CINCINNATI -- Laveranues Coles is a free agent again after one disappointing season with the Bengals, who had hoped to make him a pillar of their passing game.
The Bengals released the 32-year-old wide receiver Thursday, exactly one year after he signed a four-year contract to replace T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The Bengals also got rid of three tight ends, an indication of their top priorities in free agency and the draft.
They desperately need someone who can catch the ball.
The Bengals moved quickly after Houshmandzadeh left for the Seattle Seahawks one year ago, eagerly pursuing Coles as his replacement. They signed Coles one week after he left the New York Jets, who decided not to give him a multiyear contract extension.
Houshmandzadeh was the Bengals' most reliable receiver and top third-down target, making catches in a crowd. The team expected Coles to be more of a big-play receiver, but he never blended into an offense that became reliant on the run.
Coles had just 43 catches for 514 yards last season, when the Bengals' passing game was a big disappointment. He had two or fewer catches in nine regular-season games. The Bengals needed him to become a bigger part of the offense when deep threat Chris Henry got hurt and, later, died in a fall from a truck, but Coles caught just 16 passes combined in the last seven regular-season games.
Thursday's move leaves Chad Ochocinco as Cincinnati's only proven receiver. Andre Caldwell also struggled in his second season. Jerome Simpson, a second-round draft pick in 2008, appeared in just two games.
The Bengals didn't have a dependable target at tight end last season, either. Reggie Kelly tore the Achilles' tendon in his left leg at the start of training camp, and Ben Utecht suffered a major concussion that ended his season. Third-round pick Chase Coffman was inactive for the first 12 games, then went on season-ending injured reserve with bone spurs in his left ankle.
The Bengals cleared out their cast of backups Thursday by declining to tender contract offers to tight ends Daniel Coats, J.P. Foschi and Matt Sherry, allowing them to become free agents. Cincinnati also declined to tender defensive tackle Shaun Smith.
Six players received tenders, meaning the Bengals will have a chance to match any offers they are given as restricted free agents. The list included linebacker Brandon Johnson, who became a starter after Keith Rivers was hurt late in the season. The Bengals would receive a second-round pick from any team that signs him.
The Bengals tendered draft-level offers to linebackers Abdul Hodge and Rashad Jeanty, cornerback David Jones, guard Evan Mathis and defensive end Frostee Rucker on Thursday. Cincinnati would receive a draft pick matching the player's original round if another team signs any of them.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press