This Cincinnati Bengals off-season might be the most important in team history. With franchise cornerstone Joe Burrow in place, the time to act is now. Eventually, Burrow’s rookie contract will expire and make the cap a harder obstacle for Cincinnati. This off-season is a chance to build the league’s next contender, or at least start on that trend.
During the Off-Season, the Cincinnati Bengals Owe Joe Burrow Some Offensive Renovations
Heading into the 2020 season, the Cincinnati Bengals seemed to be in an evaluation mode. Sure, they drafted Burrow first overall and added some splashy free agents, but they seemed overdue for a greater roster overhaul. That came back to bite them in the regular season. One year later and a scary injury to Burrow, the mission seems clear; build a team with Zac Taylor’s vision and with Burrow in mind. It’s a task easier said than done, of course, but it’s a “must” for the Cincinnati Bengals off-season. After all, Burrow wants to keep Taylor around, so the front office needs to elevate the talent around the coach-quarterback tandem.
For this team, it’ll be a steep, up-hill climb to relevancy. For starters, they play six games a season against an increasingly powerful AFC North division slate of opponents. Over the past two seasons, the Bengals are a combined 2-10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, and Baltimore Ravens. While the Steelers showed signs of regression in 2020, they’re still the Steelers. Meanwhile, the Browns and Ravens have young quarterbacks and don’t seem to be headed downward anytime in the near future. The Bengals need to add talent to compete with that heavy competition.
The needs up and down Cincinnati’s roster are glaring. Granted, they own the fifth pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and the cap space needed to add key pieces to the team. If they make the expected decisions, primarily letting A.J. Green walk and cutting Geno Atkins, the team should have nearly $57 million in cap room. While some of that could be used on extensions for Sam Hubbard and Jessie Bates III, that’s a lot of money to renovate this team.
Upgrading the Offensive Line is the Biggest of Cincinnati Bengals Off-season Plans
The Cincinnati Bengals off-season practically began in Week 11 at FedEx Field. Bengals fans won’t soon forget Burrow screaming on the ground after suffering his gruesome injury against the Washington Football Team. Seemingly, the team has two answers on their offensive line. With Jonah Williams at one of the tackles and Trey Hopkins at the center, they have a respectable foundation. However, that leaves three big questions, including both guard spots. The team needs to add some veterans. The Bengals front office cannot justify leaving more question marks on that line. Michael Jordan, Fred Johnson, and Bobby Hart aren’t sufficient answers.
It’s not a secret that Joe Thuney is a strong fit to fill one of the guard spots. One of the premier offensive linemen on the free-agent markets, the 28-year-old Dayton native grew up rooting for the Bengals and won’t be retained by the New England Patriots. Other than Thuney, the Bengals could bring back Quinton Spain, who played well in Cincinnati last season. In terms of tackles, Carolina Panthers’ free agent Taylor Moton would be ideal. However, Carolina seems likely to make strong pursuit to retain Moton, so Buffalo Bills’ tackle Daryl Williams or Pittsburgh’s Alejandro Villanueva could be strong one-to-two-year rental options. Then, of course, comes the draft. The Bengals might be lucky enough to land coveted tackle Penei Sewell with the fifth pick. Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater is also an enticing option. Of course, the team could develop either prospect at guard, as they did with Andrew Whitworth in the past.
Adding Weapons to an Exciting Core of Pass Catchers
With A.J. Green and John Ross headed out the door after disappointing final seasons, it’s in with the new in Cincinnati. The team has budding stars Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd already, plus Auden Tate as a versatile catcher. Atop the 2021 NFL Draft, the Bengals have some interesting pass-catching options considering their position. For starters, reuniting Burrow with LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase would be quite exciting for their young quarterback. However, adding the freakish tight end Kyle Pitts could make the Bengals offense truly scary for opponents. Then, of course, there’s the option of DeVonta Smith, which would give the Bengals back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners.
However, this team still needs to find some veteran pieces for Joe Burrow and the passing offense. One name that comes up over and over is Los Angeles Rams’ free agent Josh Reynolds. Reynolds worked with Zac Taylor during his tenure with the Rams and is a reliable piece. He’s appeared in all 16 games in all four of his pro seasons, making 13 starts a season ago. Coming off a season with 618 yards and two touchdowns, the 26-year-old is a solid veteran fit for Cincinnati. Another interesting option might be Kansas City Chiefs’ speedster, Demarcus Robinson. Robinson appeared in 16 games for the Chiefs last season, compiling 466 yards and three touchdowns, catching 76.3% of his targets. While he’s outshined by others in Kansas City, he would be a welcome weapon in Cincinnati. He is also a valuable piece in the return game, which could appeal to Cincinnati.
Find Pieces to Disrupt the Opposing Quarterback
The Bengals struggle to create pressure on the opposing quarterback is well documented. For years, Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins gave passers nightmares for a majority of the past decade. This off-season, the Cincinnati Bengals need to replenish that group. This would help give Burrow better field positioning and potentially more possessions to work his magic. Importantly, the team has to make a tough decision on free agent Carl Lawson. The 25-year-old defensive end led the team in sacks a season ago with 5.5 but also contributed 32 quarterback hits. They might not be able to afford to let him walk, which creates a lot of pressure on the Bengals front office.
Finding top-tier pass rushers is difficult in this league, as in the pass-heavy NFL, teams shell out a ton of money on those players. Two years ago, the Bengals bungled a contract with Shaquil Barrett, who went on to star in the Super Bowl win for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This year, they need to make good on that mistake. Targeting someone like Denver Broncos’ free-agent Shelby Harris would be a strong move. Later round targets in the draft, where the Bengals have a history of success, could be a key for the organization. Edge rushers Carlos Basham of Wake Forest and Patrick Jones II of Pittsburgh are strong targets. Senior Bowl standouts Marvin Wilson of Florida State University and Cameron Sample of Tulane could revitalize their defensive tackle bunch.
The Cincinnati Bengals off-season is just getting started, but there’s a lot of work left on the table. With Joe Burrow on his rookie contract, they must start building for a playoff run. While Burrow has magic on his own, he can’t do it all by himself.
Embed from Getty Images