It was announced yesterday that the Cincinnati Bengals were likely not going to place the franchise tag on receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. This added with the team’s inability to sign the one-time league receptions champ to a long-term deal makes it all the more likely he will be hitting the open market at the start of free agency on Feb. 27.
He will no doubt be one of the hottest commodities of this year’s market, and if Jerry Angelo doesn’t make the Chicago Bears the hottest pursuer in the Houshmandzadeh sweepstakes, he is making a critical mistake.
I’ll start by stating the obvious that he just makes the offense better. Not just because he is far more talented than any of their current receivers, but because he instantly increases the value of several other players on Chicago’s offensive roster. As much as I loved the progression of Devin Hester as a receiver, he will never be a No. 1 wideout in the NFL.
But could he be a viable No. 2? I say yes, and putting a receiver of Housh’s caliber opposite him will only speed up his progress.
He makes the Tight End duo of Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark more effective because if there’s a receiver who actually possesses a threat on the field at all times, it forces teams to cover the duo with Linebackers, creating favorable mismatches in the Bears’ favor.
He makes Matt Forte by preventing teams from stacking the box against him, creating more favorable running lanes for the all world running back.
Most importantly, he makes Kyle Orton better. I know that several people feel that Orton is a problem and the Bears need an instant upgrade at the Quarterback position. Are they’re better QB’s than K.O? Certainly. Will the Bears find a better one in the offseason? I don’t see it.
The top two free agent prospects at this position seem to be Jeff Garcia and Byron Leftwhich. The former is 39 years old, while the latter has likely suffered 39 broken bones in the time I have taken to write this.
Admittedly Orton had some breakdowns mentally at the end of last season, but I trust him more on the field with T.J Houshmandzadeh than I do the above mentioned quarterbacks with the Bears current rag-tag receiving core.
I have also heard rumblings that some would like to see the Bears deal for newly franchised Patriots Quarterback Matt Cassel. While he was undeniable impressive in an almost impossible situation last season, I don’t think one good year merits trading away two first round picks to get him.
Plus, playing with Marty Booker and Rashied Davis isn’t exactly playing with Randy Moss and Wes Welker.
The one downside to going after free agencies top receiver is that it offers less cash flow to upgrade the Bears’ other glaring weakness; their pass rush. As it stands, there are some enticing names out there that could offer increased productivity in getting after opposing quarterbacks. Most notably, Terrell Suggs and Julius Peppers.
While the idea of one of these two extraordinary talents playing in Chicago is exciting, it don’t think it offers as sure fire a solution to that particular problem as adding Houshmandzadeh would to the offense.
Suggs (who is more than likely going to stay in Baltimore anyway) has excelled when playing in a 3-4 system, while Peppers has said that he wants to move to a team that plays the 3-4, making him more likely to sign with a team that employs this style as opposed to the Bears' Tampa Two. While the pass rush absolutely has to improve, I think the draft is a better place to find more instant results
As I watched Andre Johnson almost single handily ruin the Bears playoff hopes in week 17, I thought to myself, “man, think of the damage the Bears could do if they only had a receiver of that caliber.”
While Houshmandzadeh is not the dominate force that Johnson is, he has proven to be a big time talent that has produced big numbers in arguably the most unstable organization in the NFL.
And while playing with Kyle Orton is a definite downgrade from Carson Palmer, I can only imagine that a player of his skill would welcome a change of scenery, and I think Chicago would be a great fit.
Despite their problems, the Bears were a disastrous 11 seconds in Atlanta away from getting into the playoffs last season. As it stands, next season could either lead to a return to the postseason, or could end in a floundering 5-11 or 6-10 type year. This is a critical offseason in many ways, and solidifying the receiving core absolutely has to be done.
I think taking a stab at T.J Houshmandzadeh would prove to be a great first step, if Jerry Angelo is truly committed to doing everything needed to get this team back into the postseason.