Ochocinco’s contract has no “option” for 2011

A strange theory has been making its way through the media this week regarding the status of receiver Chad Ochocinco in Cincinnati. Vague references have been made:  (1) to an “option” on Ochocinco’s contract for 2011; (2) to the notion that the team has already exercised the “option”; and (3) to the idea that if they hadn’t they would have owed him $3.5 million.

For 2011, there is no decision that the Bengals have to make, no “option” to exercise.  They simply hold Ochocinco’s rights via a contract that pays him a base salary of $6 million in the next football season, whenever the next football season may commence.

But yet Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com writes, “There is a school of thought out there that believes the Bengals already exercised the team option on The Ocho and he’s under contract for ’11.  That would mean there would be no timetable for a decision and if anybody is looking to get him they may have to trade for him.”

Hobson’s bottom-line message is accurate — the Bengals owe Chad nothing at all until the season begins, which means there truly is no timetable for a decision regarding 2011 (other than the commencement of the regular season, at which time the base salary becomes as a practical matter guaranteed).  Thus, the Bengals can wait to decide whether to keep him, to cut him, to trade him, or to tell him after training camp and the preseason that if he doesn’t agree to take a pay cut he’s going to be released.

That said, the Bengals didn’t acquire Ochocinco’s rights via the recent exercise of an “option”.  His contract contained a $3.5 million option bonus in the early years, the exercise of which would have extended his stay through 2011.  But that’s just a device for funneling money to a player in the honeymoon phase of a long-term deal.  The Bengals haven’t — and surely wouldn’t — pay $3.5 million now for the right to possibly pay him $6 million in base salary when the season arrives.