At the stroke of midnight Friday night, restricted free agent Ben Utecht evidently became a member of the Cincinnati Bengals after his former employer, the Indianapolis Colts, opted not to match a 3-year, $8.75 million contract offer that the Bengals put in front of the talented tight end.
In fact, according to Utecht's agent, Christopher Murray, the team didn't even call to give them any indication of their decision or to simply wish Utecht well. It was an odd oversight by a team that is consistently praised for its overall class and how well they treat their players.
"From everything we know at this time, the Colts have not matched the offer sheet," Murray told Scout.com shortly after midnight. "Therefore Ben is setting his sights on being a Bengal and is truly excited about the opportunity."
Since Indianapolis only placed the low tender of $927,000 on Utecht, the signing of the 6-foot-6, 251-pound tight end didn't cost Cincinnati any draft picks to complete the deal. Utecht was originally signed by the Colts as an undrafted free agent.
Ben Utecht celebrates after catching scoring a touchdown in 2006.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Indianapolis' second tight end for the past two seasons started 28 of 32 games, making 68 catches during the 2006 and 2007 campaigns while averaging 10.4 yards per catch. While he was consistently able to find open areas underneath coverage to provide a valuable outlet for Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, Utecht's sound blocking technique and his physical size was also a real asset in Indianapolis' rushing attack.
Utecht's departure creates a void that Indianapolis will likely have to address in the draft. Restricted free agent Bryan Fletcher can't compensate for Utecht's contribution in the running game even if the Colts re-sign him. He's just not as physical as Utecht and is primarily a receiver. Gijon Robinson was an undrafted rookie who spent a good portion of the year on the team's practice squad and has the size to be a force in the running game, but is unproven to date as a receiver at the pro level.
While Dallas Clark remains the team's top tight end, their use of the two tight-end set has been an integral part of their success offensively, so Indianapolis will have to find another well-rounded player like Utecht before the start of the season.
While I was in Mobile, Alabama for Senior Bowl week, Colts team representatives were actively talking with tight ends. Utecht's potential replacement could end up being Tennessee's Brad Cottam or Kentucky's Jacob Tamme, both of whom would be a good fit for the now-vacant spot. And while it's not likely that Texas A&M's Martellus Bennett or USC's Fred Davis will still be on the board near the end of the second round when the Colts make their first selection, they may be tempted to use their top pick on one of those two talented players to fill the gap as either one would be too good to pass up at that point. If Clark would end up hobbled by an injury, they'd need someone of that caliber to step in, because that player's not currently on their roster.
Utecht gives the Bengals the best pass-receiving tight end in close to a decade, which opens up new offensive possibilities for quarterback Carson Palmer and the Bengals' passing attack. Current starter, Reggie Kelly, is best known for his blocking and caught just 20 balls in 2007. Undrafted rookie Dan Coats caught 12 passes last year in three starts and 15 game appearances while Nate Lawrie didn't catch any passes in his two starts and three game appearances.
Can someone explain this to me?
Sure, he's been to two Pro Bowls. And yes, he certainly is talented both as a cornerback and as a return specialist. But do you really think cornerback DeAngelo Hall is worth a reported $24 million in guaranteed money when Asante Samuel received $20 million guaranteed in his deal at the start of free agency?
Well, let's see what some of the key stats tell us. Hall was targeted 110 times in 2007 and allowed 57 receptions for a burned rate of 51.8 percent while allowing 3 touchdowns. He also broke up 16 passes, but allowed 13 yards per catch. Samuel had to defend 94 passes and was burned 50 times at a rate of 53.2 percent. And while he broke up 18 passes and held his opponents to 11.3 yards per catch, he also allowed 6 scores.
DeAngelo Hall holds up a Michael Vick poster during player introductions on Dec. 10, 2007.
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Hall and Samuel were both flagged twice during the year for pass interference, Hall drew one illegal contact foul, and neither one drew a holding penalty. But one notable difference is that Hall was flagged three times for personal fouls while Samuel had none.
Both are deserving of "shutdown corner" status, but now that Hall has learned that he can make even more money despite being a disruptive force while playing for his previous team, there may be no limit to his brash behavior — especially when he's evidently going to bank $24 million no matter what he says on the field, to his coaches or to the media. Maybe the Raiders were smart enough to build a gag order penalty into the contract.
But I doubt it.
It should have told Al Davis & Co. plenty when they heard current Falcons players talking to the media in recent days saying that they really weren't going to miss Hall.
The craziest part of this whole equation is that if the Raiders truly believed they needed another shutdown corner, they cost themselves dearly while they were figuring that out. The Eagles not only paid less money for Samuel, they didn't have to give up a pair of draft picks to sign their new playmaker.
What this signing clearly reflects is that these are desperate times in Oakland. After all, they've averaged just under four wins per season over the past five years.
But they may have just bought themselves a cancer by rewarding Hall's bad behavior with this deal. And with all that guaranteed money, it's not one they'll easily cure if he doesn't straighten out and become the kind of man and teammate he could be.
Statistics referenced in this article are provided by STATS, LLC. Copyright 2007 by STATS, LLC. Any use or distribution of such Licensed Materials without the express written consent of STATS is strictly prohibited.