MMQB Mailbag: Bengals' future at WR, Chris Simms' last chance, more
It sounds like the Bengals didn't draft three wide receivers last week just because of the Chad Johnson holdout and the Chris Henry firing. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis tells me there's a T.J. Houshmandzadeh element to it, too.
"T.J.'s at the end of his contract this year,'' Lewis said, "and I don't know if it's possible to re-sign him. Chad says he won't play without a trade. We just have to be prepared for anything this year, and for the future.''
Hmmm. Hadn't heard the Houshmandzadeh reference before, but it makes some sense. This is the last year of a four-year contract for Houshmandzadeh, who has been in Johnson's shadow for most of his seven years in Cincinnati. He's due to make $2.65 million, plus a $100,000 workout bonus if he accrues enough time in the Bengals' offseason program.
Few receivers can match his production over the past two years -- 202 catches, 2,224 yards, 21 touchdowns -- and he'll be 31 at the end of this season. He's missed only four games over the last four years, so injury shouldn't be a concern. Will someone be willing to pay him $10 million a year if he becomes a free agent? Probably, if he exits this year injury-free. Don't laugh. Shoot, if Javon Walker can get $27 million in the first three years of a deal with Oakland and he can't stay on the field for a season, and if the market for wideouts is weak, I could see Houshmandzadeh hitting the jackpot.
Two other things from my talk with Lewis: The Bengals wouldn't have taken the relatively unknown Jerome Simpson from Coastal Carolina in the second round if Lewis didn't think he could play a significant role as an NFL rookie. The Bengals think he's smart and ready to adapt quickly to their offensive system -- even though he had only 41 catches last season at a relatively low level of play.
And they're digging in with Chad Johnson, who says he wants out of Cincinnati after playing two seasons in a 2006 renegotiated contract with four years left (at $3 million, $4.5 million, $5 million, $6 million.
"We've made it clear what the stance is,'' Lewis said. "It's not going to change, today or in August, whenever. You cannot allow a player to get up on his high chair with four years left on his contract and demand to get out. If you do that, you set a terrible example for the rest of your team, and we won't do that.''
We'll see. Sounds like a long, hot summer in Cincinnati.
Now onto your email.
SHED NO TEARS FOR CHRIS SIMMS. From Steve Stone, of Tampa: "Please don't go out and buy a hallmark card for Chris Simms. In your MMQB article, you imply that the Bucs are doing an injustice to Simms by holding on to him and should put him out of his misery by releasing him. The local media in Tampa are hammering the Bucs and also share the same sentiment. I have a problem with this.
"The Bucs last year went out on the limb and committed millions of dollars to Simms at a time when his football playing career was in jeopardy. When the contract was signed, Simms could not even throw a football 15 yards, and received little interest from the other 31 NFL teams. The Bucs were not obligated to sign him to a multimillion dollar contract, but they did the right thing, which is seldom seen in the NFL, and paid him after he gave up his body for the team and provided him financial security. After watching Chris play while he was healthy, an argument could be made that the Bucs paid too much for his services based on his stats and performance prior to the injury.
"Now a year later, the Bucs should just release Simms after investing millions of dollars in him. Simms needs to come to training camp, fight for a roster spot, prove he is healthy and honor the contract he signed. The Bucs are doing nothing wrong by holding on to him and trying to get some return on their investment. If he proves healthy and is one of the top quarterbacks, he will either make the team or possibly be traded to a quarterback needy team.
"Peter, if misery includes the $5 million earned last year for not playing a down, please let me know what line to get into to be miserable. I would be happy to trade places with him if he has it that bad. I'm glad the Bucs are always looking to upgrade the most important position in football, which is more that I can say for some teams (see Chicago Bears). Also, can you move the Bucs down a few more spots in your rankings? The Bucs seem to play better when they get no respect from the media."
Steve, this might be the best letter in MMQB history. Well thought-out, reasoned, smart. Thanks for writing it. It caused me to re-think my opinion on the issue and look into it a little bit more. Yes, the Bucs re-signed Simms for a $3 million signing bonus and a $2 million salary in 2007 -- on Dec. 27, 2006, after Simms ruptured his spleen and there was some doubt whether he would be able to play at a high level again. If he makes the Bucs this year -- which I doubt will happen -- Simms will make $2 million in salary, plus a $1 million roster bonus. I've also learned this: The Bucs did not get an offer from any team during the draft. They've had some conversations, but no solid offers recently.
Steve, you're right -- the Bucs deserve the right to try to get something for Simms if they can. Now, I would also say this. Chris Simms has been nothing but a classy, hard-working kid for the Bucs since he was drafted, and he got a serious injury for them when he was doing everything he could to help them win. As soon as they determine they won't be able to get anything for him, and as soon as they're convinced he's got no future in Tampa, they've got to do the right thing and let him go.
PHILIP RIVERS HAS A FAN CLUB PRESIDENT. From Matt Brown, of Chico, Calif.: "How come nobody gives Philip Rivers any credit? In his two seasons as a starter, he has gone 25-7, thrown for over 6,500 yards with 43 TDs and only 24 picks. The Bolts won the AFC West both years and almost won the AFC title game in January. What gives?"
Rivers proved a lot to me last January. He's got guts. And you're right -- he's played well. I just think he needs to play at a high level five, six, seven games in a row, which isn't the easiest thing to do when your receivers are still growing into their roles and into good NFL players. My comment about Rivers was not that I don't think he can do it, but rather that I haven't seen him do it over the long haul yet.
THE GIANTS HAVE SOME REALISTIC FANS. From Joe in Selinsgrove, Pa.: "When you told the Giants fans to brace, I was expecting something like 10th or 12th. Are there really Giants fans that think, because they won a game against the Pats, that they are really the most talented team in the league? I think sixth is just about right, and they will too if the Giants start out like they did last year."
I'm impressed I didn't get the outraged emails. Usually when a team wins the Super Bowl, the fans are outraged the next year if an impartial observer says they're not among the best five teams in football the next year. Nice job, Joe.
I SEE YOU LIKE TO MAKE THINGS INTERESTING, JOHN. From John, of Charlotte: So Cincinnati, Buffalo, Denver, New York Jets, and Arizona are all better than Chicago, eh? If that happens, you will have a $100 gift card to Starbucks in the mail. If the Bears defense stays healthy, we will win 10 games. If the offense can stay out of its own way, it could be 13."
If our defense stays healthy, we will win 10 games. Lots of teams can make that claim, John. Injuries happen, and they've happened to crucial Bears, like Mike Brown and to a much lesser degree Brian Urlacher, over the past few years. It's not the defense I was referring to Monday. I just don't think this team can sustain enough offense to be a winning team right now.
SHAME ON WHOEVER IS MARKETING 'GOSSIP GIRL': From Rick Fields, of St. Helens, Ore.: "Regarding that billboard in Times Square, if it is for "Gossip Girl," remember the audience for said show is primarily tweens and teens, which makes the ad campaign all the more reprehensible."
Couldn't have said it better. That billboard was the most disgraceful thing I've seen on Times Square -- ever. And that's really saying something.
THE ANSWER IS SIMPLE, RICK. From Rick, of Lemont, Ill.: "Why does the national media constantly focus on Chicago's QB position? You guys are obsessed with it. The Bears have the best special teams in football. Our defense, when healthy (granted, always a question mark with Mike Brown), is top 10. In fact, basically the same team we have now went to the Super Bowl in 2005. I have lived through Bobby Douglass, Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krentzel, Henry Burris ... and for better or worse Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton are better than them and 85 percent of the QBs we have had here in the past 35 years."
We constantly focus on it because a competent quarterback is necessary to win in January in the NFL. The Bears need a competent quarterback. Grossman hasn't shown consistent competency. Nor has Orton. If either quarterback does this year, the Bears will be better than I think. But I doubt either of them will be.
I DON'T SEE IT HAPPENING, BRANDON. From Brandon, of Philadelphia: "What do you think the Eagles chances are of packaging one of their first-round picks and Lito Sheppard for a big time WR like Chad Johnson, Anquan Boldin or Roy Williams? Would any of those teams be interested in that deal? It seems to me all three of those teams could use a good young CB and who wouldn't like having an extra first-round pick? Philly needs to get Donovan McNabb some help while he can still play at a high level, don't you think?"
It makes sense, except for one thing: Sheppard wants a new contract. He's missed 14 games in the past three games due to injury. I don't know a team that's going to pay the Eagles something significant plus sign an injury risk for $7 million a year. My feeling is Sheppard will shuffle in as the third corner for the Eagles in 2008.