Back to the future: A look ahead for the Cincinnati Bengals
By Kyle Smith
After Joe Burrow’s injury, how do the Bengals respond this offseason to finish the rebuild and open their Super Bowl window?
Cincinnati Bengals’ fans across the world gasped together at the sight of Joe Burrow clutching his left knee while writhing in pain on the ground. Everyone’s biggest fears came to fruition as the offensive line proved that they would get the face of the franchise hurt.
As Burrow laid on the ground and was helped up into the cart, Bengals fans began to think about the future. Following Sunday’s results, Cincinnati found themselves in sole possession of the third overall pick, only behind two quarterback-needy teams in the New York Jets and the Washington Football Team.
Let’s face it, the Bengals probably will not win another game, solidifying a top-three pick.
How does Cincinnati handle the future of the team? These are the questions everyone is asking and we look to answer them during these dark times in Bengals history.
Does Zac Taylor survive for a third season?
Zac Taylor is 4-21-1 in 26 games as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. He is winless in road games and has shown to be loyal to a fault. Following Burrow’s freak injury on Sunday, Coach Taylor once again defended the offensive line as they were bashed throughout the national media.
If the Bengals finish the last six games 0-6, Taylor should be on his way out. Yes, he showed flashes and pushed the offense to 30+ points in five of their ten games. However, he hasn’t done enough to win football games. Plain and simple.
If Taylor gets the boot, look for Eric Bienemy to be the fan-favorite for the gig. Other names to watch for include Arthur Smith, Brian Daboll, and Matt Eberfleus.
Who survives the roster turnover?
Following the 2019-20 debacle, the Cincinnati Bengals looked to rebuild the roster and used the number one pick to start the process. Unfortunately, that rebuild continues heading into the 2021 offseason.
So who could be released or traded to start the 2021 offseason? Fans everywhere are calling for the immediate release of Bobby Hart who has been a below-average NFL tackle. The Bengals could also look to cut ties with long-time defensive star Geno Atkins, as they could save cap space to use on offensive linemen.
Do not expect A.J. Green to be resigned as he has underproduced for his price tag. The same goes for former first-round speedster John Ross.
Other names for potential “cap casualties” include Giovani Bernard, Billy Price, and C.J. Uzomah.
The free-agent market should be booming
Heading into the 2021 offseason, the Bengals are estimated to have $41 M in cap space before making any roster cuts or resigning impending free agents.
The first moves the Bengals could and should make would be to resign Carl Lawson, William Jackson III, and Mackensie Alexander to long-term contracts.
Lawson leads the team with 4.5 sacks and is the Bengals’ only viable pass rusher. Jackson is their clear cut number one cornerback and has had a good season so far with a PFF grade of 69.4. Alexander may be the odd-man out, but if Cincinnati does not resign him, cornerback becomes a high priority in the draft.
After resigning those three players, the Bengals should look to free agency to upgrade their offensive line. Brandon Scherff and Joe Thuney are set to be the top free agent guards and the Bengals could easily afford one of their contracts.
Signing Scherff or Thuney is a true “must” in order to protect the future of the franchise in Joe Burrow.
The Bengals could also look at finding a deep threat wide receiver like a Will Fuller V, Kenny Golladay, or bring back Marvin Jones for good measure.
The ’21 draft class must produce immediately
The Cincinnati Bengals currently hold the third overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft and that doesn’t look to be changing any time soon.
As the New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars will undoubtedly pursue the top college quarterbacks, the Bengals are sitting in a prime position to take Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell.
Sewell is receiving as much hype as now All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson did coming out of Notre Dame. The Bengals could move Jonah Williams to right tackle and give Joe Burrow book-end tackles to protect him for the next ten seasons in Cincinnati. Again, another no-brainer for the Bengals’ future.
Other needs include a speedy wide receiver, interior offensive lineman, and edge rushers. Players like Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, Rondale Moore, Trey Smith, Wyatt Davis, Kwity Paye, Gregory Rousseau, and Carlos Basham Jr. are all names that will be mentioned with the Bengals as we head into mock draft season.
Where do we go from here?
So where do Cincinnati fans find solace in these dark times? Burrow has shown to have that true “can’t stop me” mentality. He gets hit, he hits back harder. And he’s already looking forward to his comeback season.
As we wait for confirmation and more news regarding his left knee, the Bengals’ future is still just as bright as it was heading into Sunday’s game.
While the 2020 season is all but over for the Bengals, the possibilities for 2021 and beyond should give the Bengals all the hope in the world. Joe Burrow will take this team far and he’s not going to let this injury stop him from bringing glory back to Cincinnati.