By Ross Tucker
September 03, 2008

With no football to play for the first time in 18 years, former pro Ross Tucker is passing the time reading about his favorite sport. What follows are a few links to NFL-related articles he found and his take on them.

I don't have a problem, on the surface, with the Cincinnati Bengals decision to release right tackle Willie Anderson after 12 years in the Queen City. The NFL is a harsh, unsentimental business and I see that more and more with every passing year. It is never easy to say good-bye to any player, but it is particularly difficult when that player has been one of the pillars of strength for a downtrodden franchise that takes as many hits off the field as they take on.

I do have a problem, however, with the manner in which this took place. The Cincinnati Bengals have become a case study in organizational mismanagement.

Anderson gave the perennially subpar franchise everything he had for 12 years, yet was given a financial ultimatum at the 11th hour.

Anderson was hurt last year and was demoted after the team elected to place the franchise tender on promising youngster Stacy Andrews. Anderson, a four-time Pro Bowler, dutifully swallowed his pride and went back to work, eager to, at best, prove he deserved to be starting or, at worst, become the best backup tackle in the NFL. It is not easy for a guy who started 173 games for a franchise to give up his position, and Big Willie didn't want to go down without a fight. But he accepted his role and was still a revered figure in the locker room for the class he showed in dealing with the difficult passing of the torch to Andrews.

Anderson felt good about his performance this summer coming back from last year's knee injury, and made it clear when I spoke with him on my radio show on Sirius that this was not due to poor performance. But the Bengals clearly felt otherwise. They must have, because it couldn't have been just about the money.

If the Bengals didn't feel comfortable paying $3 million to a backup tackle, they could have and should have broached the subject of a pay cut at the beginning of training camp when they named Andrews the starter. Heck, they could have started the discussion with Anderson the second they placed the franchise tender on Andrews in the first place. It was clear he was going to play.

If it really was about money, waiting until the last day and putting the financial squeeze on a guy that had done so much for your organization is classless.

If it was about how the Bengals felt about Anderson's performance throughout the preseason and during camp, why even bring up the subject of money? If the Bengals didn't feel he could get the job done anymore, they should have just told him so and moved on.

My guess is Mike Brown, the Bengals owner, was conflicted on this one given Anderson's loyalty over the years and tried to make amends by offering Anderson the opportunity to come back at a palatable cap number. But you can't have it both ways and if money, rather than performance, was indeed the issue, it should have been discussed weeks if not months earlier.

But this type of mismanagement has become commonplace in Cincinnati. The next thing we know they will finally set a standard for personal conduct by releasing a player after his fifth arrest only to bring him back after the charges are dropped and the receiving corps is in shambles.

Oh, wait, they already did that.

Anderson gets jettisoned unceremoniously and Chris Henry gets to stay. Yeah, that makes sense.

The athlete formerly known as Chad Johnson is now going by Chad Ocho Cinco, with his last name cleverly matching the Spanish words that correspond to the numbers on the back of his jersey. Previously, Ocho Cinco was merely Johnson's nickname. Now, it is his legal name and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has said Chad prefers to be called by the new moniker.

Chad is either a marketing genius who finds a way to keep his name in the spotlight or a troubled soul with psychological issues. Either way, the NFL is walking a very thin tight rope on this one. A man has a right to change his name and have his new name be recognized. But what if it wasn't just "Ocho Cinco"? What if Chad or any other player decided to pocket some additional endorsement income from his own name?

I can easily envision Chad or another like him changing their name to better suit one of their off-field ventures. Chad and Chad Right Guard certainly come to mind. I wouldn't put it past him. In the interest of commerce, and at its core that is exactly what it is, Chad could change his name on a yearly basis. Players get a fraction of the revenue from every jersey that is sold which bears their name and number. If the Bengals and the NFL officially switch his jersey to Ocho Cinco, that will become a hot item.

It may be just "Chad being Chad," but he is the one laughing all the way to the bank.

There is nothing quite like the first week of the season and the opening game. No more preseason. No more half-empty stands. It is time to play real football in games that actually count.

As a former player, I remember the feeling of enormous optimism that permeates every team and every city this week. Even if their brains tell them otherwise, the hearts of the players and fans tell them this could be their year.

And why not? Everyone has a clean slate and it is very easy to look at the examples over the years of teams that come from nowhere to go on extended playoff runs or even win Super Bowls like the 1999 Rams. You never know, right?

Wrong. Unfortunately, by the time the leaves start changing across most of the country, the hope will begin to dwindle in a number of cities across the country. Folks in Kansas City and Atlanta will be forced to realize their team is a year away. At least.

There is no reason to talk about that quite yet, however, because every team is undefeated and the eternal optimism this week brings is one of the best parts about being a player in the NFL. Or a fan or coach for that matter. The game is a profession and as I have noted in the two Takes above, it is about money. But somewhere, deep down, far away from their sense of practicality, every player secretly hopes and prays that maybe they have a chance to win it all.

Let the games begin.

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