The Cincinnati Bengals will never be successful under current ownership and leadership. Why? They lack any content to their character. Owner Mike Brown, after publicly parting ways with one of the NFL’s true miscreants, disgraced receiver Chris Henry, welcomed him right back on Tuesday with a new two-year contract. Head coach Marvin Lewis - who just as publicly said Henry was through as a Bengal - played the ever compliant head coach just trying to hang on to his valueless job.
For both Brown and Lewis, there isn’t enough Lava soap in existence to wash away the stink of this decision.
Henry has been the poster child for all of the problems that have plagued the Bengals off the field. He’s been arrested five separate times, the most recent of which was just last March when he punched a college kid and then broke the kid’s car window with a beer bottle. The charges were dropped, but it doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. It was that incident that finally caused both Brown and Lewis to sever ties with Henry, though there was plenty of prior justification.
Of course, that was March, and no football games are played in March. It was an easy decision to make. Training camp was still four months away. The college draft hadn’t yet taken place. There was still plenty of time to juggle the roster and find a way to replace a semi-talented receiver whose only real accomplishment to date has been the record pace at which he seems to find criminal trouble.
Then August beckoned. Chad Johnson, who ultimately reported to camp after threatening not to (he should have listened to his incredibly verbose inner monologue), injured his shoulder in a preseason game against Detroit. T.J. Houshmanzadeh, the Bengals’ other go-to receiver, has missed both of the Bengals’ preseason games with a sore hamstring. That’s left the Bengals a little thin at receiver, which is kind of a problem in an offense that is based predominately on the throwing arm of quarterback Carson Palmer.
Thus did Brown, after much soul-searching no doubt, place a call to Henry. It wasn’t as if Henry needed call waiting on his cell phone to make sure Brown could get through. Henry has been unemployed since March. Not a single NFL team was even interested, which may be due in part to the fact that Henry has been suspended for the first four regular season games. Naturally, Brown felt that with that kind of competition for Henry’s services a two-year deal made sense.
Though he went along with the Henry signing, it was also pretty clear that Lewis wasn’t particularly pleased with this latest turn of events. Perhaps it’s too romantic of a notion to think that Lewis would have taken a stand for doing the right thing instead of the convenient thing, but it’s not as if he's sitting in the catbird seat of the NFL’s best head coaching gig either. If anything, Lewis resigning in protest would have done more for furthering his career than another wasted season in Cincinnati babysitting a roster full of whiners, loudmouths and troublemakers.
Lewis knows full well that what’s been plaguing the Bengals most the last few seasons is the collection of reprobates that Brown has allowed on the roster. With the number of off-the-field incidents permeating this team in the past, the focus has been everywhere but on the game. It gets a little irritating, not to mention distracting, for decent teammates to be constantly asked whether another teammate’s arrest is distracting. That’s why Lewis was so adamant in parting with Henry in the first place. It was Henry above anyone else that represented the Bengals of old. Lewis thought he was finally entering a season fresh.
But Brown, as poor an example to a father’s legacy as one can imagine, felt he knew better. Fascinated with the past and completely unable to imagine a decent future, in one sublime move he emasculated his head coach, reintroduced a cancer into the locker room, and ensured another season of jokes directed at a franchise that’s known far more for its buffoonery than its accomplishments.
Perhaps recognizing that he had just been thrown under a bus driven by his owner, Lewis did try to put the best face on it he could, telling reporters on Tuesday that in conversations Henry claims to have been humbled by the time off and the lack of interest in his rather modest services. Henry, too, tried his best to sound contrite while oozing smarm and instead came off as a textbook thug being given the fifth chance he doesn’t deserve.
In one unintentionally telling comment, Henry said that this was “pretty much” his last chance to prove himself. In player-speak, what Henry really meant was that as long as he can show that he hasn’t lost a step or two in his stride and/or the ability to hold onto a ball once thrown, there will always be guys like Brown waiting to shower him with the kind of money he’s hardly earned, even if he happens to run into another college kid who just won’t listen.
Leave it to an offensive lineman, though, in this case Bengal Willie Anderson, to actually find the proper perspective to this whole, sad mess. In a story in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Anderson said that Henry owes a number of people, such as the Bengals’ beleaguered public relations director, a huge thank you for having to suffer the fallout from Henry’s antics. “Those people busted their tails beyond duty helping him out,” Anderson said. “He has found the end of the rainbow three or four times.” This won’t be Henry’s last rainbow.
For his part, Brown will likely spend today as he does any other day, in abject denial about the state of his franchise. When he decides to emerge from the rat hole in which he’s living these days instead of dodging the press, he’ll undoubtedly express empathy with the fans who are frustrated by this decision, all while defending his intent to simply bring a winner to the great city of Cincinnati. He’ll also claim to have really done his homework on Henry, perhaps even channeling a little George W. Bush in the process, by claiming to have looked into the soul of Henry to determine that there really is goodness wanting to be set free.
But when this spirals out of control again, which it will, perhaps Brown can petition the North Carolina Department of Corrections. If the Bengals can’t find a third receiver, maybe he can get Rae Carruth out of prison before his scheduled release for – of all things - good behavior.