Since my last article was kind of a bummer I wanted to do something more analytical. This is a position by position assessment of what the Bengals need to focus on this offseason. I’ll also include how much movement I expect to see at each position. Whether it be free agents, draft or trade the Bengals have a lot of work to do.
As with anything I do, this is all based on what I saw on the field, not what I think the Bengals will do. So lets get start with the good news first — the defense.
Need? Depth only addition
After snagging a guy I had rated as a first round prospect in the 4th round last year (Carl Lawson), the Bengals are in pretty good shape at defensive end. Carlos Dunlap is still awesome and while his best days might be behind him, I wouldn’t expect a sharp drop off. Jordan Willis showed promise last year and I’m confident with him at the third spot. After lighting the preseason on fire, Chris Smith had a decent year, but is replaceable. I’d be happy with those four playing on the edge for the Bengals in 2018. They could use another end/tackle swing player — a la Wallace Gilberry for the base downs. They could use a mid-round pick to address that issue. I don’t know if I want Carl Lawson playing all the starting snaps with his injury history. I think he thrives in a rotation. You don’t need to look for an upgrade here though. They don’t need to add an end this offseason. Michael Johnson shouldn’t play end anymore — he hasn’t been a good pass rusher in years.
This one is a little unique. The Bengals could draft a DT in the first round or just add a low level free agent. Either scenario makes sense. I feel good about Andrew Billings as the starting nose tackle and I’d love to see him in that role this year. Geno Atkins is a superstar three technique and Ryan Glasgow is a nice third option that can play both spots. If they draft someone early they would need to be an attacking three-tech like Geno. He could rotate with Atkins and play next to him on 3rd downs rather than moving a defensive end inside. If they bring in a low level fourth guy, he could be mostly a backup and I would feel good about the first three with ends sliding inside on 3rd downs. There will likely be an addition at this position because Pat Sims has to go.
If only Vontaze Burfict and Nick Vigil would play 16 games with Jordan Evans behind them. You really only start two linebackers and Vigil and Burfict are both good enough to feel comfortable with. But, there’s no evidence that can happen. The Bengals need to bring in a starting caliber linebacker in the draft, free agency or with a dark ritual. The new guy is going to need to play substantial snaps when one or both of the starters is hurt and at worst he can play the SAM position. If they draft someone early and feel strongly about him, they could still use Vigil at SAM. The new guy, plus in the nickel package. I don’t feel good about anyone in the linebacker room not named Burfict, Vigil or Evans, so there’s a depth need too. You could add two guys easily, maybe three. This is a prime spot for an undrafted free agent to make a roster. I’d expect to see a lot of movement at this position.
Kevin Minter and Vinny Rey need to go. Minter bet on himself last year and lost. He’s not that good at football and certainly not worth what he was paid. Rey doesn’t have the athleticism to play the position anymore and you could argue he never did. The front office needs to protect Marvin Lewis from himself with guys like this and keep them out of his hands.
Need? Please stop
It’s good, it’s great. Stop drafting them for a while. Don’t even bring in free agents. William Jackson III might be the best cornerback in the league in the next few years. Darqueze Dennard stepped up his play and Dre Kirkpatrick is good enough to be a starter. Adam Jones would start on most teams. Josh Shaw is a solid player. I’m a big believer in KeiVarae Russell. I think he has the athleticism and size to play outside and I’d love to see him get more snaps this year. Cut it out Bengals. You did it, we have corners.
Need? We’re fine
Our starting safeties are underrated. Any team would be happy with George Iloka and Shawne Williams. It’s not worth exploring an upgrade unless something unforeseen falls into your lap – a prospect you didn’t expect to be there or free agent. Clayton Fejedelem proved he could play last year and Shaw was decent when he played safety. I’d love to see Brandon Wilson play more in 2018. His athleticism and versatility are intriguing.
Let’s transition to the offense – the god awful offense. There’s a ton of work to be done here and lots of resources to work with. Will the Bengals will use the resources they have to good use?
Need? Upgrade and Depth
Buckle up because I’m going to take this thing off-road for a minute. There’s been a lot of talk this offseason about whether or not Andy Dalton is good enough to win a Super Bowl. I believe the answer is yes on almost any other team. The Bengals are a unique team because of their ownership. The other 31 (maybe I’m missing one or two that don’t) teams search the football world high and low for the best executive possible to be their general manager, meanwhile Bengals owner Mike Brown thinks he’s the best man for the job. That results in a self imposed salary cap that’s 410-15 million lower than everyone else’s. They stick through poor contracts like $5 million each for Brandon LaFell and Michael Johnson. They refuse to participate in free agency, which means if they miss on a draft class their roster falls apart. It also results in doing dumb things like keeping your backup quarterback with 2nd round trade value for 3 years and then watching him walk away without getting anything. Because of all this, they have a worse chance to field and maintain the top five roster needed for Dalton to win a Super Bowl. They had it in 2015 and it only took them two years to ruin it. In order to really compete for more than one-year per decade, the Bengals need to strike gold at either quarterback or head coach. Since Lewis will still be coaching the Bengals long after we’re all dead and gone, the only hope is quarterback. If I were running the show, I’d make sure I figured out which top quarterback I liked the most and I’d be sure to draft him. It’s so rare that there are four top level quarterback prospects in a draft and it’s a shame that the Bengals won’t consider one. With AJ McCarron gone, I’m sure they’ll sign a veteran or take one later in the draft. Perhaps they’ll strike gold in the draft, but the odds drop exponentially in the later rounds.
The infamous ‘RB thirst’ of Joe Goodberry has finally been quenched. Joe Mixon has been everything we had hoped. Giovani Bernard showed he’s still as great as he’s ever been. Unfortunately, the coaches haven’t figured out how to use them. Mixon and Bernard’s lack of usage in the passing game was borderline treasonous last season. The last two spots behind them are up for grabs, but they’re largely inconsequential. The Bengals coaches have enough trouble rotating two backs effectively, let alone three. I would be happy with them keeping Tra Carson, Brian Hill or both. Cedric Peerman could also be fine as a 4. It’s really a shame he never got a shot to play offense. He could have been quite good in his prime. We may see a late round pick used on a running back.
There’s no doubt the Bengals receivers weren’t good enough in 2017. A.J. Green had an off year but that’s kind of to be expected when the offense struggles to get a first down. No one else could create separation. I feel like we know less about the receivers going into 2018 than we did going into 2017. I don’t know if adding more is the solution. They already have six receivers you don’t want to get rid of. I think part of the solution is to cut Brandon LaFell. Another case of Lewis needing to be protected from himself. John Ross needs a chance. If not him, then it needs to be Cody Core or Josh Malone. There needs to be more young players involved in the offense. I can think of six other Bengals receivers I’d rather see getting screen opportunities besides LaFell. It might be addition by subtraction at this spot. I would be surprised to see a receiver signed in free agency, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see one drafted on day three.
This offense looks totally different when Tyler Eifert is healthy. Dalton needs an excellent receiving tight end. As of right now Eifert is not on the 2018 roster, but I believe it would be a mistake to let him go as long as the doctors clear him. If you don’t have Eifert, you’re looking for a guy just like him. The Bengals use resources to replace rather than upgrade. Even if they do bring back Eifert, you need to add a similar player. Tyler Kroft is fine but he’s clearly a number two. He might catch 10 touchdowns, but he’s never going to stretch a defense or require a double team. It might be time to move on from C.J. Uzomah. He never quite turned into the weapon they hoped. If Eifert isn’t retained, this need becomes dire.
I don’t know that there’s a starting caliber offensive tackle on the roster. Andre Smith is serviceable, Cedric Ogbuehi has taken every opportunity to prove the team wrong. They draft him hoping he’d be Andrew Whitworth’s successor. Jake Fisher is a huge question mark with spotty play and a concerning heart condition. The Bengals need to attack this need in free agency, the draft and maybe even a trade (looking at you Cordy Glenn). If you have bad tackles, you’re going to get exposed. Expect a lot of movement at this position.
Need? Surprisingly moderate
Clint Boling was the only good starter on the 2017 offensive line. On the other side, the Bengals found out what a lot of us already knew. Alex Redmond and Christian Westerman were better options all along. I’d be perfectly comfortable with either of them starting at right guard in 2018. A little healthy competition wouldn’t be the worst. I would expect the Bengals to bring in at least 1 guard to compete.
Need? Please, sweet baby football Jesus. Help us.
Center hasn’t been good for the Bengals since Rich Braham rode off into the sunset. Kyle Cook was fine, but Russell Bodine certainly hasn’t been. He gets embarrassed at least twice per game and single handedly ruins multiple plays. The fact that they’re talking about bringing him back is so disheartening. I don’t know what they’re watching, but I sincerely doubt they think it’s a good thing when Bodine gets thrown into Dalton’s lap. Center would be so easy to upgrade in the draft or free agency. I’d be happy with either. I don’t know if my heart can handle another year of Bodine.
I’m not going to go into the specialists, but if the Bengals don’t resign Kevin Huber, it would be a huge mistake. He has been a rock solid top ten punter for years.
Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear from you!
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.