Same Old Song and Dance…

I took a second from thinking about how the conversation went when Ben Roethlisberger asked that girl’s father for her hand in marriage to contemplate who runs a couple NFL franchises and if they have control of all their mental faculties. The two franchises that brought about these thoughts are the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders.

Let’s review the recent facts: the Bengals just finished off a 4-12 season where they came in with moderately high expectations since they won the AFC North title and went 10-6 in the prior season but their two loud-mouth receivers and quarterback did not have great years and their defense was even worse….oh and they are bringing back their Head Coach that does not have a contract for the 2011 season. By contrast, the Raiders exceeded sane expectations by going 8-8 after dumping their bust of a #1 overall pick, failing to win more than 5 games for the past 7 seasons, and generally resembling a Jerry Springer family in terms of dysfunctionality….oh and they are firing their head coach. The ordinary prudent person would consider these scenarios and end results to be flip-flopped however owners Al Davis and Mike Brown fall outside the bounds of ordinary. These two teams have caused me not to focus on the egregious conduct in other NFL outposts like Denver, Houston, and Tennessee because the Bengals and Raiders have made so many poor decisions over such a long time that even Lindsay Lohan’s parents would be concerned with their self-destructive behavior.

The sign the Cincinnati Bengals are sending to their fan base is that mediocrity and inconsistency is not only accepted, it is welcomed with open arms. When Marvin Lewis was hired in 2003 he started off by winning 8, 8, and 11 games which was worthy of a state holiday in Ohio after the dumpster fire the Bengals had been in recent years. Following those first three years, the off the field legal issues started for the players and Cincinnati won 8, 7, 4, 10, and 4 games in the next five seasons. There is value to continuity in the NFL where a lot of coaches do not seem to get a long time to turn franchises around once they are selected to take over. Back to Marvin Lewis, only 3 current coaches have more seniority than he does; one will be playing more football this season (Bill Belichick, another made the playoffs…again (Andy Reid), and the other just won a power struggle with the franchise quarterback and does not appear to be going anywhere (Jeff Fisher). Lewis does appear to be able to co-exist with the Brown family who are notoriously cheap to the point where their scouting staff is the smallest in the NFL. Lewis was a defensive guru with Baltimore and Washington yet the defense in Cincinnati was not considered strong until reputed coordinator and certified bad mofo Mike Zimmer was brought in. The defense regressed this season and the team itself was in shambles. Coming off a division title, they had the worst record of all the division champions from 2009, even the Arizona Cardinals who lost four of their best players in the off-season: Anquan Boldin, Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle, and Kurt Warner. The other two division winners who stumbled from 2009 to 2010 were the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys who had their coaches fired during the year while finishing with a better record than the Bengals. The AFC North is hyper competitive so a non-playoff year can be excused but going from first to worst in such a short time is tough to stomach, even for the beaten down Bengals fans.

Playing devil’s advocate, possibly the ownership realizes the huge strain placed on Lewis and quarterback Carson Palmer that took place by pairing Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson for this disastrous season. The Bengals had one more win than those two had reality TV shows in 2010 and 4 more Academy Awards than Jack Black will ever have. Statistically speaking, neither T.O. or Chad had an awful season. I have no idea what went on in the locker room and the negative influence the two receivers had on the rest of the team. Palmer may have had his worst season then did a solid job in the last few games without Owens and Johnson when they were both injured. Perhaps keeping both coach and quarterback is ownership’s way of offering an “our bad” to them with a chance for a do-over next season. Palmer could fare better running the huddle with Jermaine Gresham, Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell, and Jordan Shipley staring back at him instead of the diva twins. Lewis could have better control of the locker room. Those are both possibilities but just possibilities like Alex Smith turning into a quality starter for the 49ers or the Detroit Lions going 16-0 in 2011. I could be totally wrong about this and the Bengals could earn a first round bye in the playoffs in 2011 instead of starting vacation then like this year. If history has told us anything, they will be better and I’ll guess they may even win 7 or 8 games to find themselves right back in the same position next season of staying the mediocre course.

Mediocre was a large improvement for the Oakland Raiders in 2010. Having finally rid themselves of #1 overall pick Jamarcus Russell who Oakland selected in 2007 over Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, Adrian Peterson, et al; the Raiders steadied their franchise to go 8-8. The season featured new quarterback Jason Campbell game managing while the strengths of the team were a reinvigorated ground attack led by Darren McFadden and a stingy pass defense centered around Nnamdi Asomugha and a diverse group of pass rushers. The Raiders ranked second in both passing defense and rushing yards during the 2010 season. The man who was at the helm of this group was Tom Cable who the players actually seemed to like and play hard for after enduring six coaches in the last  12 years. When Cable was cut loose, it sent shock waves through the Oakland locker room. If you ever needed further proof that the Raiders are not your normal NFL franchise, it came in the form of one of their leaders speaking out: a punter. Shane Lechler is among the NFL’s best punters and is considered a locker room presence as one of the most tenured players in Oakland before he totally ripped the team for their decisions. Actually, he may even be more respected within the locker room now. Lechler surely does not speak for all their players yet there is more than a shred of truth when he says that free agents might want to depart because of the change at head coach. Lechler left out the other reasons that they would want to leave such as an owner who is a loose cannon and more distracting than the Laura Vandervoort photos I see on some other guys computer as I type this (sample distraction to see what I mean: http://bit.ly/idUcxm).  Al Davis seems enamored with offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and looks sure to promote him to head coach. Jackson may very well be a successful head coach however this was not the time to chop out the legs of your leader, when the team was finally making progress. If Davis wanted to get rid of Cable, he surely had a chance when the bizarre story hit the news in August 2009 where Cable allegedly punched assistant coach Randy Hanson which fractured his jaw or following that when ESPN ran a report that he had physically abused two ex-wives. In an uncharacteristic move, Davis stood by his coach despite a modest record of 9-19 over parts of two seasons. Just when it seems the team is taking some steps forward, Davis interferes and a cloud of uncertainty looms with Cable’s firing.

Raiders fans have to hope it is not “business as usual” this off-season. Once Vince Young was released from the Tennessee Titans for many reasons (immaturity was my favorite), I immediately thought that Davis would give him a ridiculous contract to be their quarterback. The steady Campbell still has one year remaining on his contract however his biggest flaw was that he did not light it up like V-Diddy could. Young has an even interception to touchdown ratio in his NFL career and was touted as a “only stat that matters is wins” guy. And you know what Al Davis says: Just Win Baby. When Young was coming out of college in 2006, many thought the Raiders were very intrigued at the chance to draft him. Young went earlier to the Titans and Oakland selected safety Michael Huff (who has quietly gone from bust to solid contributor). That’s not all the issues with free agency as Richard Seymour, Kamerion Wimbley, Zach Miller, and most notably Nnamdi Asomugha will be free agents in off-season. Hopefully for the Raiders sake, none has talked to Shane Lechler lately. Asomugha hitting the open market will be met with great anticipation. Like “what’s going to happen when Angela finds out her new boyfriend is a closeted homosexual on the Office” level anticipation (maybe that’s just me but that situation has played out so perfectly down to Oscar calling it out instantly, maybe gay-dar does exist). Nnamdi failed to hit the astronomically high performance clauses in his contract thereby making him an unrestricted free agent, he was as good as gone. Turning 30 in the off-season, Asomugha is watching the time tick off his NFL clock and if he wants a ring then the Raiders automatically fall down the list of teams he would sign with. Seymour had the franchise tag slapped on his this season and pending what the NFLPA works out with the league, he could be seeking a team on his own free will if a franchise tag is not available. If Seymour and Asomugha can find their own new homes, they won’t be shopping in the Oakland neighborhood. A massive overhaul of the Raiders roster would be a roll of the dice and how many Oakland fans have seen that movie before and know how it ends?

Mike Brown and Al Davis have consistently set back their franchises and with their coaching decisions following the 2010 season, they appear to have done it again. Fans in Cincinnati and Oakland can always hope the NFLPA is savvy enough to have the 25th Amendment written into the new Collective Bargaining Agreement because their owners would surely be removed from office on grounds of insanity. New leadership in the front office could be the only chance the Bengals and Raiders have for win a Super Bowl in the foreseeable future.

This guest column was written by Brian from the Overtime with Brian and Friends podcast which often features the NFL ramblings of this blog’s host. The show can be followed on Twitter @OTwithB

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