Antonio Bryant has worn several faces during his NFL career. He's been a malcontent who's talked his way out of three cities (in order: Dallas, Cleveland and San Francisco). He's been a from-nowhere star in 2008 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, when he caught 83 passes for 1,248 yards, 60 first downs and seven touchdowns. And he's been an overpaid, injury-prone prima donna in '09, when the Bucs paid him the franchise number for wideouts ($9.88 million) and he caught only 39 passes while missing time with a torn knee meniscus and subsequent post-surgery swelling, as well as a groin injury.
Now, Bryant's fantasy owners certainly have a bitter taste left over from '09, but even his most jaded detractors among us will admit that landing with the Cincinnati Bengals (which Bryant did Wednesday, for a reported four years and $28 million) is a decent scenario for his value. Sure, it'd be nice to see him lined up to be a No. 1 NFL wideout again, as he was supposed to be for the Bucs last season. But after his awful '09 that wasn't going to happen. The best he could've hoped for was to become a field-stretcher for a powerful aerial offense. The question is: Do the Bengals count as a powerful aerial offense?
Well, this is not Carson Palmer circa 2005, and the Bengals really changed their identity this past season: they became the league's fourth most run-heavy offense -- and one of just five squads who ran it more than they threw it -- by running 51.4 percent of the time in '09. Palmer had only one 300-yard passing game all year and tossed only 21 touchdowns, fewest for a full season in his career. Most suspect of all was his ability to throw the deep ball; only nine of his 282 completions this past season went for 30 yards or more. Of course, one could argue that without a true deep threat after Chris Henry's passing (Chad Ochocinco was never really a burner and has probably slowed down a bit nine years into his NFL career), Palmer didn't have a lot of receivers open deep. Maybe with Bryant on board, things open up again. Maybe.
I think it's likelier that Bryant settles into the secondary role the Bengals imagined for Laveranues Coles last season, but does it more successfully. The team will continue to rely on the run, and Bryant will have a few big-yardage games, cede most of the touchdowns to Ochocinco, and occasionally be an acceptable bye-week fill-in as a No. 4 or 5 fantasy receiver, but not more than that. I'll admit, despite questions about Palmer's arm, I did bump Bryant up 10 spots on my wide receiver list, from No. 53 to No. 43, thanks to this news.
Meanwhile, I don't think Bryant's signing affects Ochocinco's value negatively, because he was always going to get some help on the field's opposite side, which helps explain why I had him as a No. 2 fantasy wideout in my ranks, rather than a No. 1. He's still the main man in Cincy, especially in the red zone. As for Palmer? Bryant's presence probably does increase his upside some, but we'll need to see more aggressive play calling and better deep-ball results before it'll be safe to number Palmer among every-week fantasy starting quarterbacks. I'm not there yet.
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.