2014 NFL Offseason: Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals (Last Year: 11-5)

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2014 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Jason Campbell, OT Marshall Newhouse, S Danieal Manning.
Early Draft Picks:
CB Darqueze Dennard, RB Jeremy Hill, DE Will Clarke, C Russell Bodine, QB A.J. McCarron. Bengals Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Josh Johnson, WR Andrew Hawkins, OT Anthony Collins, C Kyle Cook, DE Michael Johnson, OLB James Harrison, CB Brandon Ghee.

2014 Cincinnati Bengals Offense:
The Bengals will have a tough choice to make soon. Andy Dalton will be a free agent after this season. Do they re-sign him? On one hand, Dalton has gotten the team to the playoffs in each of his three NFL campaigns. He has thrown 80 touchdowns compared to just 49 interceptions. He has provided some much-needed stability for the organization.

On the other hand, Dalton has been responsible for his team’s three one-and-dones in the playoffs. He has been atrocious in all three first-round exits. He doesn’t have much arm strength; in fact, it can’t even be classified as “very good,” and that limitation is hurting him and his team.

If Dalton disappoints in January again, he’ll have to shoulder all of the blame because the front office has given him a tremendous supporting cast. A.J. Green, of course, is one of the top receivers in the NFL, as he’s coming off a 1,426-yard, 11-touchdown season. Someone needed to step up across from Green, and Marvin Jones became that player. He broke out with a four-touchdown outing against the Jets at the end of October, and finished the season with a 16-catch stretch spanning the final three weeks. Jones just turned 24, so he figures to improve upon his 2013 campaign.

Tyler Eifert should also better himself. The Bengals used a first-rounder on him in 2013, so he has lots of potential. Jermaine Gresham is blocking him from emerging statistically, but Dalton will likely lean on Eifert heavily this upcoming season.

Dalton will have a better ground attack supporting him as well. The Bengals used BenJarvus Green-Ellis far too often in 2013 when they should have been feeding the ball to Giovani Bernard. The second-round rookie was much more impressive than the plodding Green-Ellis, catching 56 passes out of the backfield. Bernard handled the first-team reps at OTAs, which is significant because he didn’t start any games in 2013. Surprisingly, the second-team reps were given to Jeremy Hill, who was chosen in the second round in May. New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has no allegiance to Green-Ellis, so he may opt to use the more-athletic Hill when Bernard needs a breather.

Excluding Bernard, the Bengals only have one new starter on offense this season. That would be center Trevor Robinson, who is replacing Kyle Cook, the weakest link of the offensive line. Left tackle Anthony Collins is also gone, but Collins didn’t enter the lineup until left guard Clint Boling suffered an injury. Boling is an inconsistent blocker, and he’s nowhere as good as right guard Kevin Zeitler, the team’s first-round selection in 2012.

With Collins gone, Andrew Whitworth will move from left guard – he started there when Boling went down – and reprise his role as the left tackle. Whitworth, who surrendered just four sacks in the regular season, should still be effective there even though he’s turning 33 in December. Andre Smith, who was dominant to close out the 2013 season, will continue to man the right tackle spot.

2014 Cincinnati Bengals Defense:
The Bengals lost one real starter and one pseudo starter on offense. The same can be said for the defense, which will return intact, save for Michael Johnson, who signed with the Buccaneers, and James Harrison, who was released.

The Johnson loss will be painful. He was tremendous against the run and also got to the quarterback frequently. The 3.5 sacks he mustered in 2013 wasn’t indicative of how well he rushed opposing passers. With him gone, one of Wallace Gilberry, Margus Hunt or Will Clarke will have to step in. Gilberry is a mediocre talent, while Hunt was a second-round choice in 2013. Clarke is a third-round rookie.

Whoever wins the gig will be stepping into a good situation, as the opposition will be too preoccupied with the other three players on the front, particularly Geno Atkins, one of the elite defensive tackles in the NFL. Atkins tore his ACL on Halloween, but he’s expected to be back in the lineup for the opener. He may not be at 100 percent this year, but three-quarters of that is better than what most teams have at the position. Atkins will start next to Domata Peko and Carlos Dunlap, who tallied 7.5 sacks in 2013. Dunlap will be moved to right end this season, while Peko needs to improve upon an uncharacteristically sluggish season.

Harrison, the “pseudo starter” who was released, can say that he’s opening up a spot for Vincent Rey, a former undrafted free agent from 2010, who came out of nowhere when Rey Maualuga was injured. Rey proved to be a major upgrade over the perennially disappointing Maualuga, so it was in Cincinnati’s best interest to somehow get him into the lineup. Rey figures to start with Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict, whose outstanding play has made it very puzzling as to why he was undrafted two years ago.

The entire secondary will return, but it will welcome a new member in Darqueze Dennard. Chosen with the 24th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Dennard slipped a bit because of sub-par Combine numbers, but he projects as a big upgrade over what the Bengals had at the cornerback position last year. Pacman Jones and Terence Newman did a fine job for Cincinnati, but they were being coached up by defensive guru Mike Zimmer. Unfortunately for the Bengals, Zimmer is now the head coach of the Vikings, so they needed to find an upgrade the position, particularly for Newman, who turns 36 in September. Leon Hall could also be back from a torn Achilles, but he may not be very effective.

The Bengals figure to be solid at safety. Reggie Nelson and George Ikoka started there this past season, and both thrived. Nelson has been a quality player for some time, while Iloka is an improving defensive back; he was a fifth-round pick in 2012, but found his way into the starting lineup this past year and took advantage of the opportunity.

2014 Cincinnati Bengals Schedule and Intangibles:
Cincinnati has never maintained a great homefield advantage historically, but the team somehow went 8-0 as hosts during the regular season. Unfortunately, it lost at home when it counted, as San Diego marched into Cincinnati and came away victorious in the playoffs.

Mike Nugent has been an average kicker for Cincinnati. He hit 18-of-22 attempts in 2013, good for just 81.8 percent. However, he went 3-of-4 from 50-plus.

Punter Kevin Huber ranked eighth in net punting and was in the middle of the pack when it came to placing attempts inside the 20.

The Bengals outgained their opponents on kickoff returns, but struggled to defend punts. They surrendered a touchdown and failed to score one of their own.

The good news for Cincinnati is that it gets to take on the pitiful AFC South. The bad news is that the NFC South is also on the docket. Matchups against the Patriots and Broncos also loom.

2014 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.

2014 Cincinnati Bengals Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2014 Cincinnati Bengals Analysis: The Bengals may not have to worry about how Andy Dalton performs in the playoffs this year because they may not even make it there. On top of a tough schedule, they have to deal with both of their coordinators being gone. Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer were both excellent, so their departures could keep Cincinnati out of the postseason this time around.

Projection: 8-8 (3rd in AFC North)

2014 Fantasy Football Rankings

More 2014 NFL Season Previews

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

NFL Draft Team Grade: C Grade

Goals Entering the 2014 NFL Draft: The Bengals don’t believe in signing free agents, so they’ll have to find replacements for the players they lost in free agency during the draft. This includes Michael Johnson and Anthony Collins. However, cornerback could be the team’s biggest need, given that Mike Zimmer will no longer be around to get the most out of the players at that position. Cincinnati also needs to think about finding a new quarterback because Andy Dalton doesn’t appear to have what it takes to lead the team deep into the playoffs.

2014 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Bengals got off to a good start with Darqueze Dennard, who shouldn’t have been available at No. 24. However, they quickly faded after that. Many of their second- and third-day selections made little sense. Picking Jeremy Hill in the second round was silly, as was taking a flier on A.J. McCarron, who has no upside to ever become a starting quarterback.

Cincinnati tried to fill some of its non-cornerback needs in Rounds 3 and 4 with Will Clarke and Russell Bodine. That said, the former has a questionable scheme fit. Clarke would be better off in a 3-4, so he likely won’t be a viable replacement for Michael Johnson. As for Bodine, he could start at center this upcoming season, but he was a slight reach.

The Bengals didn’t come away with a very good haul. Only two players have a shot at starting, so they needed to do much better if they wanted to retain the AFC North crown.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

24. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State: A Grade
Great pick. This is really the best the Bengals could have hoped for. They had a big need at cornerback – thanks to aging players and the departure of Mike Zimmer – and some could argue that Darqueze Dennard was the best player at his position in this class. I wouldn’t have said that, but the fact remains that this is very good value for Dennar, who could have easily gone at No. 14 to Chicago.

55. Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU: D Grade
What a terrible pick. The only thing preventing this from being a Millen is that Jeremy Hill could have been chosen a bit earlier than this. But this makes no sense. The Bengals already have Giovanni Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis on the roster, so they didn’t need to add Hill. Furthermore, Hill has been arrested twice over the past few years, so I better not hear from any Cincinnati fans telling me that the front office no longer selects players with character concerns.

88. Will Clarke, DE, West Virginia: C Grade
I’m not a big fan of this scheme fit because I thought Will Clarke would be better off in a 3-4. However, he fills a need as a defensive end, given that Cincinnati lost Michael Johnson in free agency to Tampa Bay. Clarke probably should have gone in the fourth round, so this is only a very slight reach.

111. Russell Bodine, C, North Carolina: B- Grade
As with the Patriots, the Bengals are making a very slight reach, but filling a huge need in the process. The Bengals have a huge hole at center, so this fourth-rounder could actually start right away.

164. A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama: C+ Grade
Did A.J. McCarron mean he would be picked around the 16th selection in the fifth round? I don’t like this pick as much as Kansas City’s Aaron Murray choice because McCarron has no chance to be a starter. I can’t stand it when analysts say that McCarron was a winner. That’s like saying Mark Sanchez was a winner for the Jets in 2009-2011. McCarron’s defense carried him, and any other quarterback would’ve enjoyed similar success. He’s a career backup at best.

212. Marquis Flowers, OLB, Arizona: C Grade
Cincinnati has ignored the linebacker position thus far. Depth was needed, so taking one at this point makes sense. There were better linebackers available, but it’s hard to call a pick a reach at the end of Round 6.

239. James Wright, WR, LSU: C Grade
I didn’t have James Wright as a draftable prospect either. The Bengals did need a receiver after losing Andrew Hawkins, but why not go with Brandon Coleman?

252. Lavelle Westbrooks, CB, Georgia Southern: B Grade
Solid range fit for the Bengals here. This is only their second cornerback, and they were expected to select multiple players at that position.

Season Summary:
Cincinnati fans must feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Every season, it’s the same thing over and over again. Andy Dalton starts off hot, but cools down toward the end of the year and ultimately loses in the first round of the playoffs. The difference in 2013 was that Dalton was at home, where he was undefeated during the regular season. This didn’t matter, however.

Offseason Moves:
  • Bengals cut QB Josh Johnson
  • Bengals sign S Danieal Manning
  • Bengals sign CB R.J. Stanford
  • Bengals sign OT Marshall Newhouse
  • Bengals sign QB Jason Campbell
  • Browns sign WR Andrew Hawkins
  • Bengals cut DE/OLB James Harrison
  • Chargers sign CB Brandon Ghee
  • Buccaneers sign OT Anthony Collins
  • Bengals re-sign S Taylor Mays
  • Bengals cut C Kyle Cook
  • Bengals re-sign WR/KR Brandon Tate
  • Buccaneers sign DE Michael Johnson
  • Bengals re-sign G Mike Pollak
  • Bengals tender ILB Vinny Rey
  • Bengals tender WR Dane Sanzenbacher
  • Bengals tender WR Andrew Hawkins

    Team Needs:
    1. Cornerback: Leon Hall, 30 in December, has torn his Achilles twice in three years. He may never be the same player again. Meanwhile, Terence Newman and Pac-Man Jones played well this past season, but they can only last so long. Cincinnati’s first-round choice could be used to help this area.

    2. Defensive End: Michael Johnson is a free agent, and given that the Bengals recently gave Carlos Dunlap a big contract, he’s not expected back. The front office drafted Margus Hunt in the second round last year, but he struggled as a rookie.

    3. Defensive Tackle: Domata Peko is coming off a down season and will be entering his contract year. Geno Atkins, meanwhile, is coming off a torn ACL. The Bengals could spend a Round 3-4 pick on this position.

    4. Left Tackle: Andrew Whitworth moved inside to guard during the season to compensate for injuries. Whitworth played extremely well there, and the interior could be his permanent spot given his age. If so, Cincinnati will have to find a new blind-side protector, perhaps in the first two rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft. Signed Marshall Newhouse

    5. Center: Kyle Cook has been the weakest link up front for the Bengals for quite some time. That continued to be the case this past season.

    6. Quarterback: Andy Dalton is not the long-term solution for the Bengals. He’s simply too limited to lead the team deep into the playoffs. A mid-round pick should probably be used on a quarterback as a potential replacement down the road. Signed Jason Campbell

    7. Wide Receiver Depth: Cincinnati will have a couple of receivers entering their contract years in 2014.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2014 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Danieal Manning, S, Texans. Age: 32. — Signed with Bengals (1 year)
    2. Marshall Newhouse, OT, Packers. Age: 25. — Signed with Bengals
    3. Jason Campbell, QB, Browns. Age: 32. — Signed with Bengals (1 year)
    4. R.J. Stanford (RFA), CB, Dolphins. Age: 27. — Signed with Bengals

    Cincinnati Bengals Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Michael Johnson, DE, Bengals. Age: 27.
      Signed with Buccaneers (5 years, $43.75 million; $24 million guaranteed)

      Michael Johnson has his ups and downs, but when he’s on, he can be very dominant. Johnson is especially strong against the run and can get to the quarterback well at times. He had 11.5 sacks in 2012, but saw that number drop to 3.5 this past season.

    2. Vinny Rey (RFA), ILB, Bengals. Age: 26.
      Tendered by Bengals

      Vinny Rey took over for an injured Rey Maualuga in the middle of the season and happened to be outstanding. Rey should’ve held on to the job, but Marvin Lewis inexplicably handed the starting role back to the ineffective Maualuga.

    3. Anthony Collins, OT, Bengals. Age: 28.
      Signed with Buccaneers

      Anthony Collins took over the left tackle position once Andrew Whitworth moved inside to compensate for injuries. Collins performed well. He’s a passable starter.

    4. Andrew Hawkins (RFA), WR, Bengals. Age: 28.
      Signed with Browns (4 years, $13.6 million)

      Andrew Hawkins is a speedy receiver who is coming off a lost 2013 campaign in which he missed the first eight games with an injured hamstring.

    5. Josh Johnson, QB, Bengals. Age: 28.
      Signed with 49ers

      The Bengals are absolutely crazy to cut Josh Johnson in favor of the vastly inferior A.J. McCarron. Johnson is a smart, athletic quarterback who can serve as a top-notch backup and spot starter.

    6. James Harrison, DE/OLB, Bengals. Age: 36.
      James Harrison actually performed pretty well as a two-down player for the Bengals in 2013. With Mike Zimmer gone, however, Cincinnati had no more use for Harrison. The long-time Steeler turns 36 in May.

    7. Kyle Cook, C, Bengals. Age: 31.
    8. Taylor Mays, S, Bengals. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Bengals
    9. Mike Pollak, G, Bengals. Age: 29. — Re-signed with Bengals
    10. Brandon Tate, WR/KR, Bengals. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Bengals
    11. Alex Smith, TE, Bengals. Age: 32.
    12. Brandon Ghee, CB, Bengals. Age: 27. — Signed with Chargers (2 years)
    13. Dane Sanzenbacher (RFA), WR, Bengals. Age: 25. — Tendered by Bengals
    14. Zac Robinson (RFA), QB, Bengals. Age: 27.

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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