If free agency is a good indicator of what’s to come, Cincinnati v. Cleveland could take on a new and more competitive dynamic in upcoming seasons.
After a rough 2016 season, the Bengals have made some head-scratching moves in this year’s free agency period. Are they trying to orchestrate a complete rebuild? Do they believe all their unheralded young players have made the leap? Do they think last year’s dreadful regular season campaign was just a fluke? Maybe it’s a combination of these things, but if they aren’t careful, it looks like their brothers to the north may continue to make up ground.
The Bengals don’t make moves often in free agency. It’s Mike Brown’s style. It’s just how it goes. But this year, the consequences could be dire for the franchise. Not signing talent is one thing. But letting in-house talent walk year after year and still not signing talent is another.
The Browns seem to be starting to get this down. When star wide-receiver Terrelle Pryor left for Washington a few days ago, Cleveland had a contingency plan in the form of a Kenny Britt signing. Britt is no Pryor, but his play is underrated and his measurables are monstrous. A tall, strong, veteran receiver, Britt was quietly a great player for the Rams last year, racking up over 1,000 yards on 68 catches.
The Bengals, on the other hand, have some work to do in making up for lost players. After letting multiple Pro-bowlers walk last offseason, the Bengals can’t afford not infusing any new talent for the second year in a row.
The Browns don’t usually make big splashes in free agency either, but one year after nabbing Hue Jackson from Cincinnati, they’ve snagged another major piece from the offensive side. Kevin Zeitler, long-time Bengals guard and one of the few bright spots left along Cincinnati’s line, is on his way to Cleveland.
With Zeitler and now Andrew Whitworth departing Cincinnati’s worst offensive line in years, things look to go from bad to worse. Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher showed few signs of living up to their potential in limited playing time last year, and Eric Winston isn’t a permanent solution at tackle either. In a free agency class mostly devoid of guard talent and tackle talent, the Bengals’ O-line is in trouble.
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The Adam Jones situation doesn’t help the Bengals either. While Cincinnati had been stockpiling young talent at cornerback for a few years, an unexpected dilemma like this certainly doesn’t help. With Jones’ future in question, the Bengals had to highly prioritize resigning Dre Kirkpatrick, possibly at the expense of the offensive line. Bene Benwikere was a nice safety signing at corner, but the Bengals need to do more than just that if they want a successful 2017 campaign.
Meanwhile, the Browns are making moves to re-establish themselves as a legitimate franchise. While Brock Osweiler might not even be a good quarterback, he’s certainly an interesting addition to the locker room. A bona fide professional, despite Houston borderline paying Cleveland to take him, Osweiler is a great off-the-field role model for Cleveland’s extremely young team. They can afford to pay the passer for a year and see what Hue Jackson can make of him.
There’s no contest here. None at all. While there used to be a narrative that the Bengals were among the best drafters in the league, it’s legitimacy is now in serious doubt. But even if it wasn’t, Cleveland’s sheer volume of draft picks should blow Cincinnati out of the water.
Here’s what the Browns draft board looks like over the next two years:
Yes, that’s eight picks in the first two rounds. Which is virtually unheard of.
The Browns are getting more and more youthful, looking to build a dynasty from the ground up. While they’ve been the Bengals’ little brother in Ohio the past few years, Cincinnati needs to start looking over their shoulder.
The Browns are catching up, and even though they weren’t close to Cincinnati’s level last season, over the next few years, there could be a new dynamic in the Battle of Ohio.