Why the Bengals passed on T.O.

Is Terrell Owens now a second-tier WR on the free-agent market?

It almost seems that way after the Bengals decided to hand out a four-year deal, maxing out at $29 million, to Antonio Bryant on Wednesday to become that No. 2 option opposite Chad Ochocinco in Cincinnati.

Owens won’t see that type of cash from any club at this stage of his career, and despite the big name and his big resume, Cincinnati’s decision speaks volumes about T.O.

Not unlike Laveranues Coles last season in Cincy, Owens isn’t the type of WR who can draw defenses, force them to roll their coverage to his side and make enough of an impact for opposing secondaries to do anything but line up a corner over the top of him from a scheme perspective.

I still think Owens can run and get down the field vertically, but so can the majority of No. 1 and No. 2 WRs in this league when they get a free release at the line of scrimmage. Going back to his last season in Dallas, T.O. has struggled to get off press coverage — a major knock on a receiver’s game at this level. That has a direct effect on the 3-step game, the timing of routes and how the single high safety has to react.

We talk about it all the time with rookie wideouts as the biggest transition to the pro game. Get off the jam or get off the field.

I agree that Owens can press the cushion of a DB with his straight-line speed against off-man coverage, Cover 3 and a deep-half safety, but when it comes to the Bengals, they’re looking for a receiver who can win at the line of scrimmage, create separation down the field and draw the attention of a defensive coordinator in his game-plan preparation.

Cincinnati’s thinking is that Bryant — not Owens — is the WR who will force a defense to play both sides of the field and play with an honest safety between the hashes. And give QB Carson Palmer two viable weapons in the drop-back passing game.

Plus, we have to remember how the Bengals win games, which includes Cedric Benson and the running game. By adding that receiver in Bryant, teams can’t sit in 8-man fronts, and if they do resort to playing a coverage such as 2-man, or straight Cover 2 to protect their safeties, it opens up yards for Benson against a now 7-man front.

I still see Owens an option for teams in need of a WR who can stretch the field once per half, and as a big target in the red zone, but the days of us talking about T.O. as a player in high demand are over. He was a backup plan to Bryant, and he will most likely be a backup plan for other clubs looking to add a veteran WR as a possible No. 2, but more likely a No. 3.

Talent for sure with Owens, just not top-tier talent anymore.

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