Adam Schefter has reported that Terrell Owens signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Cincinnati Bengals on Tuesday, with incentives that could earn Owens up to $2 million more. However, from a fantasy perspective, the biggest aspect of the story has very little to do with T.O. himself.
For me, the most important thing this move tells us is that Antonio Bryant isn't going to be nearly the fantasy factor I hoped when I called him a midlevel sleeper in our fantasy preview magazine a couple of months ago. Instead, it seems that the Bengals are quite worried about Bryant's troublesome knee. Remember that before they signed Bryant, they first interviewed Owens, then turned around and gave Bryant a four-year deal worth $28 million, with $8.5 million guaranteed. I have to believe what they've seen of Bryant so far has scared the ever-thrifty Bengals silly, and they decided they needed to pay for an insurance policy. I'm dropping Bryant out of my top 70 fantasy receivers for 2010 until further notice.
But I'm not ready to push T.O. right into Bryant's spot on my list, not by a long shot. What I liked about the Bryant signing was the idea that the Bengals might finally have a field stretcher to go with Chad Ochocinco. The issue with Laveranues Coles last year was simply that his speed was mostly gone, so nobody could push the defensive secondary back. I believe Owens has the same problem. I can't guarantee who'd win a footrace between Ochocinco and Owens (here comes the "O&O Show"), but I can guarantee there are probably 50 receivers in the NFL who could trounce both of them. To me, this puts the Bengals' passing game right back where it was last year, and it puts Owens around 50th on my receiver list.
Does this move crush Ochocinco's fantasy value? Well, it probably does hurt it a bit. Because there's a substantial duplication of skills between him and Owens, we could see, for example, red zone opportunities become a bit more spread out (as when T.J. Houshmandzadeh labored in Cincy). But whereas teams have been questioning Owens' focus and (especially) hands for the past few seasons, nobody dares question Ochocinco's and with good reason: He's got some of the best pass-catching mitts on the planet. I still expect him to be a clear No. 1 receiver on the Bengals' roster, and for the moment, I've only dropped him from No. 14 to No. 17 on my wideout list. But I'm open to the possibility of a bigger dip, depending on what we see from the Bengals in the preseason.
As for Carson Palmer, I think the potential loss of Bryant is big, because again, he was hopefully going to be able to scare safeties into playing far back. I think Owens is a shadow of himself, and won't really make Palmer that much better. I'm skeptical of the quarterback's remaining arm strength, and I think the Bengals will be a run-first team. I'm still not buying Palmer as anything close to a fantasy starter.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy and follow him at www.twitter.com/thewriterboy.