The Cincinnati Bengals have always been a team willing to take a chance on players with character concerns. Before his tragic death, Chris Henry was a young man turning his life around.
Chad Ochocinco is a one-man media circus; Rey Maualuga dropped from a mid-first round prospect to the Bengals laps in the second round partly for character concerns.
Larry Johnson burned most of Kansas City’s bridges; and Cedric Benson was cast out of Chicago as a major bust.
The team’s ‘island of misfit players’ persona spilled into their shoulder-chipped attitude that allowed the Bengals to surprise pundits with an unexpected first-place finish in the tough AFC North.
It did not translate late however, as the team seemed to run out of steam as the year closed. Its 7-2 start closed with a 10-6 record and an early playoff exit.
Yet for a team that would seem to be on the cusp of a very optimistic future, the Bengals seem to be taking their acceptance of character-issue players to a new level.
Granted, his catching Cincinnati’s eye is mere rumor, yet even that should be something the Bengals would wish to dispel.
Donte Stallworth is equally still conjecture at this point, and brings far less divisiveness than Owens. In his own way though, Stallworth carries more baggage than the showboating Owens.
Stallworth missed 2009 due to a DUI-related homicide that landed Stallworth in prison and pondering if he would be allowed to return to football.
More concrete would be a pair of troubled Joneses. Former Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Matt Jones signed a one-year, $700,000 contract while ex Cowboy Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones was worked out by the team.
The 26-year-old Matt Jones did not play the 2009 season after repeated legal issues culminating in an arrest for cocaine possession caused him to be cut from the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Despite a promising 2008 season where Jones pulled in 65 catches for 761, his off-field concerns were deemed too great for any team to want to chance signing him to play in the past season.
Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones, were he to be signed, carries with him enough baggage to make the Bengals newest wide receiver appear spotless.
Jones was suspended in 2007, and followed it up with a disappointing 2008 campaign with the Dallas Cowboys before finding himself out of work in 2009.
What makes his workout surprising is that, unlike Matt Jones, Pacman Jones went into his hiatus with little reason for optimism.
Jones appears to be a dynamic player who was on the downswing, barely shaking 2007’s rust before a missed 2009 applied a fresh coat.
So what does it all mean for Cincinnati? One school of thought would be encouraged, noting that the Bengals are proving they are not content to stand still and rest on the success of 2009.
That said, it also tells of a team very eager to find its way to budget success. Cincinnati needs depth at wide receiver and cornerback, but the approach they are taking is volatile.
While one possible character-flaw signing leaves itself to a team’s personal philosophy, rolling the dice on several at once could be a recipe for disaster.
The team found the right balance among its unusual blend of personalities for the bulk of 2009. They also have underachieved for several years prior due heavily to being less than cohesive through the years. With the wrong player fitting in, the team could be setting itself up for disaster.
If Cincinnati wants to avoid a downturn for the 2010 season it needs to maintain unity. Hiring Matt Jones is warranted because of the potential he showed the year prior, but the team must avoid falling into the trap of cheap, easy players, and let Pacman stay sidelined for 2010.