Bengals' Johnson, Houshmandzadeh ponder future

CINCINNATI -- They arrived together from Oregon State in 2001, a pair of receivers who thought they could put some life into the Cincinnati Bengals' offense.

For most of their eight years together, they did. Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh made one playoff appearance together, reached the Pro Bowl together and became one of the league's best tandems.

Dangerous duo

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Chad Johnson
Receptions: 53

Yards: 540

Avg.: 10.2

Touchdowns: 4

T.J. Houshmandzadeh
Receptions: 92

Yards: 904

Avg.: 9.8

Touchdowns: 4

It might be ending soon.

They wouldn't be surprised if they part ways after the Bengals' last two games. Cincinnati (2-11-1) finishes the season in Cleveland and at home against Kansas City, then starts an offseason that's sure to be full of change.

The biggest one might be at receiver.

"I'm not sure how that's going to play out," Johnson said Wednesday. "It's been a long road, him and I. It's going to feel like somewhat of a bitter divorce. He's been a big help, man. We've been together -- what is this, year nine? Ten? It'd be kind of funny to see somebody else on the opposite side of me. I'm sure it's the same for him."

The lousy season, the diminished production and the big contract numbers suggest one of them will be gone.

Houshmandzadeh has been the Bengals' most dependable receiver the last two seasons, among the league's best at making the tough catches on third down. He's always in the right place, and comes down with the ball when getting hit.

Last season, he tied New England's Wes Welker for the league lead with 112 catches, a club record. Even though Cincinnati's offense has practically ground to a halt with quarterback Carson Palmer hurt and the offensive line in tatters this season, Houshmandzadeh is still among the league leaders with 92 catches.

Houshmandzadeh is a free agent after the season, forcing the Bengals to make a difficult decision. He said there have been no contract discussions recently. The team could use its franchise tag on Houshmandzadeh, who figures it would be a prelude to his departure a year later.

"If you get a franchise (tag), they want to keep you for one year and that's it, nothing longer than that," Houshmandzadeh said.

Using the franchise tag on Houshmandzadeh would be expensive, since the Bengals would have to offer him a one-year deal that is the average of the top five receiver salaries in the league.

Johnson is a different case. After failing to incite the team to trade him in the offseason, he resigned himself to staying in Cincinnati. Johnson has two years left on his contract, but his diminished production this season might tempt the team to trade him if there's an enticing offer. Johnson, who turns 31 in January, is tied for 40th in the league with 53 catches.

It would be expensive to keep both of them for one more season. The Bengals drafted two receivers last April -- Jerome Simpson in the second round and Andre Caldwell in the third -- to get ready for the day when one or both of the veterans is gone.

Johnson thinks that could happen in the next few months.

"It could be," he said. "I'm not sure how that's going to go. I think the fans, everyone including myself, would love for him or I to stay."

Houshmandzadeh is trying not to think about it.

"Regardless of what happens, I know if I'm playing with him or not, he's going to do well put in the right situation," Houshmandzadeh said. "I think he thinks the same for me. I think we'll both be all right."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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