Last week, I wrote an article that was intended to provide some hope for Bengals fans, that the tunnel with the light at the end of it may not be as long as some may think. While I am hopeful, I am also realistic, and I realize that it takes a lot of things going right for the Bengals to make a quick, one-year turnaround. However, some responded to the article with resistance to even entertaining the idea that the Bengals could be playoff contenders in 2020. Most of the concerns revolved around the bad offensive line, the lack of trust in the front office to make free agent acquisitions, and the lack of a ‘plan.’ While all of these concerns are legitimate, I think there are some signs that show that the franchise COULD be headed in the right direction in each of these areas. In this three part series, we will look at these in greater detail, one at a time.
Let’s begin looking at free agency, and the lack of activity in signing external free agents to any significant amount of money. Many times the Brown family has prioritized resigning their own free agents, and then spend on mostly bottom tier free agents to bring into the organization. As it relates to the aforementioned offensive line: signing some of the top tier guys would be nice of course, but history tells us we should not expect the Bengals to shell out 12-15 mil a year for those guys. On the current roster, there are only four players projected to make more than $10 million after 2020 (Geno Atkins, Dre Kirkpatrick, Carlos Dunlap, and Tyler Boyd). This team doesn’t typically dole out monster contracts to their own guys, let alone outside free agents. One has to wonder though if and when that propensity to squeeze every penny will fade a bit.
Consider: when the Bengals FINALLY moved on from Marvin Lewis, it was a major change for the organization. Granted, it was probably long overdue, but the front office did make that decision to move on. After that, leadership decided that Zac Taylor was the best fit for their head coaching vacancy, choosing him over more “proven” options like Vance Joseph or Hue Jackson (gulp). Whether you were a fan of the signing or not, the decision to pursue Zac Taylor and then allow him to bring in Brian Callahan, making them the youngest Head Coach / Offensive Coordinator duo in the league, seemed to be off-brand for a team that for so long valued continuity and experience. With anywhere from $47 – 74 million in cap space (depending on what they do with Andy Dalton and Cordy Glenn), it will be interesting if Zac Taylor or others have any sway in getting management to pony up some cash for a top lineman to protect their franchise quarterback.
If the Bengals do decide to invest in their future a bit more and sign some free agents (especially at the OL and LB positions), this could jumpstart the rebuild and propel this team towards contention sooner rather than later. While expecting the team to pay large sums of money to outside free agents may be somewhat unlikely, in all honesty if they pay for ‘average’ talent at those two position groups, it would spell major improvement in 2020.