Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Bengals Off Season

With Free Agency underway and the draft looming, it is time to take a look at the Bengals off season needs. The Bengals have been a disappointment since their 11-5 2005 season, but I still think they aren’t far off from playoff contention. Not surprisingly, the Bengals, have focused on retaining certain key players and adopting the strategy of addition by subtraction. They have been content to watch veterans Madieu Williams and Justin Smth depart. Neither move his terribly shocking since both commanded salaries which would have wreaked havoc with the salary cap and Williams has become expendable due to the emergence of Ndukwe and White. They are still negotiating with Landon Johnson—a player I believe they really need to keep if they are to retain any continuity on defense.

Their major free agents retentions have been Dhani Jones, Jonathan Fanene and Kyle Larsen. Jones emerged last season as a starter due to a linebacker corps decimated by injuries. Larsen has proven to be a reliable punter and I am glad to see him back. The have also added Antwan Odom, a defensive end from Tennessee. Odom will replace Smith and probably rotate with Fanene at defensive end. It is a good signing for much less money than what we were paying Smith. Odom is also younger and has more upside as a pass rusher. The Bengals also picked up safety Kyries Herbert from the CFL. I suspect he will mostly be used in special teams. Whether the Bengals will make too many more major singings is dubious. At best we might bring in TE Ben Utrecht from Indianapolis. It appears as if signing a major defensive tackle is becoming more remote as the Bengals have not been able to reach an agreement with Dewayne Robertson despite the willingness of the Jets to trade him. The only way this deal works is if the Jets cut him and he is forced into a situation of negotiating an entirely new contract. The remaining free agent DTs aren’t that much better than what we have. Given that the Bengals will probably have 9 or 10 draft picks this year, it seems unlikely that they are going to break the bank on free agents.

The Bengals draft needs are relatively simple. They need a lot of help in their front defensive seven, primarily defensive tackle. I look for the Bengals to use their first pick on the best available DT—probably Ellis or Dorsey. If neither is available and Gholston (DE/OLB) is available, I think we will take Gholston. At least one of the three should be available. If not, I suspect we will trade down. If we take Gholston, I would look for us to pick up a DT with one of our third round picks (we should have two)—I like Frank Okam or Red Bryant as a possibility and one of them should be available--both would help if we are planning on mixing in some 3-4.

Our second round pick will most likely go to the offense and it will either be a running back or a guard. I am partial to the latter, although there will probably be a number of good running backs available. The Bengals running game has suffered since the loss of Eric Steinbach. The primary reason is that our line now is totally comprised of converted tackles. Although it makes for good pass protection, it makes the running game one dimensional. It doesn’t do any good to have speed backs when no one is fast enough to be out in front of him.

Mid-draft, the Bengals should also pick up another LB and/or DE and perhaps an additional DT to groom. Our linebacking corps has been decimated by injuries and off field problems. If we are lucky, we are looking at a lineup of Brooks and Johnson with Henderson/Thurman/Jones competing for the final spot—but we can’t depend on that situation turning out well, so we need some depth. Offensively, we will look for either a guard or running back (whatever we didn’t pick in round 2), and a tight end (unless we sign Utrecht). Late rounds, I look for the Bengals to add depth in the defensive backfield and at wide receiver, possibly another defensive tackle or linebacker.

If we get the 10 picks folks say we will, I look for a breakdown something like this (in order of priority, not necessarily what order we will make the picks)—

2 DT/NT
1 G
2 LB
1 DE
1 RB
1 TE
1 DB (preferably a coverage guy who can play both Safety and CB)
1 WR (preferably a possession, Housh-like receiver)

I could also see college free agents signings at Center (since the pool seems poor) and for possible return guys. Obviously, major free agent signings could alter this but I think our overall needs won’t change dramatically.

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