alike. Remember the great David Shula, son of a Super Bowl Champion, Hall of Fame coach. He was going to save the Bengals and take them to the "Promised Land". Not only did he not deliver on the promises, Shula over stayed his welcome and proved he is not cut out to be a NFL coach. But Mike Brown stuck by him until the pain got so bad, not even he could take it.
Remember when Chris Henry was told by Head Coach Marvin Lewis that he was no longer welcome in the Bengals locker room after being released for another of his many transgressions. Well, loyal Mike Brown saw fit to resign him because of his loyalty to Henry. Brown felt bad for him.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh was a seventh round pick in the 2001 draft. T.J. started very few games the first couple of seasons due to injury and ineffective play that included several turnovers. Most players with this kind of production in the first couple of seasons would not be in the NFL much longer. But because of Mike Brown's loyalty, he stuck with the receiver giving him every opportunity to succeed. T.J. even acknowledges that who knows where he would be without the opportunity. So now comes the time when the favor can be reciprocated.
Loyalty these days is not something that is seen very often. Since the advent of free agency, the thought of finding out true worth is more prevalent then staying loyal to the individual who provided the opportunity. Rarely does a player who was given a chance when no one saw it stay with the team who gave it. It all comes down to money. Yes, T.J. stayed with the Bengals for 8 seasons and proved to be that diamond in the rough, becoming that rare commodity that occasionally arises from deep in the draft and reaches stardom.
This is the year that T.J. becomes a unrestricted free agent, allowing him to look and see what his true value is in the league. He fought off being franchise tagged by proclaiming that he will not attend camp if so tagged. He also stated that it would be less than 10% chance that he will be wearing stripes next season. But T.J. could turn over a new leaf. Decide that money is not the only thing in pro sports and that loyalty has a place. He can actually return that loyalty to the organization and fans that were loyal to him for all these years.
Now I am not suggesting that he should sign a low end contract. I believe he should be paid for his past performance and at fair market value. But he could actually show the same loyalty to the Bengals organization by allowing them to be the first team to negotiate with him and fend off all others. This will allow the Bengals a chance to focus solely on him without the worry of other teams trying to drive up his price. T.J. could also set himself apart from all the other free agents by saying that he is willing to structure his deal that will allow for the Bengals to not only keep him, but provide the ability to sign a high profile free agent that will make an immediate impact for the team. If the Bengals are not able to figure out how to do it, I bet they could find someone that has the experience and ability to show them how it gets done.
Loyalty is a fleeting thing. It is something that has been missing from the sports world since the advent of free agency. If given a chance, loyalty can not only be exhibited, but it can also be experienced. The Bengals show loyalty to whomever they feel deserves it - now it's time for some of them to acknowledge that with some loyalty of their own. T.J., I hope you're listening.