Saturday, March 8, 2008

After a Loooong Hiatus...

I found a story that intrigued me and figured I'd give some of my thoughts. It's from the NFL and is about the ongoing soap opera that is my hometown team (from a while ago), the Cincinnati Bengals. This story is about an incident that may have involved Pro-Bowler WR, Chad Johnson, and Head Coach Marvin Lewis. The supposed incident "may" have happened 2 seasons ago in the playoffs, when the Bengals played in the 1st round against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Many Bengals remember this game as the one that could have been. The Bengals took the divisional crown from the Steelers that regular season and lost in the 1st round the eventual Super Bowl champs. Had Carson Palmer not been knocked out of the game on the 1st snap, and put out of commission for 6 months with a torn ACL, the Bengals arguably would have advanced. But that's a big "What-If". This story concerns Chad Johnson's altercation with his head coach though. The accusation against Chad was that he struck Marvin Lewis' head around the eye. This story is huge to me and should be to other Bengals fans as well considering Chad is the 2nd most dynamic, if not 1st, player on Cincinnati (Carson Palmer is #1) and Marvin Lewis is the supposed genius that turned around this franchise that was in the pits for about a decade.

I have loved Chad Johnson since he entered the NFL. He seemed like a good-natured, fun-loving athlete who was a key component in turning around the Bengals franchise. Not only that, but he also had the support of most critics, many of whom hate on Randy Moss and Terrell Owens all the time, those two being 2 of the most flamboyant wide receivers in the game, still. Chad always backed up his trash talk and media gathering attention and produced when it counted - on Sundays. The past couple of season however, it seemed that the self-dubbed "Ocho-Cinco" was starting to get negative attention on a franchise that was full of them. I don't need to remind you of the multiple arrests of many players on that team. Johnson was generally one of the guys that avoided that bad attention though. Then it leaked that he was butting heads with All-Pro starting QB Carson Palmer and subsequently, the trade rumors began to mount. Johnson out of Cincy? I personally was hoping it was all just a rumor. Things died down again as the Bengals were bumped from the playoff picture for the 2nd season in a row. It seemed like the team that was once up and coming was backtracking. This team with all the talent just couldn't get it together, so I couldn't really blame the media for stirring up controversy in the form of trade rumors. It would seem like the team needed to head in a different direction, even if fans like myself loved the personalities on this team. The leader, gun-slinging QB that is Carson Palmer, the quiet solid halfback in Rudi Johnson and the flamboyant, sometimes crazily outspoken star wideout in Chad Johnson. I could accept a change in this team, but with these allegations against Chad, something doesn't seem right. Now I believe that the Bengals must move someone and that someone has to be Chad Johnson. From a team perspective, clearly many of these players don't have the direction and maturity to play with one-another, which means they aren't going to win a title with this nucleus anyways. From a strategic standpoint, the team is built around offense, and it's been quite clear that you need a strong defense to win a title in the NFL. You keep your quarterback, but all other pieces are expendable. Chad Johnson needs to be moved because amidst the media playing him out to be one of the better WR's in the league, the way I see it, receivers who attract attention to themselves, are not great teammates. Guys like Marvin Harrison, and more recently Randy Moss, are soft-spoken and have that great talent. With those two attributes, you help your team on the field and keep everyone humble. There are 52 players on a football team and if one guys gets all the spotlight, ala Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson, the team chemistry is clearly not at a premium. I honestly don't care if the rumors are true or not, the fact that a story like this about your star player is believable means he needs to go, especially on a team where character is already a joke around the league.

I also need to comment on Marvin Lewis' side of the story. This man was brought in a coach of a bad team. He surprisingly turned it around far quicker than anyone could have imagined and made the correct and gutsy move to go with Carson Palmer after Jon Kitna had an All-Pro season. The man was loved for that move. Cincinnati was nothing without him and now many people have hope to make a run in the playoffs season after season. My question is: How can you keep a coach that was brought in as a previous defensive coordinator who can't break the top 20 in the league for defense? Also, how can you keep a coach that can't keep his players from getting arrested? A coach is supposed to be the leader and genius of a team. Marvin Lewis changed around a team that had a ton of talent on offense and doesn't seem to give a crap on defense. He got the team to the playoffs after a decade long drought. All that is good and dandy, but no coach should be immune to getting fired unless he's won multiple Super Bowls or is clearly the man for the job. Lewis is neither at this point. He's gotten this team as far as he's been able to (11-5 and a 1st round exit) and his time is now done. He and the Bengals both need to move on before Carson Palmer realizes that his time to win is thinning. Palmer's entering the prime of his career, now 5 seasons in, and he's the building block. Someone else needs to be brought in to fix that defense and cut all of the malcontents on this team, and there are quite a few. The team isn't going anywhere in the AFC as is and the 1st step in a positive direction would be to fire Lewis (or get him to "resign") and trade Chad Johnson while he still has value. PLEASE don't let the fans of the Cincinnati keep holding out false hope.