It is never easy losing a great player from your favorite team. It is even worse to have it happen a couple times. This is being written in the wake of LeBron James deciding to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers in order to move on with the Los Angeles Lakers for the few years remaining of his prime. If there is one thing Cleveland can consistently beat Cincinnati in it is heartbreaking moments. There is nothing like going from being a title contender to being essentially irrelevant with the departure of one player.
The social media storm that has followed this decision has been somewhat incredible as well. EVERYONE is talking about James’ move. It really is rare in sports that a player’s decision has so much of an impact. It is even rarer in the NFL where individual stars hold less power simply because of the structure of the sport.
That leads to the question of if any Bengal could leave Cincinnati and have the same sort of impact. Whether it be as a contender, fan reaction or social media engagement. We’ll look at these three aspects individually.
When James left the Cavs, he left a team that had made four straight NBA Finals with one championship, largely due to him. He joined a team that has failed to make the playoffs for a number of seasons. Suddenly, the Lakers are real threats to compete for championships. Meanwhile, the Cavs have been linked to several tanking scenarios, which means they will likely gut their roster over the next few seasons in order to acquire better draft picks.
It is hard to imagine any Bengal leaving and having this same impact. Sure you could say if Andy Dalton left without a backup option in place, and he went to a very well developed team that was just lacking a quarterback it could have a similar impact. That isn’t what we are talking about though. Dalton’s departure right now would certainly make the Bengals one of the worst teams, but he wouldn’t single-handedly make any team a title contender.
A.J. Green is another name that comes to mind, but receivers don’t have that kind of franchise-changing ability. Obviously he has an incredible impact on the Bengals offense, but his presence alone isn’t pushing an average team into the realm of the Patriots and Eagles. Although admittedly, he is the closest thing the Bengals have to James for this particular aspect of leaving.
His presence alone draws so much of the defenses attention, and the rest of the remaining offensive skill position players basically rely on him drawing that double coverage. He could bring that same impact and turn an average team into a playoff contender, but it would depend a lot on how good the quarterback is.
When James left Cleveland the first time, it was like nothing we have ever seen in sports. The local kid leaving to pursue a championship elsewhere led to jersey burnings and even a comic sans response from the owner. This time fans are a little bit more civil, but you still see quite a bit of hateful comments and general depression over the situation. James also is special in the fact he has a large amount of fans who will simply follow whatever team he is on.
Well listen here we are travelers. Lebron could of signed with the houston astros we would have been out there. https://t.co/v8fNtt4Fqb— John Ross III (@WatchJRoss) July 2, 2018
As Bengals fans we have seen countless talented players leave Cincinnati. Most of the time because the Bengals don’t want to cough up the money to keep them. Other times, guys just want to play in a bigger market. Last offseason when the Bengals let offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth walk away more intense fans were really bummed because he was a very talented player and even better man. Still no one went as crazy over it as Cleveland fans. It is also worth noting Carson Palmer demanding a trade also caused some serious reaction by the fans.
I think this one is a bit easier. Players like Green and Geno Atkins would surely be missed by a vast majority of the fan base. If either of them demanded a trade you’d also see some very upset fans. But, it is doubtful a sizable portion of Bengals fans leave the fanbase to become fans of Green or Atkins’ new team, if they abandoned the Bengals. I think it could reach the level of James’ second departure from Cleveland, but neither is going to get an open letter written from Mike Brown.
Social media engagement
It was hard to avoid the news last night and this morning of James becoming a Laker. Some may say it is because he is joining one of the most storied franchises in NBA history, but each time he has changed teams, he has brought this sort of national reaction. Even people who have never watched him play are talking about it.
The important distinction here is people aren’t criticizing the move. I think if the Bengals traded Dalton right now a large portion of the national media would pick it up to criticize some aspect of the trade. Even if he left in free agency, the reactions likely wouldn’t be too wild.
Green is the closest thing Cincinnati has to James in this respect as well. Green is in the discussion for being one of the most talented receivers, and him changing teams could be picked up on the radars of people outside of NFL circles. However, it would depend if he was going to a team with a very well established quarterback. If he went to the Patriots people would be talking about it. If he went to Cleveland it would be a talked about move, but it isn’t getting outside of NFL circles. James gets that ‘Green going to play with Tom Brady’ reaction no matter where he goes.
If James’ decision caused a 10/10 human reaction then Green’s would cause probably closer to a 5/10 without factoring in what kind of situation he is going into.
What do you think? Who could elicit the type of reaction LeBron leaving Cleveland elicits?