In my mind, only TO two narratives explain the signing and they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The first, and most popular as far as I can tell, is this:
Turns out Bryant's knee still remains a disaster and the Bengals signed TO out of desperation since they do not think they have the guy they need.
Just google "Antonio Bryant Bengals" and you'll see what I mean. The second, which I really don't hear at all is:
The Bengals have (or at least, believe they do) all the pieces in place except for the passing game, which last excelled with a three headed monster (Chad, TJ & Henry). They liked TO enough to bring him in for a workout earlier but thought Bryant was a better fit. TO's price dropped enough that they realized they might be able to create the three headed monster again. With the one year nature of TO and the potential lockout looming after this year, they made the move to win now.
According to virtually everyone whose job relates to football (journalists and agent Drew Rosenhaus even), and who know much more than me, the first narrative is the truth. I actually never even considered the first narrative until yesterday when I kept reading things like this from Ross Tucker of CNNSI:
Antonio Bryant's knee is a serious concern for the Bengals. There is simply no other explanation for why they would even want T.O. in the first place. Not only do they already have Chad Ochocinco entrenched as the No. 1 receiving option, but they have invested three draft picks on receiver (3rd-round or higher) in the last three years.
This really bothers me and not just because I can easily think of another explanation (it's fucking TO - for 2 million bucks). It bothers me because a side effect of this signing has been a kind of public questioning of Bryant as a viable WR. We need some actual clarification because this is a very big deal if true. Some possible explanations for why this whole Bryant thing seems like it's totally out of nowhere to me:
- The Bengals really botched their evaluation of Bryant when they worked him out this off season before signing him and tried to hide it til now
- Journalists are just trying to come up with an explanation/angle for the signing and this seems like the most obvious
- I am dangerously out of touch with what's going on (it's probably this)
As I recall during free agency mania, the Bengal worked out both Bryant and TO on back to back days (the same day?). They then chose Bryant. Presumably because, in part, he had a better workout even when his knee was worse off. So what changed since then? Bryant should only have gotten healthier, right?
I dug through archives since minicamp of Joe Reedy's blog. Not really any huge red flags that his knee would be a problem, just a general "can he come back to full strength from knee problems last year" type thing. Okay fine. But that is not new information. It is mentioned that Bryant sat out the last day of minicamps but the reason was described as "mainly veteran's rest." Otherwise, all I saw was a casual mention that "Antonio Bryant and Adam Jones continued to look good."
Again, what specifically changed since minicamp to Bryant's heath that made a TO signing so much more urgent?
Anyway, I don't get it. The first report I can dig up on the media audit trail comes from Chris Mortensen on twitter here. It's from the 23rd of July. A whopping 5 days ago. Where has all this talk of Bengals concern and the coaches being "lukewarm" been until now?
The second narrative always made more sense to me. It even did that oh so rare thing: put the Bengals in a positive light - they went out and spent money to win now. The Bryant speculation changes that.
Still, it seems to me the Bengals may have had interest in TO all along but just took a gamble that his price would drop. An interview with Brad Johansen did indeed confirm this signing appeared to be indepedent of Bryant's health. Perhaps concerns of Bryant's knee did indeed make the pursuit of TO all the more urgent (it wouldn't surprise me to find out the Bengals cut corners on their research on Bryant's health). But I still think trying to win now, despite the Bengals history of ineptitude, actually makes more sense and doesn't require revisionist history of concerns about Bryant's health that apparently were known all along.
Anyway, I gotta think Bryant feels pretty shitty about all this speculation (really? talk of cutting Bryant? really?) Particularly if it is just speculation. I guess we'll find out at training camp soon enough. And even if TO does provide insurance, it's just for this year and is not a long term answer.
Update: the Bengals, rightly so, are trying to counteract the injury story line, which needs to be killed if it is false