Mario Alford is looking to separate himself this spring.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh hopes to get another call from Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis this spring extending another invite to help with the wide receivers. That's what he did last year, but he's even a little more excited now because it's going to be a whole new world with No. 2 receiver Marvin Jones in Detroit and No. 3 receiver Mohamed Sanu in Atlanta.
Despite the loss of 98 catches and more than 1,200 yards from the duo, Houshmandzadeh doesn't see it slowing down the Bengals as long as wide receiver A.J. Green, tight end Tyler Eifert, and quarterback Andy Dalton are in place.
"They'll be fine. They're too good. And as long as they've got that offensive line,' said Houshmandzadeh Friday from Las Vegas, where he's coaching his daughter's softball team in a national tournament. "In a couple of weeks, sign a low-impact guy and then got a couple of guys in the draft . . . You don't need a guy in the first round with A.J. . .. You've still got your core guys, so you should be fine."
But they'll only have seven choices when the draft comes, a development that surprised them Friday when the NFL released its list of compensatory draft picks. The Bengals though they'd get at least one, but the formula shut them out for the first time since 2012, a year they had three extra picks via trades.
Free agency has pretty much come to a standstill for the Bengals with cornerback Adam Jones expected to re-sign next week. Nickel cornerback Leon Hall is slated to visit Arizona and right tackle Andre Smith is going to see the Vikings, but the Bengals look to be out of the mix after spending about $20 million in salary cap dollars Wednesday, the first day of free agency.
They're looking at re-signing a few of their backups and they're perusing the market for a veteran receiver, which, by the way, is a startling development for Houshmandzadeh. He's "shocked," that neither Jones nor Sanu came back. News that Jones passed on similar money in Cincinnati (five years, $40 million), had Houshmandzadeh re-living his own experience when he left the Bengals for Seattle in 2009.
"It was the beginning of the end of my career,' said Houshmandzadeh, who finished with a half season in Baltimore in 2011. "If I signed in Cincinnati, I would have retired just two years ago and not five years ago, I would have got all my money, and I would have been around to help A.J. I wish I had talked to (Jones). I tell guys if the money is the same, stay, stay, stay. The coaches know your strengths, weaknesses, and how to use you."
But he also wishes good things for them both.
DRAFTED ROOKIE WIDE RECEIVERS UNDER MARVIN LEWIS
A.J. Green (2011 first round) 65 catches-1,057 yards 16.3 avg. 7 TDs
Jordan Shipley (2010 third round) 52-600 11.5 3
Chris Henry (2005 third round) 31-422 13.6 6
Kelley Washington (2003 third round) 22-299 13.6 4
Marvin Jones (2012 fifth round) 18-201 11.2 1
Mohamed Sanu (2012 third round) 16-154 9.6 4
Andre Caldwell (2008 third round) 11-78 7.1 0
James Wright (2014 seventh round) 5-91 18.2 0
Ryan Whalen (2011 sixth round) 4-27 6.8 0
Tab Perry (2005 sixth round) 4-21
Mario Alford (2015 seventh round) 1-15 15.0 0
Jerome Simpson (2008 second round) 1-2 2.0 0
Maurice Mann (2004 fifth round) 0-0
Reggie McNeal (2006 sixth round) 0-0
Bennie Brazell (2006 seventh round) 0-0
Mario Urrutia (2008 seventh round) 0-0
Dezmon Briscoe (2010 sixth round)
Cobi Hamilton (2013 sixth round) 0-0
"I really like them. Two really good receivers," Houshmandzadeh said. "Mo is going to a good offense with a good quarterback and a receiver (Julio Jones) with the capabilities of A.J. . . And it's going to be interesting for Marvin in Detroit playing with Golden Tate. He's a little bigger than Tate, but similar guys."
Yet Houshmandzadeh thinks the Bengals can survive. They're not going to raid 30ish veterans or unrestricted free agents like Percy Harvin or Jordan Norwood for fear of losing the compensatory picks next year for Jones and Sanu. And the restricted tender on Arizona's Jaron Brown is too rich. But maybe if released guys like Jeremy Kerley, Brandon LaFell, and Marlon Brown are priced right next month something could happen.
Still, when Houshmandzadeh looks at replacing Jones and Sanu this season, he knows that while Bengals haven't received great production from rookie receivers who have been drafted in head coach Marvin Lewis' 14 seasons, they've gotten enough. Third-rounder Jordan Shipley had 52 catches in 2010 and third-rounder Chris Henry had six touchdowns in 2005. But both were No. 3 receivers behind two established veterans.
"But technically when you look at it," Houshmandzadeh said, "the guy coming in here is going to be the third receiver, too, because he'll be the third read behind A.J. and Tyler. And if Tyler stays healthy for all 16 games, that is going to make the (rookie's) total drop. Plus, they're loaded at tight end, so (offensive coordinator Ken) Zampese can do some things with that like when the Patriots had (Rob) Gronkowski and (Aaron) Hernandez at tight end with a one-receiver set."
And maybe the draft of '12, the one of Jones and Sanu, is a good place to start because it went into a '12 season the Bengals had no running mate for Green and still won 10 games and made the postseason.
They did it with a solid tight end and Jermaine Gresham was second on the team in receiving yards while a committee of five wide receivers (Jones, Sanu, Andrew Hawkins, Armon Binns, Brandon Tate) had at least 13 catches and they all would have had 200 yards if Sanu didn't miss the last month of the season with a broken foot.
After working with the rookies last season, Houshmandzadeh thinks 5-9, 180-pound Mario Alford and 6-4 Jake Kumerow have possibilities. And he's hoping 2014 rookie James Wright's knee holds up since no is expecting anything from him "but I heard he can really put them down."
"Because of Mario's size, he's got to have a cleaner catch and a better grasp of the system, but he can really get down the field. He's got to separate," Houshmandzadeh said. "Kumerow has a little hitch at the top of his route that gives away what he's doing, but that can be fixed. He does a good job catching and to me that's the No. 1 thing for a receiver and getting open. Speed is the third thing."
Houshmandzadeh, the third leading receiver in Bengals history, had a slow start, too, with 21 catches for 228 yards in 2001 as a seventh-round pick. He thinks they can find a pretty good guy lurking this year, too.
"They'll be fine," Houshmandzadeh said. "Get a guy in the second or third round and a guy on the last day."