Bengals Land WR Bryant

Steve O Speak

The Cincinnati Bengals filled a big hole yesterday with the signing of the top unrestricted free agent wideout, Antonio Bryant. The Bengals, who won the AFC North last season, had the league’s 26th ranked passing attack, despite having a good quarterback (Carson Palmer) and a top receiver (Chad Ochocinco). Adding weapons to their passing attack was a top priority this offseason, after the death of Chris Henry last year, and the release of Laveranues Coles. Bryant was one of two legitimate starting receivers on the market, with Terrell Owens being the other one. While T.O. might have been considered the better option by some, Bryant is the safer and more sure bet. Owens is on his last legs and did see his numbers drop off some last season (though being in Buffalo probably had a lot to do with that). At best, he probably has two good years left in the league, whereas Bryant is still in his prime and should have no problem playing at a high level for his entire four-year contract.

Some people might say the Bengals overpaid Bryant who has been wildly inconsistent throughout his career. Since they paid him roughly what the Ravens paid Anquan Boldin after they traded for him, 4 years at $28 million. Yes $7 million a year sounds pricey, but you have to remember Nate Burleson got $5 million a year (with a good bit guaranteed). If Burleson is worth $ 5 million a year, you’ve got to pay Bryant $7 million a year. And while I’ll fully admit Bryant hasn’t been an elite receiver, and had his share of issues, labeling him as inconsistent is a bit unfair. Bryant has not exactly been blessed with being apart of good offenses.

Since Bryant entered the league in 2002, here is the list of starting quarterbacks throwing him the ball:

Dallas: 2002: Chad Hutchinson, Quincy Carter, 2003: Quincy Carter, 2004: Vinny Testaverde* (played 5 games with Dallas before trade)

Cleveland: 2004: Jeff Garcia, Luke McNown, Kelly Holcomb, 2005: Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye

San Francisco: 2006: Alex Smith

Tampa Bay: 2008: Jeff Garcia, Brian Griese, 2009: Byron Leftwich, Josh Johnson, Josh Freeman

That is not exactly an ‘A list’ of NFL quarterbacks. In fact some of those names wouldn’t make a ‘Z list’ if it existed. Bryant’s two best years (which should come as no surprise) were when he had solid veterans (Dilfer and Garcia) throwing to him the majority of the time. People try to knock him for his production slipping to half of what it was in 2008, but seem to forget the MAJOR drop off between Jeff Garcia and Josh Johnson and Josh Freeman. In addition to playing with bad quarterback situations, Bryant has routinely been (far and away) the best receiver on his team (with the exception of his early years in Dallas). Also, Bryant’s teams have for the most part had awful ground games (exception of Frank Gore) putting more pressure on the quarterback, and more safety help deep. Despite playing on some anemic offenses, Bryant has 372 career catches and 5685 yards. He has averaged 15.3 yards per catch, and 3.5 catches and 53.6 yards per game. The per game numbers are a bit deceiving since he didn’t start all of those games, so those numbers should be a bit higher.

Now Bryant isn’t without his issues. Vocal fights with coaches got him sent out of both Dallas and San Francisco. And while he’s not considered a ‘bad’ teammate he has been somewhat of a distraction in most of his stops. Bryant was also suspended from the league for substance abuse, though that was later thrown out without a real explanation. He has rebuilt his reputation in Tampa, and was a big reason for their success in 2008. He didn’t have any major locker room or coach issues and has obviously stayed clean since returning to the league.

All-in-all Bryant has shown himself to be a quality receiver in the NFL capable of stretching the field, and giving smaller corner backs problems with his size and strength. Cincinnati is a good fit for Bryant because it gives him the three things he’s never had, a quality running game, a good quarterback and a top notch option opposite him. This is a win-win scenario for both sides here. Bryant finally has a team around him, and the Bengals have another weapon to expand their passing game this season. Now if Cincinnati can add a quality tight end, in the draft or through trade, they will have an offense to make a Super Bowl run.

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