Sunday, July 18, 1999

Bengals better without Pickens

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Who knows about Carl Pickens? Who cares? If Pickens sits out the NFL season — which, barring a trade he seems likely to do — he won't bother anyone but himself. Pick will inflict Pick upon Pick. Talk about poetic justice.

        He crossed the line against Tampa Bay last December, in the Bengals worse-than-pathetic season finale. No matter what you said about Pickens, you could not say he didn't play hard. But against the Buccaneers, Pickens quit. What's more, he reveled in it, singing his way off the field after the 35-0 loss.

        It's one thing to disrespect coaches and media and to feel responsibility to no one but yourself. It's another to abandon your teammates.

        Pickens has painted himself into a prideful corner. If he comes back to Cincinnati, he's a whipped puppy. King Carl, ruler of the Bengals cancerous locker room, beaten in business by Mike Brown. If he doesn't come back and isn't dealt, he leaves a $3.5 million salary on the table. It's a lot of money for a 29-year-old wideout with a baggage problem.

        Not that the Bengals are doing any better. They're in the opposite corner. If Pickens isn't here, they're out their best player. And no matter what spin the team might apply to it — “addition by subtraction,” or some such — no franchise is improved by losing its only superstar.

        On the other hand, if Pickens does return, no amount of chemotherapy will cure that locker room.

Know the market
        The Bengals made a mistake thinking they could get first- and third-round draft picks for Pickens. Indianapolis traded Marshall Faulk to St. Louis for a No. 2. Faulk had a high-test season last year, and running backs are tougher finds than wide receivers.

        Cincinnati is still looking to trade Pickens. If Mike Brown thinks he'll get a No. 1 for him, he's kidding himself.

        The Bengals have a habit of retaining questionables while letting good guys walk. How else do you explain extending Tremain Mack's deal while waving goodbye to Sam Shade?

        In an offseason when coach Bruce Coslet decided he'd have players with character, the team signed Nicky Sualua, a backup fullback with a pending DUI charge and Matt O'Dwyer, a guard who last weekend allegedly smashed a police car window with his foot. They extended the contract of Mack, whose drinking and driving problems have been chronic.

        If you are concerned with character, do you sign a player with a pending DUI? If character is more than a word to you, don't you look at the incident in which your newest offensive lineman is accused of felony assault and say, “Hmmmm”?

        Beats me. I guess character has varying, elastic definitions.

        But I digress.

No stand-up guys
        In the past, there has been no personality in the Bengals locker room strong enough to compete with Pickens'. Dave Shula didn't have the juice to take Pickens on. Coslet may have had it once, but he doesn't now. Coslet could have made a stand after the Denver game last year, but reacted to Pickens' childish on-field arm-waving by calling him a competitor. If Coslet thinks Pickens can help him win, he'll welcome Pickens back.

        But you can't have your best player doing his own thing and be an effective team. You can't have your best player showing up his coaches, yelling at his quarterback and then happily tanking in his team's last game of the year.

        You can't have Jeff Blake worrying so much about getting the ball to Pickens that he's forcing throws and hurting the offense. It's good for your best player to have a strong personality, but it better be bent in the right direction.

        If Pickens approached 10 of his teammates and said he wanted out of Cincinnati, seven would give him directions.

        Until proven otherwise, the Bengals are a team of characters, not character. Their best move is to move Pickens for whatever they can get. Second best is to let him sit. Either way, they might still be 3-13. But it'd be a happier 3-13.

        Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.

        Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.