With the owners of the 9th overall selection we have another one of the many disappointing teams from last season the Bengals. They were expected to compete for the AFC North again, but seemed incapable from getting out of their own way. I will try to dissect what they should do this off season to get better and get back to competing for the top of their division. Without further adieu here we go!
Cincinnati Bengals Salary Cap Space: $44 million
Upcoming Free Agents:
1) Kevin Zeitler OG
2) Andrew Whitworth OT
3) Dre Kirkpatrick CB
4) Rex Burkhead FB
5) Karlos Dansby LB
6) Brandon LaFell WR
7) Margus Hunt DE
--- The Bengals may actually take a step back next season if they fail to resign either Whitworth or Zeitler who are two of the best linemen at their respective positions. Especially, since the rest of the Bengals line last season was shaky keeping pressure off of Andy Dalton. Obviously, keeping both may be extremely difficult and they have other areas of need to worry about also so putting a majority of their cap on the two may be difficult. I would hedge my bets that Zeitler will be back whether if it's by a new contract or the franchise tag. He is the younger of the two and still has a lot of good years left ahead of him. Possibly, Whitworth will come back on a team friendly deal, but other teams with a better shot at winning will be calling for him.
I would like to see them resign Kirkpatrick even though the beginning of his career was really shaky. He finally started to turn it around this past season. Now how much of it was him actually getting better or he started playing better on a contract year is the question you have to ask yourself when you sign him. Signing him to a shorter contract if you could may be the best plan. Possibly a one year "prove it deal" or a two year deal so you are not stuck with him if he stops playing hard again. It helps him that they are in a bit of a crunch at the corner position with Adam Jones' future up in the air after his latest run in with the law, Darqueze Dennard is another first round corner who is having difficulties proving his worth being selected there, and William Jackson last year's first rounder missed the whole season due to injury so he is still a mystery. Bringing back Kirkpatrick can help maintain the continuity.
Other than that possibly bringing back LaFell could work, but he is a weak back up option at best. The rest of the crop could be let go this off season.
Possible Off Season Moves:
- I know Adam Jones has been playing well, but his off field antics .....also his occassional on field antics is enough for me to move off from him. I would cut him this off season that would help save them $5 million to make room for Jackson to start and possibly another first round corner who has better upside and hopefully not be a distraction fighting other team's coaches.
- Other than that there is not much else the Bengals need to do in terms of cutting or trading players. They could possibly move on from Charles Johnson if they find something better, but if not they should hold on to him.
- Tony Jefferson S - After letting Reggie Nelson go last off season you can definitely tell they were weaker in the middle of the field getting beat continuously deep down the field. George Iloka is a nice safety, but he is at his best attacking the run and with Jefferson who is better in coverage the two can create a very nice tandem.
- J.J. Wilcox, Duron Harmon, or D.J. Swearinger S - If they cannot land the big fish in Jefferson these other three can be nice options as well to come in and hold down the spot next Iloka. Each of them are younger with some more room to develop, but also come with some dings to their game. Wilcox was hurt down the stretch and took a bit to figure it out, but he seems to be getting better. The same could be said about Swearinger who seemed like a bust with the Texans before figuring it out with the Cardinals. Harmon is the bigger mystery who had some playing time with the Patriots and if he finds a place where he can start he might be able to flourish.
- Jason Pierre-Paul DE - As mentioned earlier Charles Johnson is a player who can be replaced on the defensive line. His second tour with the Bengals has not been a very good one and another pass rusher can clear up room for Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins. Pierre-Paul with his shorter hand proved he was still able to put a decent pass rush on opposing quarterbacks.
- Zach Brown or Kiko Alonso LB - The Bengals linebacking corp needs a jolt of energy. Vinny Rey and Rey Maualuga need to be upgraded with more athletic options. For a few seasons now they have had the slowest and least athletic linebackers in the league in my opinion. Outside of Burfict that is, but he is hard to trust with his bonehead moves on the field that can get him suspended. Brown and Alonso are both younger options who can play in coverage and the run well enough to help them out immensely.
- T.J Lang OG or Riley Reiff OT - If Zeitler leaves landing a guy like Lang can help lighten the loss of his departure. If Whitworth leaves they will need to look for a new left tackle. Reiff can be a nice stop gap until they find something better.
Possible Draft Options:
- The Bengals need to use this pick with the mentality that they will be too good to ever pick here again so they need to nail it. They could go in a multitude of ways that can create a big impact on their team. If they did not upgrade the pass rush via free agency then Derek Barnett or Solomon Thomas could be the pick if they slide here. Same could be said about Jamal Adams or Malik Hooker. I could also see them drafting the stud linebacker Reuben Foster, but I am curious to see if he can fit in a 4-3 defense with his weakness being covering tight ends. A receiver can be the choice to help take attention away from A.J. Green and allow Andy Dalton to spread the ball out more. I could even see them taking a running back since neither Jeremy Hill or Gio Bernard are lighting the world on fire. Overall, this is a very tough pick to judge in this draft.
- This is where I could see them taking safety if they do not find on in free agency or in the first round. A player like Justin Evans, Marcus Maye, or Obi Melifonwu should be available here for them to take. If they do lose Zeitler drafting a player like Dion Dawkins or Forrest Lamp can fill the void. Even a corner if one of the top players slip can be an option if Dre Kirkpatrick leaves and they decide to cut Adam Jones.
My Mock Selection:
1 (9) - Reuben Foster LB Alabama
2 (41) - Forrest Lamp OL Western Kentucky
3 (73) - Dawuane Smoot DE Illinois
Word on the streets is this may be Marvin Lewis' last shot at coaching this team to the Super Bowl according to multiple sources. If that is the case I would not blame him for pushing his team to spend a lot of money via free agency. They need to do what the Broncos did by loading up this defense to help out their weak starting quarterback. I know people love Andy Dalton, but he is a good quarterback just not one who is talented enough to carry a team on his back to the Super Bowl. He needs a lot of help whether on the defense to keep opposing teams from scoring or a lot of offensive talent to protect him and help him move the ball. I would vote to upgrade the defense since Dalton is limited so adding more talent on offense may go to waste. If they do create a better more athletic defense and find a lineman or two to upgrade the blocking in front of Dalton I can see this team pushing into the playoffs again. Sorry, though I do not think Lewis is a good enough coach to bring this team to the Super Bowl even with better talent. He had a good run, but his shelf life is up and a new direction is needed for this franchise.