CINCINNATI BENGALS: Will JOE BURROW be THE ANSWER?
The Cincinnati Bengals are actually not that far removed from being a team that was in the mix in the AFC and consistently made the playoffs. From 2011 to 2015 the Bengals played in five wildcard games, but lost them all. Since the closely fought wildcard loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015 the Bengals have not had a winning season and have in fact only reached the seven win mark once in the last four years. This all culminated with the 2019 season where they only managed two wins and those wins came against the 7-9 Jets in Week 13 and the 6-10 Browns in Week 17. An utterly disappointing season for the Bengals could not come to a close quick enough and I am sure everyone at Bengals HQ is looking forward to the chance to rebuild. The Bengals offense finished 26th in yards per game and 30th in points per game. The defense did not do much better, giving up the fourth most yards per game and allowing 26.2 points per game, giving them the eighth worst record in the league. They ended the season with a -14 turnover differential on their way to a 2-14 record.
The one positive with having the worst record in football is you get the number one pick in the draft. In 2020, the Bengals have the chance to draft a player who went from strength to strength this season. Joe Burrow has ripped NCAA defenses apart, and if he can translate that to the NFL has the chance to be a franchise QB for Cincinnati for years to come, With plenty of draft picks and a solid about of cap space, could this offseason be the one where the Bengals set themselves up as NFC North challengers once again?
General Manager: Mike Brown
Head Coach: Zac Taylor
Nobody was expecting much from Cincinnati this year, but did they really expect to have the worst start in franchise history and ultimately finish with their joint worst record ever? It is likely that most negative Bengals fans expected more in 2020, and the quicker the front office and head coach move on the better. Mike Brown had a chance to see what Zac Taylor could do this year and now has to go and get players to help his coach. Brown has plenty of opportunity this off season with the number one draft pick, numerous other draft picks and a big wad of capital in terms of cap space. Since Mike Brown’s tenure as GM began in 1991, the Bengals have struggled massively on the field and it will require them having a good offseason if they want to get back into contention quickly. The Bengals under Brown have numerous records, no good ones, but several bad ones. They are the only team with three nine or more game losing streaks, they hold six of the 25 0-6 starts, and 4 of the 13 0-8 starts in NFL history. They have gone winless in October nine different times in this tenure.
In his tenure the only head coach with a winning record is Marvin Lewis and even then they couldn’t get a playoff win, despite the seven attempts. 2009 saw Brown was ranked as the second worst NFL Owner and this has not gotten any better with time. In 2015, he was voted as the 9th worst owner in sports. No matter what happens this offseason, unless they have a change in thought process at the top of the organisation, it is going to be a tough challenge developing this team into a perennial Super Bowl contender.
The Bengals, having not won a playoff game under Lewis, decided that it was time to change their head coach in February 2019, replacing Lewis with Zac Taylor. In 2012, Taylor was appointed as the Miami Dolphins quarterback coach and did not exactly perform well. They fired the previous offensive coordinator and promoted Taylor. During his five game spell they went 2-3, an egress from their previous performances, averaging just 17 points per game. What Taylor did achieve in Miami was to develop Ryan Tannehill, as he became only the second Miami QB with multiple 3000 yard seasons. With that first overall draft pick, Taylor has the chance to get his hands on another QB he can help to develop, and hopefully get the Bengals back to finishing with a winning season. This season will be huge for Taylor. If they do take Burrow and they see any sign of major struggles from the man who lit up college football, then Taylor could be seeking new employment in 2021.
Cap Space: $49.7 million
The Bengals have a solid amount of cap space and need to be sensible with it if they want to develop this team into a consistent winner. Burrow will get the fans talking but he is going to need weapons around him and a strong defense to get him the ball back. It is hard to imagine the Bengals not moving on from Dalton this year, which would give them a further $18m in cap space. They may decide that Dalton’s presence and experience in the locker room is more valuable, but the expectation is that we see Dalton wearing a different uniform in 2020.
They could also clear a large portion of cap space by cutting two corners in Dre Kirkpatrick and William Jackson III. Both of those combined would clear a further $18m, with each potentially freeing up around $9m in cap space. Left tackle Cordy Glenn could add a further $9.25m, but his experience might make him worth keeping, even if he has not played a full season since 2015.
Impending Free Agents
Picking out key free agents for the Bengals is tough coming off a year where many underwhelmed. The obvious name is A.J Green. The veteran wide receiver missed the 2019 season through injury but if he is fit and ready to go in 2020 then the Bengals may want to spend the money and at the very least franchise tag him for the upcoming season. It would do Joe Burrow the world of good to have a veteran wide receiver to throw to whilst he is learning about the NFL. That veteran presence has of Larry Fitzgerald was invaluable to last year’s number one overall pick Kyler Murray.
Nick Vigil is the other name who stands out, as he started all 16 games and ranked third amongst Bengals in 2019 when it came to Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value metric. Vigil has developed into a key part of the Bengals defense, and his combination of experience and talent could be a valuable element for the Bengals to retain.
Major Need: Quarterback
As previously mentioned the big need in Cincinnati is a quarterback. The Bengals do have the number one pick in the draft, and with that they will get a player who has at times been compared to Peyton Manning way back when he was in college. The LSU Tigers won the National Championship defeating the previous champions Clemson Tigers and went undefeated through the entire season largely down to Joe Burrow and the record setting year he had.
Major Need: Offensive Line
One of the worst offensive lines in football is not what Joe Burrow will want to go and stand behind and be expected to change the dynamics of a franchise. Fortunately for the Bengals, there are numerous cases where teams have had one of the worst offensive lines in football one season and then having one of the best the very next year. The 2012 Denver Broncos offensive line jumped 26 places from 30th in 2011 to 4th in 2012. They achieved this by using their cap space and signing veteran players to help stabilise the offense, a tactic the Bengals could look to employ as they have the cap space to achieve this.
Perhaps most impressively though was the improvement from the 2014 Tennessee Titans to the 2015 Titans. The 2014 Titans were down in the cellar of the offensive line ranks at 29th and then thanks to clever free agency moves and sensible draft picks they ascended to the best unit in football in 2015. There are various similarities between this Titans teams and the current Bengals team whether its injuries ripping the line apart or high draft picks under-performing. Either way other teams have shown how it can be done and if the Bengals want to get the best from Joe Burrow then they better get him the protection he deserves.
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