by Mario Granata
The Cincinnati Bengals seem to always be the team that could vie for a chance to make it to the dance, but 4 straight exits in the Wild Card round after posting 40 wins over that span, they have more disappointments than supporters. When you take into account that the Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1990 (a 41-14 victory over the Houston Oilers) changes have to be made for this team to take the next step. And of course, having 37.7 million in cap space doesn’t hurt either.
In OC Hue Jackson’s first year running the offense, run the Bengals did, to the tune of 1,804 yards and 14 touchdowns from the pairing of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. This is nothing new for Jackson, for the last time he was the OC of a team was back in 2010 with the Oakland Raiders, and the pairing of Darren McFadden and Michael Bush combined for 1,812 yards and 15 touchdowns. Even more shocking when one realizes that he accomplished that feat in Oakland with Jason Campbell and Bruce Gradkowski under center.
With the room that the Bengals have under the cap, restructuring their top contracts isn’t an immediate need. WR AJ Green, who is in his 5th year, is set to make 10.1 million and is the only player on Cincinnati with a 10+ figure.
CB Leon Hall, who will be 30 when the 2015 season starts, will count for 9.6 against the cap, and the Bengals could convert some of his 7.7 million base salary to a bonus if they wish to part ways in the next couple years.
There are some notable free agents that could not be resigned depending on what the vision of the team will be in the upcoming draft. LB Ray Maualuga former 2nd round pick of the Bengals, has done a decent job patrolling the middle of DC Paul Guenther’s 4-3 alignment, but may not be resigned if the team is going in a different direction.
TE Jermaine Gresham has garnered a lot of attention from outside suitors and if the Bengals think that Tyler Eifert is the answer, they will be willing to let him go. His projected 2.8 million dollar doesn’t hurt them, but is it too much to pay for a TE that averages just over 50 receptions a year?
CB Terrance Newman, who was signed in 2012 will likely not be back in the black and orange at the age of 36, unless he takes a common route of older cornerbacks and shifts to safety.
Even though the Bengals were 12th in total defense last season, the smart money has them targeting either a defensive edge rusher or a linebacker with their 21st pick.
DT/DE Arik Armstead (Oregon) lacks the ideal body for an inside player, and his 5.1 40-time takes him out of the running of playing defensive end, but has the one thing that scouts always say: potential. A project like Armstead might be too much of a risk for the first round however.
Since Guenther became the DC through the path of being a linebacker’s coach, look for Cincinnati to select LB Shaq Thompson (Washington) or Alvin “Bud” Dupree (Kentucky). Although Thompson has shown not to keep his weight during the season (reported dropping down to 219) this “tweener” will have to prove he can either keep the weight to be a formidable SAM or WILL linebacker, or will he make the jump to the secondary. Reports say with the right coordinator, he could be a player in the league.
Dupree could be their best bet if he is still available with the 21st pick. Speed and explosiveness are evident in this 6’4” 269 pound linebacker, and taking him will serve the Bengals in two ways: give them a great talent, and keep him from the Steelers (who pick 22nd and have showed interest as well).
There is an outside chance that Cincinnati could take T Andrus Peat (Stanford), T La’el Collins (LSU) or DT Eddie Goldman (FSU). Peat, who has the feet of a left tackle, but the mentality of a right tackle, is a very well rounded player who is unlikely to be still on the board. Collins, who is listed at a tackle could be the replacement for Andrew Whitworth or of things doing work out at tackle, could shift to guard. Goldman is better suited to anchor a 3-4 front, could be an option, but again is too high to take with the 21st pick.
Cincinnati could target a WR, LT or DE in free agency if they think that they will be unable to get the player they want in the first round of the draft. Interestingly enough, on the current roster, Darqueze Dennard (drafted in 2014), Dre Kirkpatrick (2012) and Leon Hall (2007) were all 1st round selections for the Bengals. On top of that, they added Adam Jones (6th overall, Tennessee, 2005) and Terrance Newman (5th overall, Dallas, 2003) in 2010 and 2012 respectively. Despite all these first round picks, the Bengals haven’t been able to get “over the hump” so maybe a different philosophy will help them in 2015.
Quick Guide to the Rookie Wage Scale (First Round Breakdown)