Bengals Twitter had been lit up for days. Each day brought another departure of a key contributor for the 2022 Bengals. Jesse Bates was expected. Vonn Bell was the start of an exodus, then came Hayden Hurst and Semaje Perine.
The Bengals' lone success, the retaining of Germaine "Playoff P" Pratt was gradually fading. "Do Something, anything!" was a popular refrain on Twitter.
And then, like a lightning flash, the word came. Cincinnati signed Orlando "Zeus" Brown Jr. to a four-year $64M contract. The Bengals didn't just sign a tackle. They signed the best available tackle on the market to a very reasonable deal. The NFL world was shocked and so was the Bengals' restless fanbase.
Besides fixing the Bengals for the next four years at the left tackle position, the Bengals have staked their claim to one of the most well-run front offices in the NFL. Those are words that I or anyone else that lived through the lost decade would never think they would be speaking.
In addition to the benefits of the signing, this has changed the entire approach to the 2023 NFL Draft. Before the signing, Cincinnati was looking at one of the weakest offensive tackle classes in quite some time. The class goes eight deep and there is no guarantee that any of those will be left after Round 2. A Day 1 starter would be iffy and would have to be taken in the first to get that kind of talent profile.
On the left side, Jonah Williams was coming off a league average or slightly below year. On the right side we were looking at Lael Collins, a cut candidate coming off a major injury, and Jackson Carman an unproven commodity.
Drafting for need is never a good situation and a recipe for reaching. You don't have to go far back (see Jackson Carman) to see what happens when need comes before getting the best available fit. With the Brown signing, the Bengals are truly opening up the door to the best available in the early rounds.
Before the signing, first round would have had to be one of the plug and play offensive tackles. With Peter Skoronski, Broderick Jones, Paris Johnson Jr., and the late rising Darnell Wright potentially being long gone, the Bengals would be in an awful position of having to move down for the second tier or reach for someone such as Anton Harrison and Dawand Jones in the first. It is even possible that, given the leaguewide need for quality tackles, that even Harrison and Jones could be gone before the Bengals pick.
After looking at the Bengals' remaining needs they are in a much stronger position. Those include tight end, with Hayden Hurst leaving, and running back with Joe Mixon's likely release and Semaje Perine leaving for Denver, as two of the larger needs.
This aligns with the strength of the draft as there are many quality tight ends and running backs even into Day 3. With their needs aligned with the draft's strengths, the Bengals are sitting in a prime position for the best available, most impactful kind of choice.
So, what are the options? The first round is now open to any position. Here are some of the likely fits.