|Taking QB Andy Dalton in the 2011 Draft was another of the Bengals' recent successful moves. (Getty Images)|
Chad Ochocinco's release doesn't say as much about the former Pro Bowl wide receiver as it does the team that let him go, and I'm not talking about New England. I'm talking about the Cincinnati Bengals.
Basically, it makes them look like geniuses.
It's not that often you use that description in connection with Cincinnati and owner Mike Brown, but in the last year the Bengals took so many smart pills they've set themselves up as one of the AFC's fastest ascending teams and a club to watch for years.
Let us count the ways.
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First of all, they had the good sense to cut their losses with coach-killer Terrell Owens. Then they found their franchise quarterback (Andy Dalton) and franchise wide receiver (A.J. Green) in the same draft. They followed that with one of the shrewdest trades in years, gaining first-and-second round draft picks for a quarterback (Carson Palmer) who wouldn't play for them again, then turned the first-rounder into one of the top guards (Kevin Zeitler) in this year's draft.
But it gets better. Cincinnati not only gained two high draft choices for Palmer; it gained the guy who swung the deal, too. Hue Jackson, who coached the Raiders last season, returns as a Bengals' assistant this year.
"Everything we touch seems to turn to gold," said one source close to the team.
That's one way of putting it. Another is that the Cincinnati Bengals ... yes, the Cincinnati Bengals ... are making all the right moves, and it's about time.
"It's unbelievable," said Ken Broo, sports director at Cincinnati's WLWT NBC 5. "I think there are two things at work: Mike Brown is a very patient man, and this new collective bargaining agreement that makes draft picks a priority over free agents seems to play right into his hands. It took him 20 years, but it's like he's finally woken up."
Granted, the Bengals lost Cedric Benson, their most productive running back. But they replaced him with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, a guy who didn't produce the yards that Benson did but did produce the touchdowns -- 24, to be exact, in the past two seasons.
But that's not what I like most about that move. This is: He doesn't make mistakes. The guy hasn't fumbled once in four seasons in the NFL. Benson fumbled 12 times in the past two years.
"He's a perfect fit for the division," said Bengals.com writer Geoff Hobson. "The Bengals have had good statistics, but they haven't been able to get the yards when they need them -- like short-yardage and goal-line situations and when they have the lead."
Well, now they might.
They also stole free-agent safety Reggie Nelson out from under the New York Jets, and, yeah, I know, Nelson was re-signed. But the Jets thought he was ticketed for them before Cincinnati jumped in at the last minute and made him an offer he couldn't refuse.
Not stopping there, the Bengals plugged a hole at guard with the addition of veteran Travelle Wharton. Then they strengthened themselves at cornerback, a position crippled last year by the loss of Leon Hall, with the draft of highly touted Dre Kirkpatrick.
This year's draft wasn't just good. It was one of the best out there, with the Bengals finding value in nearly every round, including defensive tackle Devon Still in the second round, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu in the third and tight end Charles Orson in the fourth.
I guess what I'm saying is that these are not your daddy's Cincinnati Bengals. Where there is controversy elsewhere there is none here. Where there are contract problems elsewhere there are none here. Where there were 19 players who didn't make the Ravens' final OTA session, there was no one missing in Cincinnati.
"This has been the year of the oasis," said Hobson. "But it's something that's been building. It really started in '08 when they cut three Pro Bowl players on the same day -- Willie Anderson, Deltha O'Neal and Rudi Johnson -- and was accelerated by the fact that Carson [Palmer] had a bad elbow that year. So they had to start over. And when they did, they had that surprising year in '09, and, really, that's been the template since."
The Bengals have been to the playoffs two of the past three years, and get used to it. This is a team that will squeeze Pittsburgh and Baltimore at the top of the AFC North. I know, they didn't beat either a year ago. But they reached the postseason, and that was with a rookie quarterback throwing to a rookie wide receiver, with a rookie offensive coordinator calling the shots.
That's why I mention the Ochocinco trade. In and of itself, it's no big deal. Except it's a reflection of what's going on in Cincinnati, and what's going on is the unthinkable: Mike Brown and Co. look as if they finally get it.
When they gave up on Ochocinco, we all nodded and said, "Perfect. Another fleece job by Bill Belichick." Except it wasn't. Ochocinco never picked up the offense, and the Patriots got virtually nothing out of him. So they let him go. Except before making the move, they tested the trade market and found no takers -- less than a year after they sacrificed two draft picks for the guy.
Hmmm, I don't know, but someone sure looks smart there, and it's not New England.
Look, if the situation were reversed, and it was the Patriots who dumped Ochocinco on the Bengals, we'd either be extolling the genius of Bill Belichick or shredding Brown and the Bengals for another stupid exercise. Except these Bengals aren't making dumb moves. They're making smart ones, and I don't know how far it takes them. I just know it's made them a franchise you can't ignore.
Not anymore you can't.