Where do you start when you have been so close to the promised land two years in a row? What can the Cincinnati Bengals do to get over that hump and hoist the Lombardi?
With the advantage of almost total continuity the past two years the Bengals now find themselves in the NFL reality of losing some key pieces that contributed to those runs, while also improving in any area possible.
All that without the advantage of being able to spend freely in free agency given the upcoming extensions to Joe Burrow and company. To do that we will examine the places in the roster that are in most need of shoring up for the Bengals to make that jump to a championship.
The Bengals went out and spent last year determined to fix their offensive line replacing 4/5ths of it in one year. The early returns were problematic with the Bengals giving up the league lead in sacks with 15 through the first three weeks (five per game), however, some gelling occurred afterward and the Bengals settled down with 29 sacks (2.23 per game) the rest of the way for a strong finish.
With production like that you wouldn't call the 2022 Bengals line a strength, but, it was not as much a weakness that could not be overcome by a talented offense, some quick processing by Joe Burrow, and an opportunistic defense. At playoff time, with injuries taking out what little depth the Bengals had, it was the demise once again of their Super Bowl hopes.
Queue to 2023.
The Bengals need to go from not bad to at least slightly above average. Playing Russian roulette with your franchise QB is not a long-term winning strategy. It is arguable that they would have two Super Bowls already if not for the offensive line. Not surprisingly, the offensive line is once again the top priority for the Bengals in the offseason.
How to fix it: Free Agency + Draft
Luckily there are some building blocks with Cappa and Karras and some growing room with Volson. A right tackle will be a must for 2023 with La'el Collins likely to be cut due to his salary and below-average production. Jonah Williams is guaranteed ($12.9M) so he will have to be penciled in as a starter.
That leaves the Bengals to find their tackle for 2023 in free agency. Giving the keys to a rookie starter without a veteran backup is not an option. This is a Super Bowl-contending team, not one simply looking to make the playoffs.
While the cost of first-tier tackle prospects such as Orlando Brown and Mike McGlinchey will likely be too rich for a team trying to sign their own free agents, the prescription will be to attack the second-tier free agent tackles such as Jermaine Elemunore, Isaiah Wynn, or Donovan Smith.
In order to secure the position for the future and offset the coming reset if they move on from Jonah Williams after this year, they will then need to draft a high upside prospect such as Darnell Wright, Dawand Jones or Blake Freeland. The key here will be to draft one early that has athleticism and the capability to evolve into an above average tackle, not a future stopgap without upside. The depth is already full of low potential stopgaps such as Hakeem Adeniji and needs a real shot of talent.
In addition taking a flier on an upgrade for Volson in the draft is not out of the question. He has shown some promise, but, was barely better than league average for the year. Depth along the line should be improved through draft and free agency whenever possible. We should not settle and take any chance to improve both our starters and our depth.