Cincinnati Bengals  

 

T.Ochocinco experiment could be a thing of beauty

Terrell Owens has found a home and, surprise (ha!), it's with the NFL's orphanage for those who've been kicked to the curb: the Cincinnati Bengals.

In assessing Owens' options -- and there weren't many -- it seems like a great fit after he agreed to terms with the Bengals on Tuesday. Owens and fellow loquacious wideout Chad Ochocinco will form a tandem that could cause major problems for AFC North cornerbacks who aren't as good as the ones "T.Ochocinco" will face in practice every day. Owens, even at age 36, is better than any of the other receivers on the Bengals' roster besides No. 85.

And for a team in need of a passing game upgrade, it just got one. Owens still had 55 receptions for 829 yards and five touchdowns last season, and that was in a bad Buffalo Bills offense. No Cincinnati receiver other than Ochocinco had more than 51 catches in 2009.

With T.O., the Bengals also became the top reality show in the NFL. All pardons to Brett Favre, Rex Ryan and the Cowboys, but with Ochocinco "kissin' the baby" and Owens pushing popcorn, the sideshow about to take place could either make or break a team talented and hungry enough to make a deep playoff run.

Too bad for HBO that its "Hard Knocks" series arrived in Cincinnati a year early (although the run with the Jets this preseason will be quite entertaining).

Might adding Owens to a roster that includes Adam "Don't call me Pacman" Jones, Cedric Benson and Tank Johnson, among others with previous off-field issues, be another of Cincinnati's many laughable mistakes? Maybe so, but it also could be a bold move that pays solid dividends.

Unlike Jones, who's been out of the league and is quite expendable if he can't hold his own, Owens immediately steps into the No. 2 role (watch, we will hear over and over there is no No. 1 or No. 2 receiver in Cincinnati), ahead of Antonio Bryant, who was signed to a four-year, $28 million free-agent deal with more than $8 million guaranteed (four times more than what Owens will make before incentives).

Bryant has been slowed by knee surgery and, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, has prompted some within the organization to already feel a semblance of buyer's remorse. Owens' presence also could prod Bryant to step up his game, which, if he does, gives Cincinnati a serious three-pronged receiving corps that could force teams into playing more nickel coverages, softening the defense for the Bengals to unleash Benson and Bernard Scott in the running game.

Make no mistake, the Bengals wanted Owens -- but at their price. A source close to the situation said Monday that the sides were close to being $2 million apart (although it wasn't clear if that gap was structured with incentives, guarantees or in base pay). Owens wanted to play for the Bengals, too, because although he could have waited for some team to suffer an injury and probably get his desired price, he realized this might be his best -- and final shot -- to win a Super Bowl.

With rookie wide receiver Jordan Shipley signing his four-year deal Tuesday, Owens' arrival locks up four receiver spots, meaning Andre Caldwell and one of the teams' reclamation project, Matt Jones, could be fighting for a fifth and likely final roster spot. There are a slew of wide outs on the team, and someone unexpected -- perhaps 2008 second-round pick Jerome Simpson -- could emerge.

All this stockpiling of receivers -- Cincinnati drafted tight end Jermaine Gresham in the first round of April's draft -- puts even more of an onus on quarterback Carson Palmer, who worked out with Owens this summer and lobbied heavily for him. Palmer seemed to have hit a plateau, but there are no excuses now with the Bengals clearly making moves to improve the passing game.

Cincinnati also must get more from tackle Andre Smith, last year's first-round draft pick, who was set back his rookie season because of a contract holdout and a foot injury. One reason the Bengals passed the fifth fewest times in the NFL is because the pass protection wasn't solid. Their low total of sacks allowed is deceiving because they ran the ball so much, which played to the strength of their offensive line.

The fusing of T.Ochocinco hasn't caused much concern within the organization of a new environmental ego-system developing in Cincinnati, according to a source. Though T.O. loves him some him, and as much as Ochocinco loves him some him as well, the potential on-field production was paramount in the Bengals' thinking.

Ochocinco has checked his ego in the past and shared the spotlight with wide out T.J. Houshmandzadeh. So the real challenge could be for Owens to allow Ochocinco to be the star of the show. I don't think Owens will have a problem with that -- as long as his touches weren't completely out of sync.

That being said, let's not get too carried away with all the passing talk. Cincinnati is a run-first team and will remain a run-first team, although it will throw more this season than last. While Owens may be perceived as a diva, he'll willingly block in the run game, a trait that is always attractive to coaches.

What can't be overlooked is Owens' history of distraction. He can blame his image on the media, but Owens has been his own worst enemy. He's torpedoed nearly every quarterback he's played with except the ones he had every right to crush last season in Buffalo. So he can be a professional when he wants to. He can also polarize a locker room -- but so can a lot of players already with the Bengals. Ironically, the widespread collection of castoffs gives Cincy a group of edgy players with a unified purpose -- which is a dangerous combination in a good way.

You just have to wonder how many more of these personalities coach Marvin Lewis can handle. Lewis and his staff have done a great job of managing a lot of players who have proved hard to work with in the past, but with Owens now in the mix, the cup could overflow if things don't materialize.

Palmer could help in that regard. Since Palmer has had no problem checking Ochocinco when he's gotten out of line, there is no reason to think he would be afraid to step to Owens if need be. Donovan McNabb and Tony Romo seemed to try to tolerate Owens. Palmer -- and others in the locker room -- will hold Owens more accountable. This is a much more galvanized group than reputations would convey.

The Bengals showed that last season in dealing with the painful deaths of Chris Henry and beloved defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's wife.

Cincy is better with T.O. Besides, with the intrigue and excitement he'll bring to an organization often regarded as an afterthought, popcorn sales will be the highest they've been in years.

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