Aside from the usual crop of free agents, there are a number of current Bengals who may not be wearing orange-and-black come next fall. Here’s a rundown of players on the bubble.
Chris Perry. A first-round pick in 2004, Perry has appeared in just 35 games in five seasons. At the beginning of the 2008 season, the Bengals cut Rudi Johnson and handed Perry the starting job. He responded by gaining just 253 rushing yards in six starts, and was benched for Bears castoff Cedric Benson. By season’s end, he would be outrushed by not just Benson, but No. 2 QB Ryan Fitzpatrick as well. Already, sources are saying that Perry is a goner. It says here those sources are right.
Eric Henderson. Despite a standout performance at Georgia Tech, Henderson went undrafted in 2006 due to injury concerns which have, indeed, dogged him into the pros. After spending all of ’06 on the practice squad transitioning to linebacker, he suffered a season-ending wrist injury during the 2007 preseason. With the change in defensive coordinators after 2007, Henderson was sent back to defensive end. He began 2008 on the practice squad, was called up to the active roster October 24 due to injuries at DE, and lasted 11 whole days before suffering a season-ending neck injury. Overall, Henderson has appeared in just two games in three seasons.
Chris Henry. Bengals owner Mike Brown brought Henry back last summer against the wishes of head coach Marvin Lewis. For his troubles, Brown got 12 games, 19 catches, 220 yards and 2 TDs out of Henry. At the end of the season, Henry promised to stay out of trouble. Asked about his status, Lewis would say only that Henry was under contract. Given Brown’s support for the troubled Henry, he’s likely to return, but at the same time it seems clear that there remain no love lost between Henry and Lewis. If Henry fouls up again, he’s unlikely to find a friend in either the head coach or the owner.
Dexter Jackson. The one-time Super Bowl MVP will turn 32 next September, and hasn’t played a complete season since 2003. In three years with Cincinnati, he’s missed 19 games, including 13 in 2008. Prior to the season, it was a toss-up as to whether he or 2007 seventh-round pick Chinedum Ndukwe would win the starting strong safety job, but Ndukwe hurt his foot in camp and missed all of preseason as well as the first game, handing the competition to Jackson. When Jackson got hurt in week 2, Ndukwe returned to man the SS spot, and kept the job when Jackson came back in the seventh game (Dexter was switched to FS). If the Bengals succeed in signing Chris Crocker, Jackson is unlikely to return.
Chad Johnson. There’s no danger that Ocho Cinco will be released, but he could be traded if the Bengals decide in favor of a youth movement at wide receiver. It says here that such a trade is unlikely. Last year, Mike Brown refused to deal Chad even for one definite and one possible first-round pick — and with his down, injured season in 2008, Johnson’s value has only declined.
Levi Jones. An elite LT back during the 2005 playoff run, Jones has spent the last three seasons falling apart before fans’ dismayed eyes. Jones has missed 15 games over the last three seasons, largely due to various knee injuries. His attitude has also gone downhill. In 2007, he accused the team’s training staff of screwing up his rehab in spring camps, and spent training camp complaining that he had unfairly lost his job (temporarily, to Andrew Whitworth) due to injury. When the Bengals put him back in in week 3 against Kansas City, he got abused for 3 sacks by Jared Allen before being benched. In the ’08 offseason, he requested and was denied a trade. Being in the middle of a six-year, $40 million extension he signed in 2006 may be all that saves Jones from the axe, as Brown is always reluctant to take that kind of a loss on a player.
Reggie Kelly. The veteran tight end turns 32 next month, and while he had an average year receiving in 2008, Kelly is known primarily as a blocking TE. However, Cincinnati’s running game was dead for most of the year and Kelly was responsible for the biggest blown blitz pickup of the season, allowing the hit that took out Carson Palmer’s elbow. He goes into 2009 in the final year of a three-year, $9 million deal that Palmer had to talk both Kelly and the front office into. Between Ben Utecht, younger journeyman Nate Lawrie and project Matt Sherry, a sixth-round pick last year, Kelly could get caught in a numbers/money crunch at the TE position.
Kenny Watson. Backup RB Watson has been with Cincinnati for six seasons and will turn 31 in March. He rushed for more than 700 yards in 2007, but was dinged up in 2008 and had just 13 carries for 55 yards in 10 games. With the Bengals chasing Benson as their new “bell-cow” back, and undrafted rookie James Johnson showing some flash in the final four games — 9 carries for 29 yards, and 6 catches for 47, after getting the call from the practice squad — Watson could get his ticket punched if the Bengals, as expected, take a running back at some point in next April’s draft.