I've seen the comments. Most of you are angry, and some of that is certainly warranted. We saw a Bengal we all loved leave today. I know everyone wants to blame Mikey. It's the natural thing to do. Hell, it's basically a Pavlovian reflex at this point to blame him for anything that goes wrong with the Bengals (we've had 18 years of classical conditioning after all). This certainly seems to be same-old same-old from Bengals management.
I'm on the record stating my opinion that TJ should have been tagged. My reasoning was that the team could get a 2nd rounder for him in the 2009 draft if they had his rights, as opposed to the 3rd round compensatory pick in the 2010 draft that would likely be a result of TJ leaving in free agency. However, looking at the events of the last week, I may have overjudged TJ's value. Matt Cassel, a young quarterback who is a potential franchise guy, was worth a high 2nd (Mike Vrabel was involved as well, but was basically a throw-in, as it's believed he would have been released). Kellen Winslow, who is a similar player to TJ (he's not nearly as good but is younger) commanded a 2nd and what is likely a 5th. Would the Seahawks have given their own high 2nd for a 32 year old wideout? Doubtful. Maybe the Vikings would have caved, but giving up a high draft pick AND signing an aging wideout to a big time deal isn't exactly palpitable. At this point, I think it's safe to say it would have been difficult to get anything significantly better than the 2010 compensatory pick we'll get anyways.
So, maybe not franchising him wasn't that bad of a call anyways. Maybe letting him hit the market was the right call. How did Mikey-Boy play it from there? Surprisingly, pretty well. The team reportedly made a big push to get him signed right before he hit the market, at Carson's behest. TJ opted to become a free agent, which was perfectly reasonable. I've seen a myriad of reports on what the Bengals offered TJ (anywhere from 4 years/$28M to 5 years/$38M), but none quite matched the 5 year/$40M/$15.5M guaranteed deal he eventually got. TJ said he'd take the biggest offer, and it's hard to begrudge a guy for that. On top of that, he's a West Coast guy. All you can do in this situation is figure out what your maximum offer will be. If someone tops it, wish the guy well and move on. You won 4 games with TJ, you can surely win 4 without him.
The easy thing to say is that, given the fact TJ was going to take the money, Mikey Boy should have offered more. To be perfectly honest, I have no qualms not giving TJ the money he got from Seattle. There's been a lot of talk about an uncapped year and the salary cap possibly even going away. However, no team, outside of possibly Washington, is signing players to contracts under the assumption they won't have to deal with the cap in the future. It's highly unlikely the cap goes away for good. Knowing that, giving a non-quarterback the kind of money TJ got at his age isn't a wise move under the cap. If you're going to give out big deals in free agency, you want to give them to guys who have yet to reach their peak. At 32, we've seen the best TJ has to offer, and he's likely to get worse each and every year of that deal. Even The Hardest Man Alive can't stop time.
Believe me, it hurts me to see TJ go. It's hard to believe the guy my friends and I called "Douchemandzadeh" after he dropped seemingly every other punt in 2001 turned into such a stellar player. I remember 2004. I wondered how the team would survive Peter Warrick sidelined (now I wonder how I can even type that). TJ filled the role past my wildest dreams.
I remember 2005. He was such a vital cog to that team. I was at the playoff game against Pittsburgh. When Carson was hurt, during the TV timeout while he lay on the ground, two Bengals went on to the field to fight anyone dressed in those hideous yellow pants. I'm not joking, they literally had to be restrained. One, strangely enough, was Chris Perry. The other was TJ. I remember him catching a touchdown in that game to make the score 17-7. He immidetely spiked the ball as hard as humanly possible and starting jawing with every Steeler on the field. I swear to God, he would have fought every single one of them on the spot. At that point, I knew two things. First, TJ Houshmandzadeh is comptely insane. The other is that I loved him for it.
I remember 2006. TJ missed the first two games, both Bengal wins. The third game was in Pittsburgh. In the fourth, TJ scored two touchdowns in the span of about 30 seconds, the 2nd coming off one of the best catches I've ever seen. Off his helmet, off his shoulder pads, into his hands, and still somehow got both feet down. Wiping his feet with a Terrible Towel. I repeat: wiping his feet with a Terrible Towel.
All this is to say it sucks to lose a player we all love. I'm not saying Mikey isn't to blame for the last 18 years of futility, or that he's an acceptable general manager. Still, he may have got this one right. After all, even a blind squirrel can find a nut.