Mason Thompson | January 9th, 2020
The Bengals were the ultimate wild card in a changing AFC North during the offseason. While Cleveland had all of the media talking about them, Pittsburgh was without two of their star offensive playmakers, and Baltimore lost key starters on defense, Cincinnati was the ultimate dark horse in the division. That was before the injuries ended Jonah Williams and A.J. Green‘s season before they started. The Cincinnati Bengals were a complete disaster going 2-14, including an 0-11 start.
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What Went Right
Tyler Boyd emerged again this year posting a stat-line of 90-1046-5. In Green’s absence, Boyd seems to have found himself as the heir to him as the number one receiver in Cincinnati. Boyd will be a centerpiece of the offense for years to come.
Many thought John Ross was a bust since he hasn’t been able to stay healthy since being drafted. With Green being out, Ross would become the team’s second receiver and make the most of his opportunities. He had 28 receptions for 506 yards and three touchdowns in only eight games.
Tyler Eifert has been injury-prone for most of his career. He would manage to play all 16 games for the first time in his career. He wasn’t as effective as he had been in the past but Eifert being active for all 16 games is a step in the right direction.
What Went Wrong
Green got hurt in July and wouldn’t play a snap during the whole season. Instead of placing him on injured reserve, the team decided to keep him on the active roster until the final week of the season. With Green on the active roster, he would end up taking up a roster spot the team could have used if they had placed him on injured reserve. The relationship between the front office and Green appears to be broken and might impact the team during the offseason as he is an upcoming free agent.
Andy Dalton has been an average starting quarterback in the league for a while. He can help his team win while also hurting them in result to a loss. Dalton wasn’t helping the team in their losses, but the defense wasn’t doing him any favors either. The Bengals decided to bench him in favor of rookie Ryan Finley on the day before the trade deadline. If the decision had been made earlier, Dalton could’ve been traded at the deadline to a quarterback needy team. The team eventually went back to Dalton late in the season but it was too little too late.
The Bengals got nothing from their draft class. Williams missed the entire season after being selected 11th overall. Second-round pick, Drew Sample only had five catches for 30 yards. Finley was a disaster when he started. The only player who got solid playing time from the draft class was Germaine Pratt.
Outlook for the Offseason
The Bengals are projected to have over $54 million dollars in cap space for the offseason. The team will gain almost $18 million dollars once they decide to cut or trade Dalton. William Jackson and Cordy Glenn are also potential cut candidates as they would gain another $18 million dollars by cutting the two of them. The Bengals have needs all across the board still and are going to be in for a long rebuild.
The Team’s Free Agents
Green should be the team’s priority signing. It is still very unlikely that he returns to the team but the Bengals should try everything imaginable to retain him. If he gets franchise tagged, I don’t see a way he signs the tender.
Darqueze Dennard hasn’t lived up to the potential the Bengals expected when they spent a first-round pick on him. He is still a serviceable corner and the Bengals lack much depth behind him. The team should find a way to keep him on a team-friendly deal instead of breaking the bank for him.
The Bengals allowed the most rushing yards in the league last year. This was due to a lack in the front seven and terrible linebacker play. Andrew Billings has been steady since being selected in the fourth round. He is an interior gap stuffer who has earned the right to a new contract.
Open Market Free Agents
The Bengals have lacked a true difference-maker at tight end because of Eifert’s injuries and the horrific If he is not retained, Hunter Henry and Austin Hooper would be viable options for the Bengals to sign.
The offensive line is still horrendous and needs improvement. Jack Conklin would be a major upgrade at either tackle spot and would allow the team to look elsewhere in the second and third rounds of the draft.
The linebacker position has been a liability for Cincinnati for years. Preston Brown was signed to a massive contract only to get cut during the season. Cory Littleton, Danny Trevathan, and Kyle Van Noy all offer viable options as the starting linebacker for next year. The draft’s linebacker class is underwhelming as well so it would be better to hand out some cash to ensure you get a starting-caliber linebacker.
Projecting the NFL Draft
Round 1, Pick 1: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
This should be obvious at this point. Burrow was an absolute machine this year at LSU, posting an insane stat-line. Zac Taylor would love to work with him and wouldn’t have to keep waiting for Finley to develop.
Round 2, Pick 33: Creed Humphrey, IOL, Oklahoma
Even with the potential signing of Conklin, the Bengals still need help on the interior as well. Humphrey is in the conversation as a potential first-round selection. He would start at left guard on day one and form a great duo between himself and whoever starts at left tackle between Conklin and Williams.
Round 3, Pick 65: Cameron Dantzler, CB, Mississippi State
The Bengals don’t have much depth behind Jackson and Dennard at cornerback. Dantzler will need time to develop so throwing him to the wolves is somewhat of a bad idea. He is best suited in a zone scheme and will need to develop any sort of physicality so he can work against more physical receivers. He has great knowledge of routes and has great anticipation.
The Bengals have a good amount of weapons on offense to surround Burrow with even if they lose Green. The defense is what is going to keep this team from being competitive. It will be interesting to see if Taylor gives Wade Phillips a call to try and help the defense since Phillips was recently let go from the Rams. Burrow and Taylor should be a great combo but it will take a while for them to get in a groove.
The team is at the beginning of a full rebuild on defense while having an offense capable of scoring points. In a division with Lamar Jackson, Ben Roethlisberger, and Baker Mayfield, wins in the division will be hard to come by if the defense doesn’t step it up. The Bengals also play the Cowboys, Titans, Chargers, Texans, and Eagles next year. The team needs a big free agency period to make anything spectacular happen. The Bengals will be lucky to get away with more than six wins next year.
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