The Bengals’ Road Back to the Playoffs

The Cincinnati Bengals finished the 2019-2020 season with a 2-14 record, earning them the number one pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. With a combination of one of the worst offensive lines in the league, the worst defense in the league, poor quarterback pla- I could go on and on, but what I want to focus on instead, is how Cincy is in a great spot for a rebuild. We’re early in the offseason, and Bengals fans should be excited right now. Before they get to the draft, there are a few moves I think they should make beforehand. In addition to that, the Bengals have 7 total picks right now (one in each round), and each pick is 1st for each round (or just about). So the Bengals have a chance to sign some help, and draft young talent to boost the roster. Here are the main transactions the Bengals should do in order to reach the playoffs next year.

Remove Andy Dalton’s Contract

I want to pay more attention to the size of Dalton’s contract here first. 2020 is the final year of his deal, which is causing a cap hit of $17.7 million dollars (according to Spotrac). That’s a ton of money that could really help this Bengals front office if used elsewhere. Cincinnati currently sits with roughly $47 million in cap space, which isn’t a whole lot for a team trying to rebuild itself back into the playoffs. Now notice that I said to remove his contract. That doesn’t necessarily mean for them to remove Andy Dalton from the team. I think the Bengals should consider reconstructing his contract (if they’re able to) so they can keep a veteran QB for the young prospect they may be drafting in April. That would be a fantastic scenario for the prospect, to be able to sit a few games and learn, and then eventually take over.

However as great as it sounds, it may not be realistic. Andy Dalton is 32 years old and has been a Bengal his entire career. So why would he agree to a pay cut just to be a mentor for a rookie for a year? What’s more likely, is the Bengals either trade him away, or cut him from the roster in order to regain that money back. If traded, they of course would have to find a trading partner. It’s been rumored that the Bears, Buccaneers, and Patriots are interested in setting up a possible trade for the Red Rifle. I don’t think Bengals fans should worry about what they’re getting in return, as the $17.7 million in cap space would be a big enough reward for Cincy.

Keep AJ Green, or Sign Amari Cooper

I think signing AJ Green is a bit more realistic than the Bengals acquiring Cooper. But either way, the Bengals need to have top talent on the roster. I know Green has been injury prone for the last couple seasons, but when he’s healthy, AJ is easily one of the top WR’s in the league. If the Bengals draft a QB at number 1, he’s going to have a loaded wide receiving core. Having AJ Green/Amari Cooper, Tyler Boyd, and John Ross III, any QB would have a field day slinging the ball through the air. Not to mention they also have Joe Mixon at running back, who has played well throughout the course of his young career. Acquiring a top WR like Green or Cooper is a must have for the Bengals offense. That way, they have something to create an identity with.

Toughen Up the Offensive Line

The Bengals had one of the worst offensive lines in the league last year, and it all started with the fall of Jonah Williams. The Bengals 2019 first round pick came down with a shoulder injury, removing him for the year. He should be back by the start of next season, which will be huge in the rebuilding process. But that still leaves the other four spots open for consideration. There are a decent number of top O-line free agents available this offseason. Cincinnati, I believe, could make a play for two of these guys. First, I think they should make an offer for Jason Peters (Tackle). I know, I know, he’s 38 years old, and he had some lingering injuries in 2019. But, that means the Bengals could get him for cheaper money. Peters is a 9 time pro bowler, and has a ton of experience. He’d be a great voice in the locker room and could add some stability to the shaky O-line. In addition to Peters, I think it would be smart of the Bengals to acquire one of the top Guards as well. Once they free up Dalton’s contract, they can essentially give that money to either Joe Thuney, or Brandon Scherff. Thuney is one of the best (probably THE best) Guards in the NFL. Scherff is right there next to him, and could be ranked higher than Thuney if it wasn’t for his injury history. However, adding one of these guys alongside Jason Peters and Jonah Williams, the Bengals O-line already looks 100% better, and we haven’t even gotten to the draft yet.

Defense Wins Championships

This is where it gets tricky for the Bengals, as they’ve (assuming I’m 100% correct… haha) spent a good chunk of money on the offense. According to Pro Football Reference, the Cincinnati defense ranked 25th overall, near last place in the league. And of the teams that made playoffs last year, 10 of the 12 teams had a defense ranked 15th or higher. The Seahawks and the Texans being the only two teams whose defenses were outside the top half of the league. So based off those numbers, having a great defense plays a large part in making it to the playoffs. Having said that, I think the Bengals should use the rest of the Free Agency period to acquire any additional help on the defensive side of the ball as they can. I think there’s some veterans they could sign for cheap. They can also go for guys that can come into the roster and compete for a starting spot. The goal would be to develop as much depth as possible for the defense, as the team heads into training camp.

The Draft

We’re finally here. It’s April 23rd, and the Bengals are on the clock with the first pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. Assuming the Bengals follow my plan to a T, they’ve already addressed the offensive line, signed a superstar wide receiver, and added depth to the defense. That leaves the quarterback position as the biggest need for the Cincinnati Bengals. With the first pick, I think the Bengals go with Joe Burrow. Pretty much everybody is saying Burrow will go number one, so this shouldn’t come as a shock to you. But everyone is saying it for good reason. Joe Burrow was the 2019 Heisman trophy winner, lead the LSU Tigers to the National Championship, and completely showed out all season long. Throwing for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns (yeah, 60) in the SEC, Joe Burrow proved he’s ready for the next level. Now of course, there will be growing pains, as there is for all rookies. But I think Joe Burrow is the most NFL ready QB in the draft. The Bengals can feel confident in his ability to play right away.

As for the rest of the draft, the Bengals still have 6 remaining picks. After drafting Burrow, I think the Bengals should spend the rest of the draft loading up on defense. There is a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball in this years draft, and the Bengals have an opportunity to acquire some top talent onto their roster. I think the combination of picking up defensive players through free agency, and adding young talent, would only do the Bengals some good. Let the guys on the roster battle it out for roster spots, then use the 2021 offseason to focus on the defensive side of the ball.

Playoffs?

Now that the Bengals are heading into training camp, it’s time to get the players ready for the new season. With a restructured offensive line, solid skills players, and a new QB, the Bengals offense is ready to attack. As for the defense, they still have their top guys like Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. In addition, they’ve acquired some veteran players in free agency and young talent through the draft. I don’t think this will be enough to flip this defense into the top 10 of the league. However, having a solid mix of guys all competing for roster spots makes for a hungry defense full of players wanting to prove themselves. Because of this, I think the defense could push itself closer to the top half of the league (I imagine somewhere between 17th-20th), which would be a substantial jump from the 2019 defense. With a dangerous looking offense, and an improved defense, I think THIS Bengals team would have the potential of making one of the wild card spots.

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