Updated: 4:10 p.m
On the day that Chad Ochocino began his offseason workouts in Miami, he welcomed a new player into the Bengals receiving corps when a league source said Friday that former Jaguars wide receiver Matt Jones agreed to a one-year deal. It figures to be close to minimum salary with incentives.
The 6-6 Jones may not be the replacement for “One-Five,” Ochocinco's good friend, the late Chris Henry. But The Ocho does see some similarities and gave the move rave reviews, even though he’s still calling for the signing of Terrell Owens. What the move could also show is that the Bengals are trying to attack the receiver crisis with veterans so they can have the option of taking a tight end in the first round.
“He’s had troubles like Chris, but I give Mike Brown credit,” Ochocinco said of the Bengals president. “He’s not afraid to give people second chances. I just want to say, ‘Thank you.’ Matt can play. I think it’s great. He’s fast as hell and he drops crap. He gives us height and that is something we’ve been missing a little without Chris. He gives us a presence and another weapon for Carson (Palmer) to use.”
The Bengals are trying to shore up a passing game that buckled when Henry suffered a season-ending broken arm in the eighth game of the season and is now seeking a vertical threat in the wake of his Dec. 17 death from injuries in a traffic accident. At the time Henry came off the field against the Ravens, Palmer had thrown 14 touchdowns and the Bengals were 18-for-25 scoring touchdowns in the red zone. After Henry's injury, Palmer threw seven touchdowns and the Bengals were 7-for-25 in the red zone.
Jones, a first-round pick in 2005, has struggled with on-field consistency and off-field problems and is trying to make a comeback after sitting out last season. He worked out for the club Thursday with former Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman making the throws. Boeckman had been with the Bengals last spring but he, along with former Titans and Cowboys cornerback Pacman Jones, were apparently not offered a contract after the workout.
Jones, who turns 27 before the spring workouts, didn’t hook on with a club last year after a troubled 2008 season. According to The Tennessean, Jones was arrested on felony possession of a controlled substance in July and later jailed for a week for violating terms of his plea deal. Cocaine possession charges were later dropped after he completed a drug program. The NFL suspended Jones for three games that season for violating the league's substance abuse policy and he finished with 65 catches for 761 yards and two touchdowns.
Those were career highs for yards and catches, but he never reached the potential that was projected for his height and speed when he was the 21st pick in the draft coming out of Arkansas as a quarterback. Jones came out of the same draft as Henry, but hasn’t come near his stats despite his height and speed. In 55 games, Henry had 21 touchdowns on 119 catches for a 15.3-yard average. In 54 games, Jones has 166 catches at 13 yards per to go with 15 touchdowns.
“Load us up. Load us up. Whatever we need to get over the hump to win the Super Bowl, I’m all for it,” The Ocho said. “Let’s sign T.O., too. Load it up like (Redskins owner) Dan Snyder.”
That is not Brown’s way, but the Bengals do love big, tall wide receivers and they’ll no doubt go looking for them in the draft more so than in free agency now with Jones in the fold. There are clear indications the Bengals have no interest in former Browns wide receiver Donte Stallworth, recently reinstated by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after a year suspension for a DUI manslaughter charge.
The Bengals are banking on Jones giving them a physical presence downfield in the mold of the Chargers’ Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd. He doesn’t have Henry’s quickness in some estimations, but he does run a fast 40-yard dash that the club hopes will keep defenses honest.
If he makes it, the addition of Jones and what figures to be a first- or second-rounder is going to cramp the receiving corps that already has The Ocho,
Ochocinco is the one guy you know is going to be there. At 32 and heading into his 10th season, he tweeted like a kid Friday that he was back in the gym after a month layoff. He is going where the incomparable Isaac Curtis has only gone before. Curtis, who played 12 seasons, is the only receiver in Bengals history to make a catch in 10 or more seasons.
“I thought I had a hell of a year last year and it was because I did such a phenomenal job in the offseason,” said Ochocinco, whose 72 catches for 1,045 yards were far below his AFC-leading prime but it was the only pulse of this past year’s passing game. “I’m back in the gym, five days a week every noon at LA Fitness. Everybody come by and see me.”
Of course, he admitted he was lifting with the cell phone in one hand but he says he won’t kick it into gear until April, May and June and then he’ll pull back a few weeks before training camp starts in late July. Ochocinco feels like last year’s offseason boxing regimen helped his ability to rack up what had to be his best yards-after-catch season and he’s going back into the ring Monday.
“I’ll be doing a little bit of everything. I already started today lifting for the arms, legs, neck,” he said. “I’ll run a little bit, too.”
But who knows when The Ocho is actually going to lay eyes on Jones? Last spring Ochocinco didn’t show up until the last voluntary camp right before the mandatory minicamp and he doesn’t think he has to adjust his schedule. He’ll no doubt get some disagreement from head coach Marvin Lewis.
“I’ll sit down and talk to Coach Lewis about it,” he said. “I just think I know what I need to get myself ready. I want to do what I did last year; stay under wraps. Pop up out of nowhere and have everybody’s jaw drop. It’s been 10 years. Carson and I have been together so long we just need training camp to get (timed up). We’re a running team now.”
The Ocho has been wondering lately about the potential of a lockout in 2011 and has been making plans. If there is a lockout, what happens to The Ocho’s contract is anyone’s guess.
If the Bengals decide not to exercise an option in 2011 at $6 million, they have to pay him $3.5 million.
But he’s taking it to the next level. An avid European soccer fan, The Ocho says he’ll be playing for the Barcelona club.
“I’m not saying I’ll be a starter,” he said. “But I’ll be there (if the players are locked out).”
He certainly is the starter here in 2010. Who is going to be the other one on the other side is still in play.