Loaded with cap space and possessing premiere draft capital, the numerous potential scenarios that could play out for the Cincinnati Bengals can become mind-boggling. Will the front office re-sign both, one, or neither of their own top free agents, William Jackson III and Carl Lawson? Will they rely on a deep tackle class in this year’s draft to fix the offensive line? Is a big-time wide receiver free agent on the table?
Everybody seems to have an opinion. That includes Pro Football Focus analyst Anthony Treash, who appeared on the Bengals Booth Podcast to marry advanced analytics with the logistics of running a franchise.
The plan laid out by Treash circles around three key components: 1. Prioritize re-signing Jackson over Lawson 2. Target players like Joe Thuney and Taylor Moton to upgrade Joe Burrow’s protection before the draft 3. Scoop up a wide receiver like Ja’Marr Chase to serve as a number one receiving threat in the offense.
This offseason plan differs from the traditional line of thought in a number of ways. The first instance being the idea that Jackson should be the priority over Lawson. Even a number of Bengals insiders believe the pass rush is of chief concern on the defensive side of the ball and Lawson is a guy the club just can’t afford to lose.
After all, the team did finish dead last in terms of sacks a season ago, right? Not so fast. It’s the positional value that makes this decision in the mind of Treash. When asked who should be prioritized, he had this to say,
"“It has to be William Jackson just because of the position value. I love Lawson, I think he’s a very good pass rusher… but when you look at our wins above replacement metric… Jackson generated 2.5 times more wins above replacement than Carl Lawson did.”"
It’s difficult to argue against that kind of statistic. However, it should be taken into account that the corner draft class appears to be considerably deeper than EDGE this year. If Lawson walks, and the board doesn’t fall in a way to let the Bengals net another top pass rusher, they’ll have very little to throw at opposing offenses in terms of getting after the quarterback.
You can have an All-Pro secondary, but if you give signal-callers all day to throw, it won’t matter.
Ja’Marr Chase the top target for the Bengals over Penei Sewell?
The second point made by Treash that’s sure to get some of WhoDey Nation reaching for their pitchforks is the idea that Chase, not Sewell, would be the ideal selection for Cincinnati,
"“The Cincinnati Bengals, they have the cap space to attack [offensive line in free agency]. There’s some quality offensive linemen out there that not a lot of teams can afford… from a wide receiver perspective, he [Chase] is up there with Amari Cooper and Julio Jones… this guy has a chance to be an elite wide receiver number one…”"
Again, it’s difficult to argue with the logic here. As of right now, eleven teams in the NFL are projected to have negative cap space. Not to mention, there’s another chunk of the league that wouldn’t have the means necessary to land some of the big offensive line targets. The Bengals may be able to out-bid a lot of the competition, thanks to smart salary cap management.
If they were able to land both Moton and Thuney, they’d have three solid pieces if you include Jonah Williams in the conversation as well. Pencil in a fairly quick return from injury from Trey Hopkins and Quinton Spain/a mid-round guard prospect, and that’s a line that you can feel fairly comfortable about.
Then, add Chase to an offense that was already looking explosive last year prior to Burrow going down? Look out, Paul Brown Stadium could be home to the next offensive juggernaut.