In ESPN’s offseason rankings, the Cincinnati Bengals came in second place in the AFC North and 12th overall across the entire league.
To many, it may seem like a foregone conclusion that the Cincinnati Bengals had the best offseason of any team in the AFC North. After all, the team completely revamped their defense through free agency, added the reigning Heisman winner to be the quarterback of their future, and injected loads of talent in the once deficient linebacker room.
However, if you ask ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, Cincinnati didn’t even have the best offseason in Ohio. That honor would belong to the Cleveland Browns, who had their string of transactions ranked as second best in the entire NFL.
It’s undeniable, the perennial laughing stock of the league made a lot of moves that seem wise. They added significant talent to the offensive line and secured Bill Callahan to coach them, who was once rumored to have drawn the Bengals’ interest. Beyond that, they had a solid draft with some smart value picks.
The Browns received a lot of similar praise for their moves last year but floundered to yet another lackluster season. They’ll have to prove it on the field before they get the benefit of the doubt.
The Bengals, on the other hand, ranked 12th overall in Barnwell’s rankings. Of course, he liked the moves that many around the league also liked. Joe Burrow, Tee Higgins, and the unprecedented foray into free agency.
He wasn’t a fan of all of the free agency deals though,
“The three-year, $42 million deal for Waynes stood out as a dramatic contract for a player who was often frustrating in Minnesota. Reader’s market grew after an impressive 2019 season, but the Texans were actually slightly better rushing the passer over the past three years with him on the sideline. On a four-year, $53 million deal, Cincinnati is paying Reader to be both a run-plugger and someone who can disrupt the pocket.”
This isn’t the first time the Waynes contract has been criticized. There’s no way around it, a $10M cap hit next season followed by a $16M hit in 2021 is a steep price to pay. Still, the former Viking was drafted 11th overall for a reason. He has the tools to be a top-flight corner in the NFL.
The Bengals are betting on the fact that utilizing Waynes in man-coverage more often will allow him to realize his full potential. It’s an expensive gamble but one that could pay off in a big way.
Reader, on the other hand, may not seem like a dangerous pass rusher based solely on his numbers but make no mistake about it, his presence impacts opposing quarterbacks.
The Bengals are deep along the defensive line so Reader won’t be asked to be on the field for every third down. When he is between the lines in passing situations, however, he will demand a lot of attention. This will free up guys like Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Sam Hubbard, and Carl Lawson. His stat line may not show his effectiveness but flip on the game tape and it’s evident.
What’s left to do? Barnwell is among the majority who believe the Bengals should sign the three-time Pro Bowl guard, Larry Warford. The former Saint is still on the open market and as long as that’s the case, there is a glimmer of hope that he’s in stripes and protecting Joe Burrow next season.
The rest of the AFC North
Both the Ravens and the Steelers found themselves in the back half of the league in ESPN’s rankings. Baltimore came in at the 18th position while Pittsburg finished last at 20th.
The Raven’s ranking, in particular, is surprising. Their front office pulled off an impressive trade to acquire Calais Campbell and put together a strong draft class. Barnwell seems to think that losing future Hall-of-Famer Marshall Yander will be a bigger blow to the reigning divisional champions than most are taking into account.
The Bengals absolutely needed to have a better offseason than both the Ravens and Steelers after being locked in the division’s cellar for 2019. According to ESPN and many other outlets, they made the necessary moves to somewhat close the gap between themselves and their rivals.