With defensive ends Frostee Rucker and Robert Geathers going on season-ending injured reserve, and DEs Antwan Odom and Eric Henderson nursing injuries, it appears that DE/DT swingman Jonathan Fanene and DT John Thornton will be the starting ends against Baltimore this Sunday. They’ll get to go against a familiar face in Ravens right tackle Willie Anderson, who was cut by the Bengals at the end of camp when he wouldn’t take a pay cut. Anderson has since started six games for the Ravens and helped their running game improve from 16th in 2007 to 4th in 2008.
The release of Anderson typifies the front office decisions that have destroyed the Bengals’ offensive line in just three short seasons. The Bengals lost veteran center Rich Braham early in the 2006 season, but never made any attempt to find a top-tier replacement. Instead, they turned to a fourth-round pick, Eric Ghiaciuc, backed by a seventh-round selection, converted guard Dan Santucci (currently on IR). Ghiaciuc, whose rookie contract expires at the end of this season, isn’t expected to return, and the cupboard — featuring Santucci and undrafted free agent Kyle Cook, also on injured reserve — is bare.
And just as the Bengals front office cut Big Willie last summer because he wouldn’t take a pay cut from $3 million to $1 million, they lost LG Eric Steinbach, their second-round pick in 2003, to Cleveland in 2007 because they wouldn’t pay “tackle money” to a guard. Steinbach and Joe Thomas now anchor the left side of the Browns’ line. In Cincinnati, starting left tackle Levi Jones, to whom the Bengals gave a $40 million extension in 2006, has two bum knees, while starting left guard Andrew Whitworth is currently on crutches with an ankle injury. This leaves the team with a fourth-round pick at LT, Anthony Collins, and a career practice squad player, Nate Livings, at LG.
And at RT? In place of Pro Bowler Willie Anderson, the Bengals have another fourth round pick (notice a pattern here?) starting in franchise player Stacy Andrews. Fans complain, rightly, that Andrews’ play hasn’t risen to the level of his $9 million tag, but what they often miss is that the Bengals had little choice but to tag Andrews, thanks to injury losses and foolish financially driven cuts of linemen by the front office — of which the Anderson release is just the icing on the proverbial cake.
Oh, and did I mention that Andrews has declined to do a deal with the team for two years and is widely believed to want to leave for Philadelphia, where he can play with his brother Shaun? So that by cutting Anderson and franchising Andrews, the team ensured that it would have nothing but question marks at right tackle in 2009?
So when Mike Brown’s Bobo writes that “[i]t’s hard to believe this line is breaking up,” I can only laugh. No, Geoff, it isn’t hard to believe. Every Bengals fan with a functioning brainpan has been screaming for years about the Bengals’ half-assed approach to the offensive line. Most of us saw disaster looming years back, when we noticed that what passes for the Bengals’ brain trust had ordered things so that in 2007, the teams starting LT, RT and LG would all be unrestricted free agents at the same time!!! That was the root of the problem that led to the extensions of Levi and Willie in 2006 and the loss of Steinbach in 2007, from which so much of the current “breakup” flows. Throw in the Bengals’ doomed attempts to fill in holes on the cheap with day two picks and you have a perfectly predictable disaster, not a hard-to-believe one.
Of course, when I said I laughed at that declaration, I was ROTFLMAO two paragraphs later when The Bobo declared that that the team’s biggest issue heading into the offseason is…wait for it…wide receiver! Ahhhh! Teh Stupid! It burns, it burns! But sadly, this is exactly the kind of analysis that passes for thinking in the Bengals front office. See last April’s draft, when o-line was relegated to the fourth round while wide receiver got second and third round helpings. Yes, right, the Bengals’ biggest problem is wide receiver! Maybe they can sign 20 or 30 of them so we can run the all-wideout offense next year! If we put 10 wide receivers and Carson Palmer on the field, we’ll just score and score and score!
Meanwhile, we’ll just find a right tackle on the scrap heap someplace. I wonder if Rod Jones is still available…