Why the Bengals need to make a move in free agency

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 31: Quarterback Andy Dalton
BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 31: Quarterback Andy Dalton /

The Cincinnati Bengals are widely known for rarely making any kind of move in free agency and bringing their own guys in through the draft.

The Cincinnati Bengals and head coach Marvin Lewis have stubbornly avoided big free agent signings and always brought in their own guys through the draft. In the 15 years that Lewis has coached the Bengals, this has been his strategy but there needs to be a change if he wants to keep his job.

When something doesn’t work so many times, it’s time to try something new, right? Albert Einstein said it best when he said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” The Bengals have been doing the same thing for many years now and they have yet to win a single playoff game under coach Lewis.

The Bengals have been to the playoffs seven times with Lewis including a five-year consecutive stretch dating from 2011-2015. The failure to get to the next step is a large reflection on the coaching staff as much as it is the players in this instance.

After five consecutive years of making the playoffs, the Bengals have found themselves falling short of .500 the last two seasons. About the only satisfaction for fans coming out of those two seasons is the team’s ability to knock a divisional opponent out of the playoffs in week 17 each of those years. The team is vastly talented and there is zero excuse for the Bengals to not make the playoffs for the third year in a row barring immense amounts of injuries.

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Lewis will have to treat 2018 like a must win now season if he plans to keep his job going forward and it will need to start by building around quarterback Andy Dalton. While many fans want to see the Bengals draft a quarterback early in the draft this year, that is not a move that Lewis can afford to make as he needs to fill holes that will contribute this year to save his job. He will have to put more attention on the offense this offseason after it ranked last in the NFL in 2017 for yards per game.

One of the biggest areas of need that will need to be addressed in both free agency and the draft is the offensive line.

Since letting offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth and offensive guard Kevin Zeitler leave for free agency after the 2015 season the Bengals offense has had its struggles keeping the pocket clean for Dalton. In the last two seasons, Dalton has been sacked a total of 80 times due to a lack of offensive line productivity.

The offensive line will need some immediate attention for Dalton to lead his team back to the playoffs in 2018. Even though the Bengals aren’t normally big spenders in free agency as they like to bring in their own guys, they may have to pick up at least one offensive lineman in March to make an immediate impact.

The immediate impact on the line would be very beneficial to running back Joe Mixon who will likely be the leading back in 2018. Lewis waited until week 9 to give Mixon his first start when starting running back Jeremy Hill went down with an injury. It’s not uncommon for Lewis to limit his rookies in their first year but he might have to change his method some to make a turnaround season in 2018. The Bengals running game ranked 31st in the league in 2017, much due to the poor offensive line production once again, but with some better blocking and the start of Mixon, the Bengals could see a huge increase from their rushing attack.

Another major need for the Bengals on offense is the tight end position. Tight end Tyler Eifert is an elite red zone presence when healthy but has only played 49% of the games he’s been available for the team since coming into the league. Eifert commanded double teams in the red zone allowing guys like wide receiver A.J. Green more space to work with and make a play.

The Bengals need to find another big threat in the red zone if they are wanting to improve this offense and even make the playoffs. The second-year wide receiver John Ross will be back and healthy in 2018 to hopefully draw some of that attention away from Green but is not the big red zone threat replacement.

One name that fans should keep an eye on is tight end Trey Burton from the Philadelphia Eagles. Burton has spent his time with the Eagles backing up Zach Ertz and Brent Celek but proved his he can be a viable weapon when Ertz was concussed against the Los Angeles Rams in 2017. The 26-year-old tight end hauled in 5 catches for 71 yards and 2 touchdowns in the absence of the star tight end.

With limited playing time, the young tight end will not command top money and likely be a cheap hire for a team in desperate need of a tight end. The Bengals would be foolish to not pursue Burton as it would be an immediate upgrade over their current tight ends and a cheap replacement at that.

There are still needs on the defensive side and even the backup quarterback position going into the offseason and the team will have plenty of draft picks and money to fill those needs as well. The surest way to getting back to the playoffs is building around Dalton for the short term.

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Lewis has been overly confident in Dalton, even admitting that there was never competition for the starting role in 2017, and if he wants to continue pushing out Dalton as his signal caller the Bengals will need to win in the trenches and supply him with as many weapons as humanly possible. Another losing season will not save Lewis his job so he has to get back to the playoffs if he wants any kind of future here in Cincinnati.