Updated: 10:30 p.m.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh's two little girls forecast the future Friday when they were presented with tiny No. 84 Houshmandzadeh jerseys in Seahawks colors upon their arrival via Paul Allen's sea plane.
Their daddy said yes to Seattle on Monday and goodbye to a Bengals team he leaves as the third-most prolific receiver ever.
"Nothing is going to change," Houshmandzadeh said Monday. "I'm going to line up with either one guy in front of me or two. I'm going to run the route and I'm going to catch the ball. Just like I've done and more. I guarantee it."
Coles would be the most accomplished wide receiver to ever join the Bengals in free agency with 631 catches that are even more than the total of the club's all-time leader, Chad Ocho Cinco. And it would come at just the right time with Houshmandzadeh's 507 balls vacating the No. 3 spot on the all-time list.
Also coming off the market Monday night was Giants running back Derrick Ward a day after he visited the Bengals. ProFootballTalk.com reported that he signed a four-year, $17 million deal in Tampa.
It seems more of a guarantee that Ocho Cinco, Houshmandzadeh's Oregon State running mate who came to Cincinnati with him in 2001, is going to be around a little longer than the speculation that has been buzzing about his possible trade status.
Now after Ocho Cinco's 613 catches, the most Bengals catches under contract is Chris Henry's 107 sandwiched in and around three NFL suspensions.
(But Henry hasn't had problems since he re-signed with the club last August and is currently on the West Coast at Charles Collins' receiver camp with last year's three rookies, Andre Caldwell, Jerome Simpson and Mario Urrutia.)
Antonio Chatman has 114 NFL catches, 43 as a Bengal.
"I'll miss the friendships. I'll miss the camaraderie even though we didn't do as well as we should have," Houshmandzadeh said. "It's so hard to leave. I had such a comfort level there. I got along with all those dudes. Whit. Frostee. Chris Perry. J-Joe. Leon. It's hard to leave."
He particularly pointed to his relationship with quarterback Carson Palmer, a guy with whom he had an immediate connection. Palmer's debut season was Houshmandzadeh's breakout year in 2004 with 73 catches and 978 yards.
It was Palmer who kept texting Houshmandzadeh the last few days trying to lure him back and it was Palmer who phoned him Monday night to say he'd miss him.
"Good dude. Good dude. He said they'd miss me more in the locker room than on the field," Houshmandzadeh said. "I don't know what it was with us on the field. I think he just trusted me. You'd have to ask him, but I think he knew that I was always going to be where he expected. I think I gave him a comfort level."
Palmer declined comment Monday through the Bengals public relations department.
Despite Palmer's audibles, Houshmandzadeh said he knew he wasn't going back to Cincinnati when he landed in Minnesota for a visit with the Vikings Saturday night. Although the Bengals apparently made him an offer that included an escalator that would have turned it into a four-year, $30 million deal in much the way it does in the contract of Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress and the guarantee was pretty similar, Houshmandzadeh said, "I just didn't feel good about it."
"I was thinking, 'How did it get to this point? How did it get to this point?' " said Houshmandzadeh, who made $3.2 million last year and voiced his displeasure at being underpaid by missing the bulk of the last two seasons of voluntary workouts. "I'm not going to get into what they offered. I don't think it was fair. I'm talking about what it took to get there. The Brown (family) gave me my chance to play in the NFL. I'm thankful to them and I don't have bitterness. You just move on."
"If the Bengals wanted me," he said, "they could have had me."
Seattle's West Coast climate appeared to be more soothing for the Los Angeles guy than Carson Palmer's cell phone when he got an offer that ESPN reported as five years, $40 million with $15 million guaranteed.
"It was very, very difficult for him," said agent Kennard McGuire. "He agonized daily over this in every regard. He's very thankful for all the time he spent in Cincinnati."
Seattle's West Coast offense might have been an even better lure for a wideout that always seems to find the cracks of a defense.
"I've had a lot of coaches that have come through Cincinnati who have told me I'd be a perfect fit in a West Coast offense," Houshmandzadeh said. "I think I'm a perfect fit in any offense. Now we'll find out."
Palmer lobbied hard to bring back his third-down safety net. With Palmer as his quarterback Houshmandzadeh has become one of the top five receivers in the NFL since 2004. With Palmer missing all but four games this past season with an elbow injury, the Bengals could scrounge just 82 first downs while Houshmandzadeh kept them breathing with an NFL-best 31 third-down catches.
The Bengals had a hard time dealing with the risk of his age (32 in the third week of the season) in a contract situation and that enraged Houshmandzadeh as he argued he's never had surgery and he played just 30 games in his first three seasons.
Houshmandzadeh is the third '08 offensive starter the Bengals have lost in the 96 hours of free agency off a unit that finished last in the NFL. On Friday, right tackle Stacy Andrews signed in Philadelphia and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who started in place of Palmer, went to Buffalo. Houshmandzadeh made the comparison with Seattle, quarterbacked by Matt Hasselbeck.
"They've won division titles five of the last six years and last year didn't look right because everybody was hurt," Houshmandzadeh said. "The quarterback is solid, the offensive line is good, you don't have to worry about left tackle. They've got me, Deion Branch, Nate Burleson (at receiver). So they're better. The linebackers speak for themselves, the secondary is good. The pieces are there.
"Of course, we had the pieces in Cincinnati and it just didn't work out for us. After '05, everybody thought we would have been in a Super Bowl by now and we didn't even get back to the playoffs. If I didn't think Seattle could make the playoffs, I wouldn't have signed."
Houshmandzadeh didn't pin blame on the histrionics stemming from the various Chadramas. And he said it's not about getting out from under Ocho Cinco's shadow.
"Yeah, there was drama, especially in the playoffs," said Houshmandzadeh, alluding to The Ocho's rage at not getting the ball at halftime against Pittsburgh. "And in '06. But that stuff about being a distraction was just something the media talked about. It was a distraction only because we had to talk about it when you guys asked and that would drain you. But it wasn't a distraction on the field. He lined up and I lined up and we played."
It was Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski that made the fateful call as the seventh round of the 2001 draft droned on. In the second round, Bratkowski had already plucked Ocho Cinco from his long-time mentor, Oregon State head coach Dennis Erickson.
The personnel people had liked the receiver they saw on film opposite The Ocho, and Bratkowski made the verification call to Erickson. With the 204th pick, it was the kid with the ponytail and an even longer name.
"We'll miss him," Bratkowski said Monday night. "He worked hard to make himself into the type of player he's become. We'll miss his experience. He had a good understanding of our system. When guys got confused on the field, he would get them lined up the right way. We're going to need some kind of veteran presence with skins on the wall."
There is The Ocho. Henry is a No. 3 receiver. Caldwell is on track to be an NFL starter, but like Bratkowski says, "he's a second-year guy and T.J. was going into his ninth year with all that experience."
Age was a big issue with Houshmandzadeh and Coles is just three months younger and turns 32 in the last week of the season. But he's got plenty of skins, has 8,095 of his own yards (with 18 more catches than the Ocho), and is a reliable pro who has played all but two of his nine NFL seasons with the Jets under the New York microscope.
The 5-11, 193-pound Coles has a career yards per catch of 12.8 compared to Houshmandzadeh's 11.4. Houshmandzadeh's yards-per-catch has declined since his best of 13.4 in 2004, which has some analysts ripping. Coles had 12.1 each in 2006 and 2008 after 11.7 in 2007. During his first four seasons he averaged at least 14.2 yards per catch.
Coles spent two seasons in Washington, 2003 and 2004, but returned to the club that drafted him in the third round out of Florida State in 2000.
The Jets took Coles 74 picks after the Bengals made his college teammate and fellow wide receiver Peter Warrick the fourth pick in the draft.
Coles, who has already visited Buffalo and, according to published reports, has been ruled out by the Dolphins, is reportedly seeking $6 million per year.
Whatever happens, Bratkowski acknowledged "We'll be a dramatically different offense than we were when we won the division in '05." With Houshmandzadeh gone, there are now just four starters left on the roster from the Wild Card game. Palmer, right guard Bobbie Williams, tight end Reggie Kelly, and left tackle Levi Jones, and there is speculation that Jones won't be back.
Palmer has pitched in with a 24-7 effort. Not only has he called Houshmandzadeh, but he's also been in touch with Coles, Benson and Ward.
"We've already made some changes in the offense," Bratkowski said. "But you can't make them all until you get everyone in place."
Also in free agency, the Bengals spent the weekend talking to the representatives of Benson and Ward, and while the priorities remain receiver and running back, they are also looking at fullback and backup quarterbacks.
Benson countered Ward's trip to visit his hometown Texans on Monday.
The visit is a surprise since the Texans are looking for a guy to back up Steve Slaton with about five to seven carries a game, while the Bengals view Benson as a starter after he had three 100-yard games in the last eight. Houston didn't look at Benson last year after he was cut by the Bears and spent the first month of the season at his Midland, Texas home.
On Monday, Benson alluded to contract negotiations when he told The Houston Chronicle, "The business side here might be better than the business side in Cincinnati."
On Monday the Bengals officially announced the re-signing of free-agent linebacker Darryl Blackstock, which had been agreed to last week. Defensive tackle Orien Harris, a second-year exclusive rights free agent, also signed. He played in 14 games in '08 and had 22 tackles and three QB hurries.
According to The Arizona Republic Packers fullback John Kuhn, a restricted free agent, visited the Cardinals Monday and said he's on his way to Cincinnati. A college free agent with Pittsburgh in 2006, he wouldn't cost compensation.