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Cincinnati Bengals

Free Agency Round-Up: Who could be wearing stripes this Fall?

Russell Heltman

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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:

Johnathan Hankins

Sep 10, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Indianapolis Colts nose tackle Al Woods (99) and Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins (95) wait to take the field before the Colts game with the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

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.

NaVorro Bowman

Dec 10, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt (27) runs against Oakland Raiders linebacker NaVorro Bowman (53) in the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

Jan 1, 2017; Landover, MD, USA; New York Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (41) intercepts a pass intended for Washington Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon (88) in the final minute of the fourth-quarter at FedEx Field. The Giants won 19-10. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Bashaud Breeland

Nov 30, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) makes a fourth quarter touchdown reception against Washington Redskins cornerback Bashaud Breeland (26) at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

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 Cincinnati sports fan since before he could walk, Russ grew up in Anderson Township and currently attends Ohio University where he is pursuing a degree in Broadcast Journalism. Aside from cheering on all of the lovable losers in Cincinnati, Russ is an avid golfer and diehard Charlotte Hornets fan. When he's not breaking down the Bengals on 97 WATH you can find his analysis and thoughts on everything Orange and Black right here.

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Cincinnati Bengals

Three-Wide Set, All My Bengals

Jeffery Carr

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© David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

There was a soap opera that was on television, when I was a kid, that I would see when I stayed home sick from school. Figured the title fits what has happened with the Bengals the last few days, so I tweaked it for this week’s three-wide set, what’d you think?

  1. Teryl Austin out, Marvin Lewis in…again.So the most obvious move, ever, happened Monday with the separation of the Bengals and their defunct defensive director. Austin seemed like a good guy, and all, but his defense was horrendous. In case you’ve lived under a rock and are just now delving into the Bengals 2018 season, they are last in all the NFL in yards allowed. Somehow, they are not last, but second to last in points allowed. In fact, as Jay Morrison remarked on Twitter, the Bengals are 11th in points scored this season, but 28th in point differential. That’s how bad this defense has been. One more oh wow moment with bad defense is I am pretty sure, without looking, that the last two Bengals opponents haven’t punted. (Checks stats) Ok, they forced two punts in the Buccaneers game. That being said, opposing offenses had converted over 50% of their third down attempts against the Cincinnati defense. That’s not great. Oh, and one more, one more, oh wow moment: the Bengals became the first team in NFL history to allow 500+ yards in three-straight games…okay, I am done.
    Enter Marvin to “fix” the defense. Not sure it can be done, at this point, but to be real, it can’t get worse. Like, when you’re last, you can’t be more last. Just like if you’re dead, you can’t die again. Yet, somehow, with the worst defense in the league, the Bengals are not dead.  Lewis can schematically fix the defense (which doesn’t help the tackling) and may be able to up the ante on the pass rush, as this defense has been the most passive I’ve seen since Marvin came aboard, but will it be enough? If they pull out a win this Sunday in Baltimore, it will put them in a nice spot for the 2nd wild card spot, if they don’t get it together and lose to Baltimore then the three-wide set might start looking at three draft prospects for the Bengals, each week.
  1. Hue Jackson is back, again again. Welcome back home Mike Brown’s favorite son not named Marvin. The prodigal son returns as he, once again, tried to take his inheritance and go off to another team to make a name for himself, only to find himself, yet again, an assistant on the Bengals coaching staff. This time it’s very Dwight Schrute-esque as he is the “Special Assistant to the Head Coach.” Read that, “assistant to the head coach,” not “assistant head coach.” Here’s hoping Bill Lazor puts his stapler in jello.
    I really do not know how to feel. The “in the moment” side of me likes it for the simple fact he can provide inside info on the Browns, who the Bengals haven’t played, and he might be able to help out a now double-duty Marvin. But the “big picture” side of me hates this. Now it gives a reason for Mike Brown to let go of Marvin Lewis, after his contract expires, and seamlessly transition to another coach he likes. Brown now doesn’t have to go through the necessary, desperately needed painful process of interviewing new coaches who could possibly provide fresh-thinking to a team that desperately needs it. Instead he can hand over the keys to the coach’s office, without any hullabaloo, to a man who does not deserve it (objectively) but, rather, is someone who Mike Brown sees as a son. Ugh…
  1. John Ross scored! That’s right, much congratulations to the man who has endured a lot of criticism, a lot of vitriol, a lot of unnecessary hate…I am talking, of course, about our fearless podcast host, James Rapien. I thought Ross looked good, I thought Andy was bad. JR15 was getting separation, making some guys miss on their coverage…and the ball fell short. Dalton underthrew him. What was the joke when Ross was drafted? “Great, now we can have the fastest dude in the NFL for Andy to still overthrow.” Well, he wasn’t overthrown, he was underthrown. Seriously, there was a tweet, can’t remember who (probably Joe Goodberry), that showed all of John Ross’ targets. The ones he didn’t catch, were bad throws. Plain and simple. Those who criticize Ross are not looking at the whole picture. I think he gets better and I think Andy can build a rapport with him, maybe even this week at Baltimore. Point is, fans and haters, John Ross is going to be just fine.

This is the biggest game of the year, this Sunday, at M&T Bank stadium. Last year, the Bengals knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs there. Will the Ravens get revenge? Or will the Bengals continue their recent dominance over the Ravens (eight wins in the last 10 games)? Stay tuned!

Follow @jefffcarr and @lockedonBengals for more Cincinnati professional football content

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Cincinnati Bengals

Reacting to Austin’s firing and our film review with Joe Goodberry

James Rapien

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I discuss the Bengals firing defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, Marvin Lewis taking over for him, plus Joe Goodberry joins me for our weekly film review. We talk about the Bengals’ 51-14 loss to the Saints, what can be fixed on defense, their issues on offense and more. Listen and subscribe to the podcast below.

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Cincinnati Bengals

The Saints march all over the Bengals 51-14

James Rapien

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The Saints dismantled the Bengals 51-14 on Sunday afternoon. Cincinnati falls to 5-4 and continues to struggle following a 4-1 start to the season. I recapped them game, discussed the defensive struggles, plus hear from Drew Brees, John Ross and I respond to your voicemails on a postgame edition of the Locked on Bengals podcast. Listen and subscribe below.

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