As it turns out, they did. So much so, in fact, that they cut him Sunday. They just straight up, outright axed Bryant, eating the $8 million in guaranteed money that they gave him back in March on a four-year, $28 million deal.
In the end, the Bengals gave Bryant that $8 million for 172 days of practicing. Poorly.
That's not a good return on investment for the Bengals. This is the kind of thing that gets people fired. Sure, everyone will whiff on a free agent or a draft pick once in a while, but when a guy gets heavy guaranteed dollars and he doesn't even stick on the roster through the preseason? That's a big one.
Even worse, it was a preventable screw-up. It's not like Bryant's production took a nosedive, or he got lazy after signing a big contract. It's not like he just never fit into the Bengals' system. He simply wasn't healthy.
His left knee is all messed up, and as keen football observers are aware, knees are important for wide receivers. Some torn cartilage in there required surgery, but someone with the Bengals apparently decided that all was hunky-dory and healthy in the joint. They were either way, way, way too optimistic that Bryant would recover, or they just didn't investigate the injury thoroughly enough.
[Photos: Antonio Bryant, on and off the field]
Either way, as an organization, you just can't have that kind of mistake. Especially when you're owned by a man who has a subheading labeled "Frugality" on his Wikipedia page.
Obviously, it turned out that Bryant's knee wasn't healthy. He never got on the field for a preseason game, and I guess the Bengals had seen enough to know that he wasn't going to be able to help them in the regular season, either. Letting him go after paying him $8 million for 172 days of light jogging is an indication that they were pretty damn certain of it, actually.
If you're curious, that comes out to $46,511.63 a day.
Don't hold anything against Bryant, though. I'm sure he was as optimistic and hopeful about his knee as anyone else, and it's not like he held a gun to Mike Brown's(notes) head and made him give him a contract. If teams are going to sign a guy, it's their responsibility to make sure all his limbs are functional first.
Bryant's a free agent now, able to negotiate with any team that's interested. It's hard to imagine anyone beating down his door, given what everyone knows now about the health of his knee. The silver lining, though, is that the Bengals have made him financially secure enough that, if he wants to, he can take a year off and concentrate on getting that knee healthy. Let's hope he comes back in 2011, stronger than ever.