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Well, We Wanted Change, Right?


With the decision to let wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh seek his fortune in free agency, the Cincinnati Bengals are finally delivering on the promise of change they made following the team’s 4-11-1 finish last season.

Whether it’s change for the better, or for the worse, remains to be seen.

The Bengals offense was a joke in 2008, finishing last in the league, but Houshmandzadeh and fellow tag candidate RB Cedric Benson weren’t the reason why. In fact, those two players combined for about half of the team’s total yardage last season. Now, both are counting down the days until the start of free agency.

Meanwhile, players who were part of the problem on offense last year, including Levi Jones, Chris Perry, Chris Henry, and, of course, Chad Johnson are all still hanging around. Fans can take some comfort in the fact the Bengals are apparently seeking a better center than Eric Ghaicuic, but countering that is their continued pursuit of Stacy Andrews, who didn’t exactly make anyone forget Willie Anderson last year.

Conventional wisdom is that by not tagging T.J. or Benson, the Bengals are positioning themselves for a big year in free agency. Leave it to’s Geoff Hobson to spoil that dream. Geoff whittles down the $28 million in cap space the team reportedly has to a meager $10 million or so: minus $5 million for the rookie pool (though it won’t be needed until June); minus $2-4 million for an injury reserve (though that won’t be needed until August); minus the tag for Graham and tenders for restricted free agents: $4.5-7.5 million; minus a special fund of undetermined size this year for incentives; and, finally, no mention of cap space that could (and will) be freed up in roster cuts, as happened at the end of camp last year when the team axed Anderson and Rudi Johnson and opened up nearly $10 million in cap room.

Though I have often referred to this annual process as “Hobsonizing the numbers,” I don’t really mean to bust on Geoff. He’s defended it before as simply reflecting the views of the front office, and he’s right — it does. It’s just another way the team intentionally hamstrings itself every year, and only feed fans’ suspicions that the organization is more interested in finding excuses not to spend than it is in finding a way to win.

So the more likely scenario is that the Bengals will “go to war with what they have.” Carl Pickens and Darnay Scott are long gone. T.J. and Ocho are on the verge of breaking up. Are Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell ready to step into the breach? Bengals fans can only hope.

If Benson leaves, the Bengals will have only the man he replaced, Chris Perry, and James Johnson, an undrafted free agent who played in just three games last year. “Beanie” Wells, anyone?

I didn’t think so. But it just got a bit more likely yesterday.

It will take a couple more weeks to judge just what the Bengals wrought yesterday by tagging Shayne Graham. Until then, I will simply repeat a piece of advice my mother gave me long ago: “Always expect the worst. That way, you can only be pleasantly surprised.”

I’ve found that particularly applicable to the Cincinnati Bengals.