QB Just Turnovers O'Sullivan, FB Brian Leonard, WR Laveranues Coles, DT Tank Johnson, SS Roy Williams.
OT Andre Smith, ILB Rey Maualuga, DE Michael Johnson, TE Chase Coffman, C Jonathan Luigs, P Kevin Huber, CB Morgan Trent, RB Bernard Scott, FB Fui Vakapuna, DT Clinton McDonald, WR Freddie Brown.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, RB Kenny Watson, RB Gary Russell, RB Chris Perry, WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR Glenn Holt, OT Stacy Andrews, OT Levi Jones, C Eric Ghiaciuc, DT John Thornton, DT Orien Harris, ILB Corey Mays, CB Jamar Fletcher, CB Simeon Castille, S Mike Doss, S Dexter Jackson, P Kyle Larson.
2009 Cincinnati Bengals Offense:
When I tell people that I like the Bengals as a potential playoff sleeper this year, they laugh and usually reply, "Good one." When I tell them I'm serious, they ask me if I've sniffed a tremendous amount of glue recently.
There are two elements at work here that lead me to believe that Cincinnati can clinch a postseason berth. First is Carson Palmer's health. Palmer played in only four games in 2008 because of an elbow injury. In the contests he started, he really struggled, throwing just three touchdowns to four picks, and maintaining a Ken Dorsey-like YPA of 5.7. The Bengals were forced to use the weak-armed Ryan Fitzpatrick as their quarterback. They consequently were last in points scored (12.8 ppg) and total yardage.
Palmer is now healthy. He declared that his elbow was 100 percent in March. Two months later, he was looking great in minicamp. Palmer has thrown for at least 3,836 yards and 26 touchdowns in each season between 2005 and 2007, and I'll be a bit surprised if we don't see him return to that level in 2009.
Chad Ochocinco, formerly Chad Johnson (and currently a raging lunatic) struggled without Palmer last year, catching just 53 balls for 540 yards and four scores. Ochocinco blamed his poor production on an ankle injury - this was real because he actually had ankle surgery - so if he and Palmer stay healthy, he could match his 2007 numbers (93 receptions, 1,440 yards, 8 TDs).
T.J. Houshmandzadeh signed with the Seahawks, so the Bengals brought in Laveranues Coles to take his place. Coles is clearly on the decline; he hasn't eclipsed 850 receiving yards since 2006. I can understand Coles struggling with Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens, but he wasn't much of a potent threat as Brett Favre's main target last season. Still, it'll be interesting to see what Coles can do as a No. 2 across from Ochocinco.
As for Palmer's other targets, expect more playing time from Chris Henry this year. With Houshmandzadeh gone, Henry, at 6-4, 200, could be a primary end-zone target. Even better, Henry hasn't given alcohol to any minors recently (that we know of). Tight end Ben Utecht will get to work with Palmer for the first time, and he could also be a red-zone option.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati's ground attack will be better this season. Cedric Benson, currently penciled in as the starting running back, averaged only 3.5 yards per carry last year. But with Palmer under center, defenses will no longer be able to stack the box. Benson has shown that, if sober, he can dominant; in the final three games of the regular season, he totaled at least 130 yards per contest. Granted, he was going against the Redskins, Browns and Chiefs, but it's not like those defenses were concentrating on stopping Fitzpatrick.
If Benson adds another DUI to his collection, look for Bernard Scott to shoulder the workload. Scott, a sixth-round rookie, has apparently turned some heads in minicamp. Keith Rivers even compared him to Chris Johnson.
Another reason I like the Bengals' rushing attack is the addition of No. 6 overall pick Andre Smith. Smith is known for being lazy and unmotivated, and he's going to struggle in pass protection, but at 6-4, 335 (generous), he's going to open up massive running lanes for Benson, Scott or whomever is carrying the ball. Smith, penciled in at right tackle, will be probably be playing across from Anthony Collins, who was very solid in his six starts, surrendering just 2.5 sacks.
Collins starting at left tackle isn't a given. That job could (wrongfully) be given to Andrew Whitworth, who allowed five sacks in 10 contests at guard in 2008. If the Bengals want to maximize their talent up front, they'll figure out how to have Collins, Smith and Whitworth on the field at the same time. Meanwhile, right guard Bobbie Williams has been dependable - he's missed just three starts in five seasons with the Bengals - but he's turning 33 in September. Center Kyle Cook is a liabilty, and could quickly be replaced by rookie Jonathan Luigs.
2009 Cincinnati Bengals Defense:
I mentioned that there were two elements to my belief that Cincinnati could be an upstart, playoff-bound team. The first was Carson Palmer's health. The second is the defense.
This may surprise you, but the Bengals had one of the better defenses in the NFL last season. No, that's not a joke. They finished 19th in scoring (22.8 ppg), but were 12th in yardage allowed. They also ranked ninth against the run (3.8 YPC) and 12th versus the pass (6.7 YPA). They limited five of their last eight opponents to 19 points or less, and consequently finished a lost season with an impressive 4-3-1 record despite having Ryan Fitzpatrick under center.
The kicker here is that the Bengals had stud weakside linebacker Keith Rivers available for just seven games. Rivers, chosen with the ninth-overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, was well on his way to being named Defensive Rookie of the Year before Hines Ward debacled him. Rivers was placed on the IR with a broken jaw in the middle of October.
With Rivers back in the lineup, Cincinnati figures to have one of the better linebacking corps in the league. The Bengals spent their second-round pick this April on Rey Maualuga, a physically imposing USC product. It looks like Maualuga has a great chance of starting at strongside linebacker right away, leaving Dhani Jones in the middle. I've made fun of Jones for being a former bow tie salesman before, but he's really found a home in Cincinnati. He compiled 116 tackles in 2008.
Along with a solid linebacking group, the Bengals have the depth up front to contain the run well once again. Domata Peko, entering his fourth year despite being just 24, is an every-down lineman at 6-3, 325. With Peko and Pat Sims (6-2, 320) clogging the interior, no back is going to have much luck finding any room to navigate. Cincinnati also has Tank Johnson, who will be used more on passing downs.
One thing Cincinnati's defense must improve upon is its pass rush. Though it did well as a whole, this was clearly a problem area last year; the team garnered just 17 sacks. Right end Antwan Odom, who signed a 5-year, $29.5 million deal last spring, was a huge disappointment, managing just three sacks, which sadly tied him for the team lead. Left end Robert Geathers has also been a sloth since signing his huge contract (6 years, $33.75 million) two years ago. Geathers had 10 sacks in 2006, but only seven ever since. Rookie Michael Johnson, also renowned for mailing plays in, likely won't be a factor because first-year defensive ends have a rough transition.
With the front four getting absolutely no pressure on the opposing quarterback, it's amazing that Cincinnati's secondary limited signal-callers to a 6.7 YPA. Major credit has to be given to Leon Hall, Johnathan Joseph and David Jones. Hall is one of the better corners in the league; Joseph played well last year until he was placed on the IR with a foot injury; Jones, meanwhile, did a great job taking over for Joseph once that happened.
Things are, as Emmitt would say, "a li-bit interestingly" at safety. The free safety is up for grabs between Marvin White and Chris Crocker. White was solid last season before tearing his ACL in Week 13. If he's not fully recovered, Crocker, a journeyman who shined in relief, will get the job. At strong safety, Chinedum Ndukwe is good in coverage, but the newly signed Roy Williams is familiar with defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's scheme. Williams is great versus the run, but can easily be torched by even mediocre wideouts.
2009 Cincinnati Bengals Schedule and Intangibles:
Everyone always wants to fire Marvin Lewis. While we can fault him for his team perennially underachieving, it's better than watching them go 2-14 every year. That's what it was like before Lewis came to Cincinnati. If Bengals fans want to go back to being the Bungles, that's fine - fire Lewis. I believe that Lewis should be commended for putting up with the misfits on his roster.
Cincinnati is just 50-53-1 at home since 1996. While that may be a product of the "Bungle" days, the team was only 9-7 in the Jungle in 2006 and 2007.
As mentioned earlier, the Bengals were very competitive to close out the stretch, which usually bodes well for the following season. They were 4-3-1 in their final eight contests despite having Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing like a girl.
The Bengals couldn't score on special teams, as Antonio Chatman and Glenn Holt were pretty ineffective. Cincinnati surrendered one touchdown on special teams.
Shayne Graham is one of the top short-range kickers in the NFL. He hit 21-of-24 attempts last season, including 9-of-11 from 40-49. Unfortunately, he's just 0-of-1 from 50-plus in the past two seasons.
Punter Kyle Larson was one of the worst players at his position last year, forcing the Bengals to spend a fifth-round pick on his replacement, Kevin Huber.
Cincinnati's schedule is pretty balanced. In addition to having to deal with the Steelers and Ravens twice each, the team also has tough contests like: Chicago, Minnesota (road), San Diego (road) and Green Bay (road). Fortunately, the Bengals also get the Browns (twice), Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders and Lions.
2009 Cincinnati Bengals Analysis: Have I mentioned that I like Cincinnati to contend for a playoff spot this year? I may have touched on it - I'm not exactly sure.
The Bengals suffered a ghastly number of injuries last year, and still somehow finished 12th in total defense. It's been a very long time since their stop unit has ranked so high, so I'm excited to see what happens once it's paired with a healthy Carson Palmer.
Except one thing, I loved Cincinnati's draft. The Bengals somehow managed to acquire three first-round talents in Andre Smith, Rey Maualuga and Michael Johnson. Most of their mid-round selections were great values. They also addressed the offensive and defensive lines, the highest positions of value that matched their needs.
So, what's my beef? The first name I mentioned. I personally wouldn't have touched Smith in the first round.
Smith is an outstanding talent, but the fact that he showed up out of shape to the Combine is alarming. If you go out for a job interview, do you show up drunk? Do you forget your resume? Absolutely not.
If you're a football player, you need to be in shape for the Combine. It's the biggest job interview of your life. Being overweight is inexcusable. I really have to question that if Smith wasn't in shape before the draft, will he work hard once he gets a huge signing bonus?
Smith appears to be the NBA version of Derrick Coleman, a fat and lazy NBA player who had all the talent in the world, but chose to eat dozens of donuts every night until he was in a contract year.
Grade given on 4/27/09: B
2009 NFL Draft Picks:
6. Andre Smith, OT, Alabama
Let's see... he showed up overweight and out of shape to the biggest job interview of his life. He left early and essentially gave up. I wouldn't have touched Andre Smith in the first round. Sure, he's very talented, but he's also extremely lazy. He compares to Jason Peters, who gave up the most sacks in the NFL last year. (Pick Grade: F)
38. Rey Maualuga, ILB, USC
Cincinnati's linebacking corps is pretty stout now. The Bengals needed a defensive end more, but they couldn't pass up on Rey Maualuga. There's no reason he should have fallen to No. 38. (Pick Grade: A)
70. Michael Johnson, DE, Georgia Tech
The Bengals are getting a first-round talent in Michael Johnson. They had major problems getting to the quarterback last year, so I love this pick in terms of filling need and obtaining value. (Pick Grade: A)
98. Chase Coffman, TE, Missouri
More outstanding value for the Bengals, as Chase Coffman was a projected second-rounder. The Bengals needed to address this position; Ben Utecht appears to be a bust signing. (Pick Grade: A)
106. Jonathan Luigs, C, Arkansas
The Bengals are having an incredible draft. Jonathan Luigs fills a need and provides great value in Round 4. (Pick Grade: A)
142. Kevin Huber, P, Cincinnati
First punter off the board! I don't have a problem with this. A need is there, and we all saw how important punters can be in that Indianapolis-San Diego playoff game. (Pick Grade: B)
179. Morgan Trent, CB, Michigan
A possible Round 4-5 prospect, Morgan Trent should be able to help the Bengals with their cornerbacking depth issues. (Pick Grade: A)
209. Bernard Scott, RB, Abilene Christian
The Bengals needed to find some insurance for Cedric Benson. I'm surprised they didn't take a running back earlier. (Pick Grade: B)
215. Fui Vakapuna, FB, BYU
An effective fullback at BYU. I wouldn't be surprised if he makes a strong push for the starting job. (Pick Grade: B)
249. Clinton McDonald, DT, Memphis
I continue to harp on this, but it's really important to have defensive line depth. Clinton McDonald is also awesome value here. (Pick Grade: A)
252. Freddie Brown, WR, Utah
Not much value here. The Bengals are deep at wideout, so it'll be tough for Freddie Brown to make the roster. (Pick Grade: C)
Despite its depressing 4-11-1 record, Cincinnati played really well down the stretch and gave its fans reason to believe. Even without Keith Rivers for half the year, the Bengals finished 12th in total defense, which is the main reason why they were able to conclude the year with a 4-3-1 run. The offense was the main problem, but Carson Palmer will be back in 2009.
Bengals cut CB Jamar Fletcher
Bengals sign DT Langston Moore
Bengals cut RB Kenny Watson
Bengals re-sign CB Jamar Fletcher
Bengals cut CB Simeon Castille
Jets sign WR Mario Urrutia
Bengals cut WR Mario Urrutia
Raiders sign RB Gary Russell
Bengals acquire RB Brian Leonard from Rams for DT Orien Harris
Bengals sign SS Roy Williams
Bengals cut OT Levi Jones
Chiefs sign C Eric Ghiaciuc
Bengals cut P Ryan Plackemeier
Bengals cut P Kyle Larson
Bengals cut RB Gary Russell
Bengals cut S Mike Doss
Lions sign OT Kirk Barton
Bengals re-sign FB Jeremi Johnson
Bengals cut OT Kirk Barton
Bengals sign RB Gary Russell
Bengals re-sign OLB Brandon Johnson
Bengals sign DT Tank Johnson
Bengals sign QB Just Turnovers O'Sullivan
Vikings sign WR Glenn Holt
Chiefs sign ILB Corey Mays
Bengals cut S Dexter Jackson
Bengals sign WR Laveranues Coles
Bengals re-sign RB Cedric Benson
Seahawks sign WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh
Bills sign QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
Eagles sign OT Stacy Andrews
Bengals re-sign RB DeDe Dorsey
Bengals re-sign FS Chris Crocker
Bengals re-sign OLB Daryl Blackstock
Bengals tender OLB Rashad Jeanty (2nd round)
Bengals franchise K Shayne Graham
Bengals sign P Ryan Plackemeier
Offensive Tackle: A huge need for the Bengals, as left tackle Levi Jones (30 in August) gave up 5.5 sacks in just 10 games, and right tackle Stacy Andrews is a free agent coming off ACL and MCL tears. Anthony Collins has proven that he can play either side, so it looks like Cincinnati will spend the No. 6 selection on the top tackle available. Drafted Andre Smith
Defensive End: Antwan Odom was a colossal disappointment this year. For $29.5 million, Cincinnati got just three sacks out of him. As a whole, the team had just 17 sacks on the year. This needs to change. A second-round selection on Connor Barwin or Paul Kruger could work. Drafted Michael Johnson
Center: You know you're bad when your own fans nickname you "Eric Ghiasuck." Eric Ghiaciuc must be upgraded. Drafted Jonathan Luigs
Running Back: In his final three games, Cedric Benson finished with 355 rushing yards and 107 receiving yards. I just don't trust him, and neither should Bengal backers. Whether it's another DUI arrest or lack of effort, Benson will find some way to disappoint his fan base. He always does. Re-signed Cedric Benson; traded for Brian Leonard
Inside Linebacker: Dhani Jones played well in 2008, but the former bow-tie salesman just turned 31. A long-term solution is needed. Drafted Rey Maualuga
Tight End: Ben Utecht is yet another Colts player who failed once he left the system. For $9 million, the Bengals got 31 catches and 207 yards out of him. An upgrade is needed. Drafted Chase Coffman
Punter: One of the worst punters in the league, Kyle Larson maintained a low average (39.5) and a horrendous inside-20 percentage (28.0). Drafted Kevin Huber
Punt Returner: Antonio Chatman and his 7.5 return average didn't scare anyone last year.
Defensive Tackle Depth: The Bengals really like Pat Sims, but they will need depth at defensive tackle behind Sims and Domata Peko. Signed Tank Johnson
Corner Depth: The Bengals must acquire a solid nickel corner behind Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall. Drafted Morgan Trent
Backup Quarterback: I liked the way Ryan Fitzpatrick played down the stretch, but he doesn't have the arm to thrive in Cincinnati's spread attack. A better backup quarterback is needed. Signed Just Turnovers O'Sullivan
2009 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Laveranues Coles, WR, Jets. Age: 31. Signed with Bengals (4 years, $28 million)
Laveranues Coles had 850 yards and seven touchdowns last year. At 31, Coles has lost a lot of his explosiveness, but he's still a very solid No. 2 in this league.
Tank Johnson, DT, Cowboys. Age: 27. Signed with Bengals (1 year)
Huge character concerns. Tank Johnson could find a home with a 4-3 defense. If not, some team may hire him to shoot the opposing star receiver in the foot.
Roy Williams, SS, Cowboys. Age: 29. Signed with Bengals
Definitely not an every-down safety anymore and an abomination in coverage, but Roy Williams could find a home on a team that prefers strong safety-linebacker tweeners like the Patriots or Falcons.
J.T. O'Sullivan, QB, 49ers. Age: 30. - Signed with Bengals (2 years)
Langston Moore, DT, Lions. Age: 28. - Signed with Bengals
Cincinnati Bengals Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 16): $22 million
T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR. Age: 31. Signed with Seahawks (5 years, $40 million; $15 million guaranteed)
It's amazing that T.J. Houshmandzadeh was still able to produce with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. That should tell you how talented he is. Any team looking for a receiver will be praying that the Bengals don't slap Who's-Your-Momma with a franchise tag.
Shayne Graham, K. Age: 31. Franchised by Bengals
Shayne Graham isn't great beyond 50 (2-of-6 the past four years), but he's nailed at least 83 percent of his attempts in each of the past six seasons.
Cedric Benson, RB. Age: 26. Re-signed with Bengals (2 years, $7 million)
Cedric Benson was brilliant for the Bengals down the stretch. He totaled at least 130 yards in each of his last three games. Benson would be rated higher, but the over-under on his DUI arrests this spring stands at 9.5. Vegas is taking bets now.
Rashad Jeanty had 96 tackles at strongside linebacker this season. The Bengals could use an upgrade at the position, but they shouldn't be desperate.
Chris Crocker, S. Age: 29. Re-signed with Bengals (4 years, $10 million)
One of the top reserve defensive backs in the NFL, Chris Crocker can play nickel, safety and special teams.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB. Age: 26. Signed with Bills
After a rough start, Ryan Fitzpatrick played pretty well down the stretch, leading the Bengals to a 4-3-1 record in the final eight weeks of the year. Since Nov. 2, Fitzpatrick threw six touchdowns and four picks despite having no pass protection.
John Thornton, DT. Age: 32.
Though he's still solid against the run, John Thornton lost his grip on the starting job late in the year. He turns 33 in October.
Brandon Johnson (RFA), OLB. Age: 26. Re-signed with Bengals (1 year, $1.545 million)
Brandon Johnson did a solid job in relief of Keith Rivers, who was debacled by Hines Ward in the middle of the season.
Stacy Andrews, OT. Age: 28. Signed with Eagles
Stacy Andrews tore his ACL and MCL, and there is no reason to believe that he'll be ready for the 2009 opener. Andrews was a mediocre tackle before the injury; he gave up 9.5 sacks in 15 games last year.
Eric Ghiaciuc, C. Age: 28. Signed with Chiefs
Eric Ghiaciuc was a major liability for the Bengals in 2008. He'll sign on as a backup somewhere.
Levi Jones, OT. Age: 30.
Old and injured - not a good combination. There's a reason the Bengals spent the No. 6 overall pick on a left tackle.
Corey Mays (RFA), ILB. Age: 25. - Signed with Chiefs
Darryl Blackstock, OLB. Age: 26. Re-signed with Bengals
Kenny Watson, RB. Age: 31.
Gary Russell, RB. Age: 22. - Signed with Raiders
Chris Perry, RB. Age: 27.
Jeremi Johnson, FB. Age: 29. - Re-signed with Bengals
Jamar Fletcher, CB. Age: 30.
Mario Urrutia, WR. Age: 23. - Signed with Jets
Glenn Holt (RFA), WR. Age: 25. - Signed with Vikings (1 year)
Mike Doss, S. Age: 28.
Dexter Jackson, S. Age: 32.
DeDe Dorsey (RFA), RB. Age: 25. - Re-signed with Bengals
Divisional Rival History: Baltimore Ravens: Prior to the 2008 season, the Bengals had won six of seven in this rivalry. Baltimore pulled off the sweep this year. Cleveland Browns: Carson Palmer is 6-2 lifetime against the Browns, but he missed both meetings in 2008. Pittsburgh Steelers: The road team has mysteriously claimed six of the past eight meetings. Go figure.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2009 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)