As the season draws to a close, the Cincinnati Bengals are shifting into offseason mode. What does the team need? Can free agents fix the problems?
When the Bengals lost Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones to free agency, the vast majority of fans lost their minds. The big fear was being able to replace the production of players that had become a staple in the offense. As the 2016 NFL campaign winds down, the offseason looks the same for the Bengals. There will be a substantial amount of players looking to get paid. Does that create a problem? Well, yes and no. There are players outside the draft able to step in for Cincinnati.
As the season progressed for the Bengals, there were glaring needs that arose. Both the defense and offense faced deficiencies that made winning a chore. Ending the year at 6-9-1 was a combination of injuries, bad luck, and poor performance from key players.
With the NFL Draft order set, Cincinnati will be in the mix with a top 10 pick. Marvin Lewis and Duke Tobin will undoubtedly work their magic, along with the coaches input. But, there will always be speculation about what the team’s needs are. Without a doubt, the 41 sacks incurred by Andy Dalton should be the biggest factor in deciding what to do.
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Offensive coordinator Ken Zampese called the plays for an offense that was ranked No. 13 in yardage but drops to No. 24 in scoring. Most of the imbalance was due to poor line play and scheme. But, Lewis has promised things will be vastly different in 2017. Here are a few ways that could happen.
Getting The Line Right
The biggest chink in the Bengals armor was with offensive line play. Dalton found himself on the ground more times than candy from a pinata. That’s over exaggeration, I know. But, the Rifle was beaten up. Without being “that guy” who seems to blame one particular player, let’s think about who got benched during the season. Any names pop up? Bueller…Bueller? Cedric Ogbuehi was a liability that the Bengals will have to address.
Ogbuehi wasn’t alone in his struggles or benching. Russell Bodine continued to have problems and resembled Ray Charles in Stripes. Andrew Whitworth is on the free agency boat along with Kevin Zeitler. The guys at Pro Football Focus give them the highest grades of all the Bengals slated to leave. They come in at 91.3 and 87.1, respectively. There’s no way Mike Brown brings them both back. But, with cap space constantly being left over ($47 million for 2017), there might be a way to do it. If there is, make it so (love that Capt. Picard order).
Believe it or not, Andre Smith could be available. That may sound like a step backward but it could lend some stability to a running game that still lacks punch. Smith ended his season with the Minnesota Vikings on injured reserve. An arm injury sidelined Smith just four games into the schedule. The Bengals allowed him to walk because of his pass blocking problems. Andre knows the system and would be a decent fill-in while Ogbuehi falls into place.
Cincy gets a compensatory pick for Smith. It’s a win-win scenario since the price could be within budget.
Seeing Rex Burkhead run for another team would be depressing. How many times has Bengals’ brass slept on a player’s abilities? Um, let’s not go there. There are tons of possibilities in the draft. The standouts are Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook. But, Joe Mixon is a dangerous back that could peak the Bengals’ interest. He fits the mold of Lewis and Tobin. His past is checkered but his talent is too good to overlook. If he falls in the draft, look for the Bengals to give him a sniff.
This is the year that Jeremy Hill has to produce. If the Bengals decide to address the backfield situation, whoever comes aboard could be auditioning for Hill’s spot in 2018 or sooner. One consideration is Eddie Lacy. The Green Bay running back ended the season with an ankle injury. His price tag will surely drop. But, the downside is hoping he’ll regain the form that had PFF rank his skills above those of Le’Veon Bell. He’s a downhill runner (like Hill used to be) that has agility and power.
It’s been awhile since the Bengals went with a free agent back. But, losing Burkhead could cause Cincinnati some nightmares and fan loyalty. Replacing him with a quality RB is essential. There are tons of other options that would be cheaper but not better. Unless there’s a sleeping giant in the mix, the Bengals will probably stick with their standard formula.
There are definitely plenty of players to sort through. But, it’s all about the Bengals being able to identify who will mesh with Zampese’s vision.