Hard to escape what could’ve been, but 2016 a bright year for Bengals

connorhowe
Jan 9, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals fans cheer against the Pittsburgh Steelers during a AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 9, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals fans cheer against the Pittsburgh Steelers during a AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /
facebooktwitterreddit

2015 ended on a bitter note, but 2016 could be just as promising a year for the Bengals. In fact, Cincinnati could have serious Super Bowl potential.

No one enjoyed watching the Bengals’ Super Bowl hopes, or even hopes of a playoff win, crumble in a matter of seconds–well, except for Steeler fans, but the Cincinnati Bengals look to have as bright a future as they’ve ever had.

It’s surprising to think that less than a year ago, fans were vying for Andy Dalton to be benched in favor of A.J. McCarron. For the first time since 2009, the Cincinnati Bengals don’t have a question mark behind center. In fact, it’s evident that they’ve found their franchise quarterback. That alone should give Bengals fans enough hope that their team will have a bright future.

But if an astronomical improvement in quarterback play isn’t enough, there’s more. A.J. GreenGeno AtkinsCarlos Dunlap and Vontaze Burfict are locked up long-term, and either Marvin Jones or George Iloka could join those players in earning a new contract. The team will also try to find a way to re-sign Tyler Eifert, but that could end up having to wait.

Cincinnati has a plethora of free agents, and there’s a great chance at least half of them could walk. But even if the Bengals lose guys like Andre SmithReggie Nelson or Leon Hall–or even Marvin Jones and/or George Iloka, plenty of young guys are ready, waiting for their chance to get a shot. Darqueze Dennard and Josh Shaw both looked like quality players in their limited 2015 action, Shawn Williams could be a long-term starter at safety and the combination of Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher could bring stability to the offensive line with Andre Smith’s likely departure.

More from Stripe Hype

Many people are concerned about the Bengals possibly

losing George Iloka in free agency

, but there’s plenty of reason to remain optimistic. If the Bengals aren’t able to retain the safety, they could either bring back Nelson and make Williams a full-time starter, or they could look for a temporary replacement in free agency. It’s also important to note that because Iloka didn’t put up big numbers this season–partly because he was hurt and partly because his play dropped off from 2014, his market value is actually lower now than it was a year ago. The Bengals could have a good chance of bringing the safety back for a reasonable price if other teams have questions about Iloka.

While losing Marvin Jones in free agency would hurt, the team could definitely re-sign Iloka if the wide receiver walks and would have more cap flexibility to prepare for Tyler Eifert’s upcoming contract. And because this year’s upcoming draft class is loaded at wide receiver, Cincinnati should be able to find a quality replacement in the second or third round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

The Bengals suffered a ton of coaching turnover and will have holes to fill in free agency and the draft, but with a top-10 quarterback, solid offensive line, average-at-worst running game and playmaking defense, Cincinnati has a bright future.

The icing on the cake: the Denver Broncos look like they’ll regress in 2016, Tom Brady is a year older and several Bengals players (Dalton, Green, Atkins, Dunlap and Burfict, in particular) are hitting their prime. Cincinnati’s championship window is wide open, and 2016 could finally be the year the Bengals win a playoff game–or even the Super Bowl.

facebooktwitterreddit