After five consecutive playoff seasons the Bengals failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2010. In years past the Bengals have struggled to build depth on both sides of the ball. 2016 saw the Bengals begin to age. If the Bengals front office isn't able to build depth at aging positions such as left tackle, the missing the playoffs could once again become a reacurring theme in Cincinatti.
Step 1: Give Marvin Lewis one more year
Marvin Lewis has been the head of the Bengals since 2003. The Bengals have made the playoffs seven times in Lewis' tenure but have failed to reach the Super Bowl. The Bengals have had the talent to them to the promise land in previous seasons but have failed to do so. In the playoffs it seems as if Lewis hasn't given them the best oppurtunities to win. 2017 will be Lewis' 15th season as the Bengals' head coach. Coming off a down year it has been rummored Lewis won't return. He is due for an extension after the 2017 season and depending on how the Bengals perfom, Lewis may not be back in 2018. Lewis should be given the year to once again prove why he's the best option for Cincinatti. Coaching options for the Bengals come 2018 may be Josh Mccdaniels, Terryl Austin, and Matt Patrica, just to name a few (this article was written on January 18th, 2017, none of the following coaches have been hired to be a head coach for the 2017 season). However if Lewis is able to lead Cincinatti back to the playoffs and win a playoff game he should be extended.
Step 2: Bring back your veterans, but don't rely on them for too long
Andrew Widworth is 35. He's been arguably the Bengals offensive linemen for a while now. With this being said the Bengals have failed to find his future replacment in previous drafts. Widowrth should be retianed on a short term deal (2yr 20 mil; 8 mil gurranteed). Kevin Zeitler is one of the best guards in all of pro football and deserves to be paid like it (4yr 32 mil; 12 mil gurranteed). Brandon Lefall and Rex Burkhead were both suprises this season. They graded out well and can be kept for cheap (Burkhead 1yr 1mil; Lefell 1 yr 2mil;), as backups. The big questions are what to do with Dre Kirkpatrik and Karlos Dansby. Dansby played well this season, though given his age, the Bengals may opt to let him go. However with little to backup Dansby extending him one extra year to find a replacment would be smart. Dre Kirpatrik has had ups and downs as a pro. Given the struggles of Adam Pacman Jones and Darqueze Denard, there lacks other otptions outisde of Kirkpatrik. In his second year as a starter Kirpatrik played much better then in 2015. Kirpatrik graded out with a 74.7 rating from Pro Football Focus in 2016. Giving Kirpatrik a one year deal to prove himself would be a good idea (1yr 5.5 mil; 1 mil in guranteees). If for some reasons Kirpatrik decides to decline, let him go. This years corner class is a pretty good one and it shouldn't be diffificult to find his replacment early. For this articles sake lets assume Kirpatrik is re-signed. This gives the Bengals an estimated $20 million to spend in free agency.
Step 3: Cut Micheal Johnson and Adam Jones
Micheal Johnson and Adam Jones have been longstays of the Bengals for years now. Jones has been with the team sense 2010 after playing only 3 seasons of professional football in 5 years. Jones carries his off the field antics and given how poorly he played this season it's time for the Bengals to move on. Cutting Jones would give the Bengals an extra six million dollars of their pay roll and put their cap at $26 million. After being cut by Tampa following the 2014 season it seemed Micheal Johnson was getting back on track in 2015. However come 2016 Johnson continued to struggle. Cutting him would save the Bengals an almost additonal $3 millon of their cap. Cutting both players would give the Bengals $29 million to spend in free agency.
Step 4: Look at your needs
1. RT (The Jake Fisher/Cedric Oghabeh expirement hasn't worked out. Clint Boling should be back to 100% in 2017. This shall allow Andrew Widworth to move back to left tackle, his best position).
2. EDGE (The Bengals had one of the least effective pass rushing units in all of football this season. This years draft features tons of excellent players at the position).
3. CB (Adam Jones isn't the Adam Jones isn't the Adam Jones of old. Darqueze Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrik are still unproven).
4. ILB (Karlos Dansby is 35, time to find replacment)
5. LT (Andrew Widworth is also 35)
6. DT (Time to find someone to pair with Geno Atkins. Atikins is one of the best defensive tackles in the league and like Gerald Mccoy from Tampa, needs someone to help take the pressure of him).
7. WR2 (AJ Green can't do everything by himself. It was evident how much the Bengals struggled when Green wasn't on the field this year).
8. RB (Neither Gio Bernard or Jeremy Hill has proved that their the guy. Rex Burkhead played well this season when given the oppurtunity but competition is still needed).
9. K (Mike Nugent may be the worst kicker I've ever seen, Randy Bullock isn't much better)
10. FS (The Bengals moved Shawn Williams to strong side saftey and George Iloka to Free Saftey. Williams didn't play great but the Bengals reportpaly like him. Finding a free saftey and moving Iloka back to strong side is a better way to go for the Bengals).
Step 5: Spend small in free agency
Depth can be delt with through the draft. Drafting is a much cheaper alternative then going out and spending on players who may not be that much better then a player you can get in the fourth round (or sometimes worse). The diffences are one player is cheaper and probably younger then the other. Phil Dawson isn't expected to retire and can probably be signed for very little. Dawson was a long time kicker for the Browns and has history kicking in the north. The Browns most likely won't bring back Jordon Poyer for some reason. Poyer would provide depth at safty and potenitally start depending on how you feel about Shawn Williams.Captin Munnerleyn was solid for the Vikings this season. Singing him to a cheap one year contract would fill a need in the slot. Other than that there's not real reason to go spending large on big name players.
K Phil Dawson (1yr 1 mil)
S Jordon Poyer (1 yr 2 mil)
CB Captin Munnerlyn (1 yr 2mil)
Cap Space: $24 Mil
Step 6: Aquire picks and build depth through the draft
The Bengals have the 9th overall pick in this years upcoming draft. With plenty of needs to build upon, they should look to trade down with a quarterback needy team. Mitch Trubitsky will most likely be off the board and depending on who the Jets take, Deshone Kizer or Deshaun Watson could be as well. Though given the Jets' BPA draft philopshy it's more then likely Kizer and Watson will be avaliable. Teams like Cleveland, Arizona, Houston, and Denver. Denver drafted Paxton Lynch last year and are more likely looking to aquire a veteran quarterback sot they're out of the picture. Cleveland is a divisonal rival so a trade isn't happening there. Between Arizona and Houston you have to look at draft positon. Arizona picks 14th while Houston doesn't pick until 25th. An ideal trade would send the 9th overall pick to Arizona in return for the 13th overall pick, Arizonas 3rd round pick. Trading up would allow the Cardinals to find Carson Palmers successor, something they've failed to do in years past.
Now with pick 13 there's a lot the Bengals can do with this pick. They can adress the right tackle positon (Cam Robinson and Ryan Ramcyzk are most likely both avaliable), cornerback positon (Marshon Lattimore?), someone to compliment AJ Green, or draft a pass rusher. Cam Robinsons off the field issues take him out of play here and Ramcyzk's injury is a concern. This class if full of pass rushers so the Bengals can find depth later. This leaves the pick to either take a cornerback or wide reciever. Quincy Wilson is likely gone at this point. Marshon Lattimore from Ohio State is however still avaliable. Lattimore is a long rangy corner who excells in man coverage. Would make for a great fit.
Step 7: Trade AJ Mccaron
Andy Dalton have proven himself. Even in an offense that lacks weapons outside of AJ Green and Tyler Eifert, Dalton has proved he can man the show. AJ Mccarson was a fifth round draft pick in 2014. Mccaron impressed in his first carrer start again the Steelers last year in the wild card round. Given how much this class of quarterbacks drops off after the top three (Trubitsky, Kizer, and Watson), teams may feel safer trading their second round pick for Mccarron then reaching on a player like Patrik Mahomes. One of these teams may be the Texans. The Texans pick 25th so the top three quarterbacks I listed earlier are likley to be gone. Brock Osweiler was a horrendous signing last season and the Texans it seems have already given up. Mccaron has one year left on his rookie deal. Given the want for quarterbacks in the NFL, the Texans are likely to give up a lot in order to get Mccaron. Trading their 2nd and 4th round picks for Mccaron would most likely get the job done.
Now with two second, third, and four fourth round picks the Bengals can continue to build depth. With thier first second rounder the Bengals can target Tim Williams from Alabama. Williams is likely the drop due to off the field concerns. He has the makings of a potential sack master in the NFL and the Bengals aren't shy to take risks on players with troubled pasts. That brings us to Houstons' pick. Dede Westbrook is a projected secound rounder, is once again likely to fall not only due to concerns off the field but an injury. When healthy, Westbrook has garned comparisons to Emmanuel Sanders. If healthy Westrbook would make for a great fit inside next to AJ Green and Tyler Boyd.
The Bengals have two early selections in the third round and four selections in the fourth (two due to compensatory picks from Marvin Jones and Muhammed Sanu). Tanoh Kpassagnon (no I did not make that up) is simply a freak of nature. Playing at Villonovia is a concern but his upside is his selling point. He's 6'7, 260 pounds and runs like deer. If properly devleloped this could be one heck of a steal. Conner Mccdermont from UCLA has all the physical makings of a starting left tackle. Mccdermont needs to add some weight but could very well become Andrew Widworths successor.
The fourth round is were things get hectic. With four fourth round picks a lot of selections will be made. To start let's look at the inside linebacking position. Anthony Walker from Northwestern reminds of Karlos Dunslap. Walker would be a fine replacment for Dunslap once he decides to hang it up. Ryan Glascow from Michigan would help take pressure off of Carlos Dunslap and Gino Atkins. Glascow is a fantastic run stopper. It's now time to look back and add to the secondary. Howard Wilson from Houston led one of the best defenses in the country this season. Has fantastic instics and ball skills. Compettition at running back as needed and that's where the final fourth round selection will be made. Corey Clement from Wisconsion has done a fine job succeding Melvin Gordon. Reads blocks very well and could compete with Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill for carries.
The Bengals now have six selections left in the draft, one fifth, three sixth, and three seventh round picks. Cameron Tom from Southern Mississippi is an incrediby smart football player. Needs to devlelop traits but is only 21 and could compete for the starting center position. Dauwane Smoot from Illions is another talented player who will fall on draft day due to off the field issues. Has the skills to be a starting right end in the NFL. Storm Norton, left tackle from Toledo is another player who has the physical capablites to make it in the NFL. More competition which is always good. Matt Milano from Boston College will be the final sixth round selection. The seventh round bears the Benglas three more selections. Cethan Carter (TE, Nebraska), Jehu Chesson (WR, Michigan), and Dallas Loyd (SS, Stanford) all have the potential to become quality backups in the NFL.
1. Marshawn Lattimore CB, Ohio State
2. Tim Williams OLB, Alabama
2(2): Dede Westbrook WR, Oklahomla
3: Tanoh Kpassagnon DE, Villanova
3(2): Conner Mccdermmont OT, UCLA
4: Anthony Walker ILB, Northwestern
4(2): Ryan Glascow DT, Michigan
4(3): Howard Wilson CB, Houston
4(4): Corey Clemont RB, Wisconsion
5: Dawaune Smoot DE, Illions
6: Cameron Tom C, Southern Mississippi
6(2): Storm Norton OT, Toledo
6(3): Matt Milano OLB, Boston College
7: Cethan Carter TE, Nebraska
7(2): Jehu Chesson WR, Michigan
7(3): Dallas Loyd SS, Stanford
The Bengals have the talent to make it deep into the playoffs. Now it's just a matter of putting that talent to work. Best of luck Bengals fans.