The loss of key veterans to free agency isn’t new to Cincinnati Bengals fans. But, with it happening more frequently, could it be a sign of a new era?
There’s no doubt about it. The 2017 campaign will be one that either defines the Bengals as a resilient contender or a team in rebuild mode. With offseason moves that have both shocked and pleased fans, it will interesting to see what transpires at Paul Brown Stadium. One of the biggest concern will be the O-Line and its development without studs Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler. Yes, moves have been made. But, does that signal a turnaround for the franchise?
For the first time in a long time, the Cincinnati Bengals weren’t a fixture in the postseason playoff derby. A five-year run was halted by a 6-9-1 record and subpar play. Towards the end of the year, the defense improved their performance. But, it was too little and way too late.
The premise is interesting if you’re a Bengals fan. The free agent acquisition of linebacker Kevin Minter was one that most didn’t see coming. Unless you’re an insider with a crystal ball, it seemed like another typical Bengals offseason. The routine has become legendary. They wait for the sky to fall and then make a move on their in-house free agents. Picking up outside help is like pulling that bone away from the dog. Sparky ain’t trying to let go. So, Minter was a pleasant surprise. He’s young and has the potential to do some damage. Releasing Rey Maualuga was the business of the NFL.
Are The Bengals Waking Up?
Speaking of the NFL and business, it seems like the franchise may be showing signs of moving out of the Stone Age. When Minter was signed, there’s a strong possibility that most Bengals fans did a double take. That went against the m.o. that Cincinnati is known for.
The loss of Big Whit and Zeitler was truly unnerving. But, it may be evidence of something more sinister. There’s a word which comes to mind and it’s not pretty. It denotes vision and dedicated foresight. Are the Bengals in the middle of cleaning house? In other words, there could be a method to the madness besides Mike Brown doing a Scrooge McDuck impersonation. Not many teams will announce such a move unless there are ways to keep it on the low.
Minter is an athletic linebacker who can immediately fill a need. Though there are fans who adored Maualuga, he had lost a step. His productive years were quickly being forgotten. So, when it was announced that Minter was going to be in Stripes for 2017, things got interesting. He was an immediate upgrade at a position that the Bengals are trying to improve. If you need further proof, just scan any mock draft involving the Bengals.
Then there’s the issue of letting the road graders walk. It wasn’t as unplanned as many may think. Whitworth is getting older. To be honest, his replacement was drafted two years ago. Cedric Ogbuehi is the heir apparent to the LT position. Suddenly, it looks like the Bengals were actually(dare we say it)thinking ahead. Time for the first round draft pick to prove his worth.
More Detective Work
Still seething over Rex Burkhead becoming a Patriot? The running back position will be under some serious scrutiny this season. Once again, all one has to do is search the mocks and investigate the possibilities. Jeremy Hill is in the last year of his rookie contract. He’s either going to prove he deserves to be the starting back or risk being escorted to the back exit at PBS.
As Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis explained, when speaking about Maualuga, there are changes taking place. Turnover happens each year, of course. But, this is one of a few times fans are seeing back-to-back seasons of vets not being retained.
"“Rey has been a tough and productive player for us, and a fine teammate, and this is a difficult decision,” Lewis explained per The Cincinnati Enquirer. “It’s one of several we have made to transition to a younger group at linebacker as we continue to shape our 2017 roster.”"
Recently, Mike Brown was actually in favor of the Oakland Raiders’ move to Las Vegas. Brown is usually the owner that wants the status quo in check. Another sign of the times?
The NFL is transitioning. It’s about athleticism, speed and coverage. It’s no longer chic to be big brutes with limited range. Maybe…just maybe…this could be the start of a new era of Bengals.