QB Josh Johnson, QB John Skelton, C Mike Pollak, OLB James Harrison.
Early Draft Picks:
TE Tyler Eifert, RB Giovani Bernard, DE Margus Hunt, S Shawn Williams, OLB Sean Porter. Bengals Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
FB Brian Leonard, DT Pat Sims, OLB Thomas Howard, OLB Manny Lawson, OLB Dan Skuta, CB Nate Clements, CB Jason Allen, S Chris Crocker, K Josh Brown.
2013 Cincinnati Bengals Offense:
Four quarterbacks were chosen ahead of Andy Dalton in the 2011 NFL Draft, but not one of them has ever started a postseason game. Dalton, conversely, has been in the playoffs in both of his NFL seasons. Unfortunately, he has struggled in those contests. In two postseason affairs, both of which were at Houston, Dalton has thrown no touchdowns and committed five turnovers (four interceptions, one lost fumble), as Cincinnati scored a combined 23 points in the defeats.
The Bengals obviously can't move on from Dalton yet, so their only alternative was to strengthen their young quarterback's supporting cast. They did just that in the 2013 NFL Draft, spending their two top picks on offensive weapons. The first selection, which was a bit of a surprise, was used on tight end Tyler Eifert. Cincinnati already had another decent tight end in Jermaine Gresham, but considering Dalton's limited arm strength, acquiring another intermediate target for him and utilizing a two-tight end offense makes a ton of sense. Eifert projects as a better pass-catcher, so Gresham will focus more on blocking.
Cincinnati's second draft choice was used on Giovani Bernard - yet another non-downfield threat who will help Dalton immensely. Bernard is a talented runner who caught 47 passes for North Carolina in 2012. The Bengals desperately needed to find a running back who could be on the field on third downs because BenJarvus Green-Ellis was clearly not that guy. The Law Firm averaged 3.9 yards per carry in his first season with the Bengals. He's a decent No. 2 back in this league, but should not be a starter. Thus, Bernard should take over as the full-time duties sometime soon.
These two new additions sound great for Dalton, but the young quarterback's top weapon will continue to be A.J. Green, who has quickly developed into one of the elite receivers in the NFL. Entering his third year as a pro, Green hauled in 97 receptions for 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012. He'll be an even bigger threat now that opposing defenses have to concentrate on stopping Eifert and Bernard, as well as speedy slot receiver Andrew Hawkins, who hauled in 51 receptions this past year. Starting across from Green will be Mohamed Sanu, who began showing some promise prior to suffering a season-ending foot injury at the end of November.
The Bengals didn't find upgrades for their offensive line like they did with their skill-position unit, but they did a good job of keeping the entire group intact. This involved giving Andre Smith a new contract. Things seemed bleak with Smith, who sat on the free-agent market for a long time. However, Cincinnati finally reached out to him and gave him a 3-year, $18 million deal - quite a bargain for such a monstrous lineman. Smith, who has seemingly overcome his earlier weight issues, opened up huge running lanes in 2012. He played across from the perennially underrated Andrew Whitworth, who surrendered just five sacks last year.
Cincinnati's interior line unit has shown lots of promise for the most part. The guards, Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler, are both young and are coming off outstanding 2012 campaigns. Zeitler, a first-round selection last April, was especially effective. The one hole up front is at center. The Bengals tried Jeff Faine, Trevor Robinson and Kyle Cook there in 2012, but none really worked out. Robinson is the favorite to start there this season.
2013 Cincinnati Bengals Defense:
The Bengals didn't do much this offseason outside of spending those early draft picks on upgrades to help Andy Dalton. Only one defender was added in free agency, though he happened to be a big name: former Steeler James Harrison.
Harrison's fit with Cincinnati may seem strange. He's played in a 3-4 in his entire career, so how will he transition to the 4-3? Well, the Bengals like to rush their strongside linebacker, which is what they did with another long-time 3-4 veteran, Manny Lawson. Harrison will be asked to do what he used to do in Pittsburgh. The issue with Harison isn't the 4-3 fit; it's whether or not he has anything left in the tank. Harrison looked like a shell of his former self last year, recording just six sacks. Furthermore, he's missed eight games the past two seasons because of various injuries.
Luckily for the Bengals, they don't have to count on him to consistently pressure the quarterback. The team accumulated 51 sacks in 2012, led by Geno Atkins' 12.5. Atkins is arguably the best 4-3 defensive tackle in all football right now. In addition to generating a very high sack total for a player at his position, Atkins also happened to be a force against the run. He and Domata Peko happen to be a very talented interior tandem.
Cincinnati also gets tons of pressure from the outside. Michael Johnson fell short of Atkins' team-leading sack figure with 11.5. The other defensive end, Carlos Dunlap, had six sacks of his own despite missing two games and playing about half the snaps every week. Dunlap, who is entering his contract year, is set to have an expanded role in 2013. He's been playing ahead of former starting left end Robert Geathers in OTAs. Second-rounder Margus Hunt will also see some snaps.
All of the pressure that Cincinnati's front seven is capable of generating really helps the secondary. It'll need as much assistance this year because the team will once again be counting on Terence Newman and Pacman Jones to play well. The two reserve corners performed admirably under Mike Zimmer's tutelage this past season, but had to be on the field more than they should have been because of Dre Kirkpatrick's nagging injuries. A first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Kirkpatrick barely played as a rookie. Kirkpatrick may not even be ready for the opener because of a knee issue. Luckily, the Bengals have Leon Hall at full strength. Hall, a terrific corner, was coming off a torn Achilles last season and still managed to shut down opposing receivers.
The safety position was a bit of a problem for the Bengals this past season, as Taylor Mays' futility prompted Marvin Lewis to move cornerback Nate Clements over to his spot. Clements did fine as the third safety along with Reggie Nelson and the mediocre Chris Crocker, but neither he nor Crocker are still on the team. It was just Nelson and no one else heading in the 2013 NFL Draft, so Cincinnati used its third-round pick on Shawn Williams out of Georiga. Williams is penciled in as the starter right now.
One player Cincinnati surprisingly brought back was Rey Maualuga. The former Trojan has been absolutely brutal the past two seasons as the team's middle linebacker. There was some speculation that Maualuga would move outside, allowing the surprising Vontaze Burfict to take his spot, but the Bengals are not planning on doing that. Maualuga will struggle once again, making Cincinnati's linebacking corps the clear-cut weak point on the entire roster - even if the undrafted Burfict has another dynamic season.
2013 Cincinnati Bengals Schedule and Intangibles:
Cincinnati has never maintained a great homefield advantage. Despite qualifying for the playoffs the past two years, the Bengals are just 8-8 as hosts in that time frame.
Shayne Graham choked one too many times for Marvin Lewis' liking, so the Bengals opted not to re-sign him in the spring of 2010. Lewis went with Mike Nugent instead. Nugent flopped in New York, so it was a big surprise that he was able to go 33-of-38 with the Bengals in 2011. He followed that up with a 19-of-23 performance last season. However, he's just 4-of-10 from 50-plus dating back to 2007.
Punter Kevin Huber ranked fifth in net punting and tied for the seventh-most attempts placed inside the 20.
The Bengals outgained their opponents on punt returns because of Pacman Jones, but did worse than their foes on kickoffs because of Brandon Tate.
Cincinnati has a ridiculously tough schedule early on, with four of its first five opponents being the Bears, Steelers, Packers and Patriots. Things get easier after that - until the very end. Three of the Bengals' final four foes made the playoffs in 2012 (Colts, Vikings, Ravens). The other is Pittsburgh.
2013 Cincinnati Bengals Rookies:
Go here for the Bengals Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2013 Cincinnati Bengals Analysis: The Bengals figure to be better this season than they were in 2012, but a ridiculously tough schedule could thwart their playoff chances. They'll still definitely be in contention for the AFC North crown, but Baltimore regrouping quickly and Pittsburgh bouncing back will make things very difficult.
Please note that the overall grade is not an average of all the individual grades. Other things are taken into account like team needs and goals.
Goals Entering the 2013 NFL Draft: The Bengals have some holes on their defense (as well as right tackle and running back) that they'll have to address. Fortunately, they have tons of picks to take care of that. With lots of cap space, Cincinnati is in a great spot.
2013 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Bengals have reached the playoffs twice with Andy Dalton, but they've scored a total of 23 points in the two games. They needed to give Andy Dalton some weapons to work with outside of A.J. Green, and they managed to accomplish that with their first two picks, Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard.
Everyone expected Cincinnati to go for a back like Bernard, so the Eifert selection was more interesting. Tight end wasn't a perceived need with Jermaine Gresham already there, but the two-tight end set is becoming more and more popular, and it'll be extremely useful for Dalton, who doesn't have the strongest arm in the world.
The Bengals made some other solid selections like Sean Porter in the fourth round, but I didn't like a few of their choices. Margus Hunt is extremely raw and didn't fill a need at No. 53. Shawn Williams, meanwhile, was a slight reach in the third frame, though he does fit well in Mike Zimmer's defense. I also don't know what to make of Tanner Hawkinson at 156 or Rex Burkhead at 190. Why not actually fill needs there?
Cincinnati came away with a quality draft overall. I would have changed some things, but the front office definitely improved its roster.
2013 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
21. Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame: B+ Grade
This is the ultimate "BPA vs. need" argument. The Bengals didn't have a hole at tight end with Jermaine Gresham there, but Tyler Eifert was definitely the top prospect available. Besides, teams like to use two-tight end sets, and it's not like Gresham is setting the world on fire with his receiving ability. Andy Dalton has limited arm strength, so he'll lean on Eifert quite frequently.
37. Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina: B- Grade
We heard that the Bengals were going "all in" on Eddie Lacy, but Giovani Bernard makes more sense as a complement for BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Bernard is a speed back with return ability, which is exactly what Cincinnati needed. This is a slight reach - Bernard probably would have been around for Cincinnati's second-rounder - but he's a very good fit.
53. Margus Hunt, DE, SMU: C Grade
The Bengals are definitely in favor of drafting the best player available regardless of need because Margus Hunt doesn't fill a need at all. The Bengals are pretty set at defensive end with Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins. Hunt is very raw and will have to spend a couple of years developing. I'm not a fan of drafting such a project in the second round.
84. Shawn Williams, S, Georgia: C+ Grade
This is a slight reach, but Shawn Williams is a good fit in Mike Zimmer's defense. The Bengals had to find help at safety, but had to wait this long because they missed out on Kenny Vaccaro and Eric Reid at No. 21.
118. Sean Porter, OLB, Texas A&M: A- Grade
I thought Sean Porter would go a round earlier than this, so I like the value. Porter makes sense as a need as well, as he can play learn from James Harrison for a couple of years and then eventually take over the starter if he develops accordingly.
156. Tanner Hawkinson, OT, Kansas: C- Grade
Tanner Hawkinson was a borderline draftable prospect, so this is a reach. I also don't see how Tanner Hawkinson contributes anytime soon. I'm not a fan of this selection.
190. Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska: B- Grade
Rex Burkhead fits the range in the middle of the sixth round, but he wasn't needed with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard on the depth chart. He's not bad injury insurance though.
197. Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas: A- Grade
I like this pick a lot. Cobi Hamilton probably should have gone in the fourth-round range, so he slipped a bit. The Bengals wanted to add another wideout, though I thought they'd take Da'Rick Rogers.
240. Reid Fragel, OT, Ohio State: A Grade
Reid Fragel was considered a mid-round prospect; I've had him in the fourth or fifth. This is great value for the Bengals, as Fragel could eventually be Andrew Whitworth's successor at left tackle.
251. T.J. Johnson, C, South Carolina: A- Grade
The Bengals needed someone to challenge Kyle Cook at center. Despite being a seventh-rounder, T.J. Johnson could do it.
The Bengals need to ask themselves if Andy Dalton is the answer. He has shown that he can beat inferior competition, but he has yet to put together a quality performance against an elite defense. He was absolutely terrible against the Texans in the playoffs for a second year in a row. He should improve, but will he ever be capable of leading Cincinnati to a Super Bowl?
Bengals re-sign OT Andre Smith
Bengals sign OLB James Harrison
Bengals sign C/G Mike Pollak
Bengals re-sign RB Bernard Scott
Bengals cut CB Jason Allen
Bengals claim QB John Skelton
Buccaneers sign FB Brian Leonard
Bengals re-sign CB Terence Newman
Bengals re-sign TE Dick Quinn
Bengals re-sign KR Brandon Tate
Bengals re-sign OT Dennis Roland
Bengals sign QB Josh Johnson
Bengals re-sign CB Pacman Jones
Bengals re-sign ILB Rey Maualuga
49ers sign OLB Dan Skuta
Raiders sign DT Pat Sims
Giants sign K Josh Brown
Steelers sign QB Bruce Gradkowski
Bills sign OLB Manny Lawson
Bengals re-sign DE Robert Geathers
Bengals re-sign DE Wallace Gilberry
Bengals re-sign K Mike Nugent
Bengals re-sign P Kevin Huber
Bengals re-sign RB Cedric Peerman
Bengals tender S Jeromy Miles
Bengals franchise DE Michael Johnson
Running Back: BenJarvus Green-Ellis is just a mediocre plodder whose stats were enhanced because of a powerful offensive line. The Bengals need to add a speed complement. There will be plenty of options in Round 2. Reggie Bush might also be considered. Drafted Giovani Bernard
Two Linebackers: Vontaze Burfict was a pleasant surprise for Cincinnati this season, but Manny Lawson is a free agent, while Rey Maualuga was the worst starting linebacker in the NFL. Signed James Harrison; re-signed Rey Maualuga; drafted Sean Porter
Safety: Nate Clements had to play the safety position despite being a natural cornerback because Taylor Mays was awful. Both Clements and Chris Crocker are free agents in their 30s. Drafted Shawn Williams
Right Tackle: Andre Smith is coming off a Pro Bowl-type campaign. He'll be hitting free agency and must be retained. Re-signed Andre Smith
Defensive End: The Bengals have three defensive ends entering free agency - and this includes starter Michael Johnson. Someone like Damontre Moore makes sense at No. 21 overall if Johnson isn't franchised. Franchised Michael Johnson; re-signed Robert Geathers and Wallace Gilberry
Center: Cincinnati did not get quality play out of the center position with Kyle Cook and Jeff Faine. Signed Mike Pollak
Cornerback: Depth is needed here with Terence Newman and Pacman Jones heading for free agency. Re-signed Terence Newman and Pacman Jones
Quarterback: The Bengals should find a young quarterback to groom behind Andy Dalton just in case he isn't the answer. Signed Josh Johnson; claimed John Skelton
Wide Receiver: Mohamed Sanu might emerge as a decent No. 2 option for Dalton. Depth is needed regardless.
Kicker: Josh Brown and Mike Nugent are both free agents. Re-signed Mike Nugent
Punter: Kevin Huber's contract will expire in March as well. Re-signed Kevin Huber
2013 NFL Free Agent Signings:
James Harrison, DE/OLB, Steelers. Age: 35. Signed with Bengals (2 years)
James Harrison can still put good pressure on the quarterback, but given that he turns 35 in May, it's fair to wonder how long that'll last. He's also injury-prone, so that doesn't help his cause.
John Skelton, QB, Cardinals. Age: 25. -- Claimed by Bengals
Mike Pollak, G/C, Panthers. Age: 28. -- Signed with Bengals
Cincinnati Bengals Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Andre Smith, OT, Bengals. Age: 26. Re-signed with Bengals
Andre Smith has developed into one of the league's premier right tackles. He was a dominant run-blocker and also excelled in pass protection. There's still some concern that he could get lazy with a big contract, but he deserves the money based on how he's played.
Michael Johnson, DE, Bengals. Age: 26. Franchised by Bengals
The sky's the limit for Michael Johnson, who turns 26 in February. He recorded 11.5 sacks in 2012 while playing the run very well. He's expected to be franchised.
Kevin Huber, P, Bengals. Age: 28. Re-signed with Bengals (5 years)
Kevin Huber was fourth in net punting among starters in 2012.
Nate Clements, S/CB, Bengals. Age: 33.
Nate Clements, who turned 33 in December, had to play safety this past year because Taylor Mays was such a liability in coverage. He'll probably have to stay at safety given his declining skills.
Thomas Howard, OLB, Bengals. Age: 30.
Thomas Howard was out for all but one game in 2012 with a torn ACL. It was impressive that Cincinnati's defense still played well despite missing such a solid linebacker.
Manny Lawson, OLB, Bengals. Age: 29. Signed with Bills
The Bengals asked Manny Lawson to rush the passer and stop the run, and he did that very well. He's not good in coverage, however.
Chris Crocker, S, Bengals. Age: 33.
Chris Crocker is still an OK starting safety, but he'll be 33 in March. His best days are behind him.
Josh Brown, K, Bengals. Age: 34. Signed with Giants
Josh Brown hit 11-of-12 kicks in 2012, but he's one year removed from going just 21-of-28.
Pacman Jones played well in nickel situations, but will turn 30 at the end of September.
Robert Geathers, DE, Bengals. Age: 30. Re-signed with Bengals
Robert Geathers did not play well this past season because of a lingering knee injury. He was still decent as a run-stopper.
Wallace Gilberry, DE, Bengals. Age: 28. Re-signed with Bengals (3 years, $6.75 million)
Wallace Gilberry is a quality nickel pass-rusher. He recorded 6.5 sacks despite not playing very many snaps.
Terence Newman, CB, Bengals. Age: 34. Re-signed with Bengals (2 years, $5 million)
Terence Newman was surprisingly pretty solid this past season after struggling in Dallas. Credit must be given to defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who knows how to use Newman, but it was still shocking to see Newman do so well.