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Why did the Bengals overpay Marvin Lewis this offseason?

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BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 31: Head Coach Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals looks on from the sidelines prior to the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M
BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 31: Head Coach Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals looks on from the sidelines prior to the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M /
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The Cincinnati Bengals not only kept Marvin Lewis this offseason but gave him a raise. Did Lewis do anything to deserve a bump in pay last season?

Short answer? Yes, they did.

Long answer? Probably. The Cincinnati Bengals, in a stunning turn of events, brought back head coach Marvin Lewis on a two-year contract. Lewis and the Bengals reportedly planned on splitting at the end of the season, but attitudes changed once the year came to a close. The team’s two-game winning streak, including knocking the Baltimore Ravens out of the playoffs, certainly did not hurt.

While it is understandable why the Bengals retained Lewis this offseason – end of year growth, no great available candidates – there is something strange about Lewis’ return. The Bengals gave Lewis a raise this offseason, signing him to an alleged 2-year, $12 million deal. Lewis’ $6 million a year figure would be a bump from his previous $4.5 million salary. (To be clear, the Bengals, or any franchise, do not have to release coaches’ salary information officially. These figures are speculation, but seem accurate.)

That $6 million figure would rank Lewis T-8 in the NFL regarding head coach salaries. Joining Lewis at $6 million are Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy and Dallas’ Jason Garrett. Ahead of Lewis are Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin and Baltimore’s John Harbaugh ($7 million), Kansas City’s Andy Reid and New England’s Bill Belichick ($7.5 million), New Orleans’ Sean Payton and Seattle’s Pete Carroll ($8 million), and of course Oakland’s Jon Gruden at $10 million.

The common thread among these high earning coaches is something Lewis doesn’t have: a Super Bowl. Excluding Lewis, seven of the nine coaches listed have won a Super Bowl. Andy Reid, one of the two who hasn’t, has at least been to a Super Bowl and has a .595 winning percentage over the course of almost two decades. Lewis cannot even claim a playoff victory. Furthermore, every single coach listed has a higher winning percentage than Lewis. None have a win percentage below .553 (Jason Garrett), and four have one over .600. Lewis’, on the other hand, is down at .527.

Clearly, Lewis does not belong in this upper tier of pay. His resume is too thin to be making $6 million a year. However, in Lewis’ defense, his salary isn’t far off. By going down just $1 million, coaches like Washington’s Jay Gruden and Houston’s Bill O’Brien start to come into the picture. By pedigree, O’Brien and Gruden may be better than Lewis, but their career outputs to this point have been disappointing. Neither has a win percentage above .500, and they have combined for only one playoff victory. It is indeed reasonable to put Lewis in this tier of coaches, making him only slightly overpaid.

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Overall, Lewis has done a lot for the Bengals. He has led them to 7 playoff appearances and turned the franchise into a consistent winner. His recent performance has dipped, though. Lewis needs to have a strong year this year to regain the confidence of fans, and that probably means a division title or a playoff victory. Without that type of season, Lewis is not worth his new salary, and the Bengals should probably let him go at the end of the season.

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