Offseason activities have wrapped up around the league and teams have begun to get a feel for how their prospective rosters will fill out. It’s a time for preparation and reflection as the dog days of Summer bleed into training camp.
This is the premier window for an organization like the Cincinnati Bengals to fly under the radar and add one more piece to help solve the Super Bowl puzzle. With roughly $7 million left in cap space this late in the summer, Cincinnati can offer an enticing one-year payday to any of the big names left on the market without hindering their long-term finances.
This could all be for naught if Carlos Dunlap or Geno Atkins are extended, but of the roughly 25 notable free agents still available, there are really only four I envision in a Bengals uniform this Fall:
It never feels like a good idea to sign a guy the Indianapolis Colts don’t want but that’s exactly what I’m advocating for in the case of defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins.
Ranked the third best run stopper in the league by Pro Football Focus last year, Hankins is a two-down defensive lineman that can really fill out the Bengals depth in the trenches. The two biggest reasons Indianapolis moved on from him was a change in the defensive scheme under new coordinator Matt Eberflus, and they were able to save $8.6 million by letting him go.
Hankins, a top-twenty interior defender, could immediately form a potent inside combination with All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins and give some peace of mind to fans sick of seeing Andrew Billings get pushed around week after week. Fifth-round pick Andrew Brown was drafted to essentially replace Billings, but who knows how ready he is to contribute. Hankins is a savvy veteran who could immediately make his presence felt as a run stopper.
He is likely still on the market because of salary disagreements, but at the age of 26, guys like Hankins would rather take a small pay cut than sit on their couch.
This one is more of a band-aid than a concrete fix.
NaVorro Bowman is now on the wrong side of 30 and has lost some lateral agility over the past two seasons. He is no longer the dominant all-around linebacker he once was but he’s still more than competent and would be a welcome addition to the Bengals linebacking corps.
The Raiders moved on from the Penn State product to sign Derrick Johnson, even though Bowman was ranked #11 amongst linebackers last year by Pro Football Focus. He can clearly still produce at a high level, especially against the run. The Nick Vigil experiment hasn’t gone according to plan in Cincinnati and signing Bowman would confirm that in the eyes of the Bengals brass.
With Vontaze Burfict sidelined for a quarter of the season, Bowman could be the string that ties a questionable position group together with his leadership, on and off the field.
Call me crazy but I’m still not convinced Dre Kirkpatrick is the Yin to William Jackson’s Yang.
Maybe he finds consistency in one-one-one coverage this year and proves me wrong but why not bring in a little veteran competition to up the stakes. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is coming off his worst season since 2012 but was still graded as a fringe starter in 2017. The Giants wanted him to take a pay cut, then move to safety and that’s how we arrived in late-June without DRC on a roster.
At the ripe age of 32 I still think DRC can be a solid contributor as the second corner on an NFL team and with question marks surrounding the crop of rookie corners and veterans like Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard, a one-year flyer might be the best option for Rodgers-Cromartie.
The type of contract Breeland wants could make this the biggest long shot out of the group, but like I just mentioned with DRC, Breeland would represent an upgrade over every Bengals cornerback outside of William Jackson.
He didn’t perform insanely well across the board last season, but Breeland was an absolute force defending slot receivers in 2016. That is presumably where the Bengals would utilize him should he sign with Cincinnati over the next few weeks. He would represent a significant performance boost over current nickel corners, KeiVare Russell and Dennard.
The crazy thing with Breeland has been his medical situation, which kept him from signing a three year, $24 million deal with the Panthers earlier in the offseason. He cut his heel while on vacation in the Dominican Republic, leading to a failed physical in the first week of free agency.
The injury might be too serious for the Bengals to consider bringing Breeland into the fold, but with right around $7 million in cap space and a defined win-now mentality, there is no reason why the Orange and Black can’t bring in one more piece to solidify their hopes of lifting the Lombardi Trophy in February.
A Year in the Life of the Bengals – 2010
After a surprising 2009 season in which the Bengals swept the AFC North division, there was a lot of optimism surrounding the team in 2010, especially after they landed Terrell Owens in free agency. Granted, there was also plenty of criticism of that move, as it now took two of the biggest mouths in the league (T.O. and Ochocinco – T.Ochocinco, if you will), and stuck them together on the same team. Still, at the end of the day, Owens supplied something the Bengals lacked in 2009 following the departure of T.J. Houshmandzadeh – a true No.2 receiver. How did this turn out?
Oh we’ll get there, but 2010 supplied some pretty solid fun facts for the week. Social media took another step forward this year, as Instagram was launched. Eight years later, I have an account, but haven’t posted in quite a few years, and even those posts came about via persuasion from my wife. Furthering the social media age, the iPad was also released in 2010, giving us yet another platform to stare at. And finally, one of my personal favorite Disney movies, Toy Story 3 was released, topping the movie charts and nearly crushing fans’ hearts after the end of the 15-year saga (if you’ve seen it, you know what I mean).
While I remember plenty of folks being wildly optimistic about the 2010 version of the Cincinnati Bengals, I will toot my own horn a bit and admit I was not. Sure, the adrenaline was still in place from the 2009 season, but the back-to-back losses to the Jets had left a sour taste in my mouth, and I was in the group that wasn’t impressed by the Owens signing. He and Ochocinco had already been incredibly talkative together in front of cameras before he was signed, and that couldn’t lead anywhere good, in my humble opinion. The 2018 Hall of Famer put up a good season in his lone appearance in Bengal stripes (we’ll get there), but this team had a wildly different look.
The offseason, unlike prior seasons, hadn’t been all bad – or, unproductive, if you will. Aside from Owens, the Bengals were quiet in free agency, but the 2010 Draft produced a couple names that are still in Cincinnati to this day. Carlos Dunlap was drafted in the second round and Geno Atkins in the fourth. The Bengals also selected Jermaine Gresham and Jordan Shpley in this draft, which at the time shaped the offense up to have a starting tight end and slot receiver.
In a year I’ve dubbed The Circus Year, the Bengals finished a rotten 4-12, in the cellar of the AFC North – yep, even behind the Browns, who were 5-11. They started 2-1 following wins over the Ravens and Panthers, but would go on to lose their next 10 contests, before winning two of their final three games. Now, to give the Bengals a break, it’s worth pointing out that in this 10 game losing streak, seven of those games were one possession. Say what you want about answering the call late in games, but that’s horrible luck in one-possession games to lose that many of them.
There was also an indication of fan reaction to the team during this time – four of their eight home games were blacked out (back when that was a thing). Clearly, the fans were frustrated by this point, even one year removed from a playoff season.
In what turned out to be his last season (more on that in a bit) in Cincinnati, Carson Palmer was once again decent, but showed plenty of flaws. He threw for 3,970 yards, 26 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. His favorite target that year was not long-time teammate Chad Ochocinco, but the newly signed Owens. Ocho-Uno caught 72 passes for 983 yards and nine touchdowns, a pretty good turnout for a guy who’d been considered past his prime at this point, even dating back to 2009 when he was in Buffalo.
The aforementioned Ochocinco was… okay. He caught 67 balls for 831 yards and four touchdowns – it feels silly to call that just okay, but by the measures he had established for his entire career, this was something of a letdown. Meanwhile the rookies Shipley and Gresham each caught 52 passes and combined for seven touchdowns.
The running game was fairly strong behind the legs of Cedric Benson – his 3.5 yards per carry was fine at best, but he did accumulate 1,111 yards and score seven touchdowns. Unfortunately, Benson struggled with ball control, fumbling the ball seven times.
On defense, there were some showings that were impressive, but from an overall standpoint, the unit wasn’t nearly as good as it would become. Star cornerback Johnathan Joseph – in his final season in Cincinnati – put up what could arguably have been his worst season since he was a rookie, tallying only three interceptions and 42 tackles (in 12 games). Rookie defensive end Carlos Dunlap notched an impressive 9.5 sacks in only nine games, while Geno Atkins logged three of his own.
A few paragraphs up, I mentioned that this was The Circus Year, partly due to the media party that accompanied Owens and Ochocinco being on the same team. However, this was largely a name I came up with in hindsight – huge team changes would come in 2011, and once a bunch of new guys were in place, not only did the two receivers seem like a circus, but so did Palmer’s offseason antics (more on that next week).
And so it begins – the official entrance into the current era of Bengals football in which we currently reside. Old faces are out, some new ones are in, but of course, one remains the same. Tune in next week!
Colin Cowherd isn’t high on the Bengals
The Bengals and Vegas are at odds
When a franchise like the Cincinnati Bengals hasn’t won a playoff game in 27 years and has missed the postseason in back-to-back seasons, expectations should assuredly be tempered.
Vegas oddsmakers are playing their part in that argument.
The Bengals have made plenty of changes on and off the field over the past few months: Revamping the offensive line with Cordy Glenn and Billy Price, new systems on both sides of the ball, and a rekindled hope for guys like John Ross.
What did all that mean to experts in Sin City? One less win in 2018 and a bottom-ten chance at playing meaningful games in January.
Las Vegas set the Bengals over/under at 6.5 games tied for the 4th-lowest win projection of any team in the league. The three teams below them being the Cleveland Browns (5.5 wins), Arizona Cardinals (5.5 wins), and the New York Jets (6 wins).
Now Vegas does favor Cincinnati to eclipse that total (-130) but scraping by through another 7-win season isn’t going to cut it for Bengals fans.
The low expectations from national pundits shouldn’t be surprising. They clearly value two things the Bengals didn’t make a change to this offseason: Head Coach and Quarterback.
In the modern NFL, the barometer for success is relatively unchanged with a new offensive line coach or a fresh defensive system. It’s about the man under center and the leader on the sidelines, both of which are still justified question marks as Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis head into their eighth season together.
Just take a look at the highest O/U projection among NFL teams, 11 wins for the New England Patriots. That has almost everything to do with the greatest quarterback/head coach duo in history returning for another campaign.
Coinciding with the low win expectation, Vegas pegged the Bengals with the eighth-worst odds to make the playoffs and at first glance, it’s difficult to argue with that projection.
“What have you done for me lately?”
This might as well be the slogan for the NFL, and lately, the Bengals haven’t done much. 13 wins in the past two seasons, the worst offense in the NFL a year ago. Those are some bad optics and Vegas used them accordingly, but call me crazy, Cincinnati will be a different group in 2018. This Bengals team is a serious sleeper and I’d take that over any day of the week. Dalton and Co. have almost zero expectations outside of Paul Brown Stadium and that’s when they shine brightest.
Just look at what this team has done over the past decade.
In 2009 they were projected to be a bottom feeder after Carson Palmer’s elbow injury sent them on a 4-11-1 spiral the year before.
The Cardiac Cats won the division.
After the disastrous Terrell Owens experiment sent them right back to four wins, plenty of media outlets gave them no chance at success in 2011.
Wild Card berth from a bunch of rookies.
The bottom line is don’t count this team out when most of the “experts” have them on the margins, recent history says everyone should be jumping on those plus odds to make the playoffs. Vegas is more than justified with their projections for the Bengals season but don’t be surprised when they sneak into the playoffs and defy expectations once again.