Cincinnati Bengals 2014 Off-Season Report

2013 Recap

I would argue that the Bengals have the most non-quarterback talent in the NFL (San Francisco and Seattle are obviously in the mix as well). They have a great offensive line, a bunch of talented offensive weapons and one of the best defenses in the NFL. There might not have been another team for which I found it so hard to come up with positional needs. They finished the regular season 3rd in rate of moving the chains differential, led by the NFL’s #1 defense in that regard, and they won 11-5 games without the benefit of dominating the turnover battle, which bodes well for their chances of continuing a high level of play in 2014.

However, they once again fell flat in the post-season, despite being heavily favored at home over the Chargers, who barely made the playoffs. Andy Dalton is now 0-3 in post-season games, losing in the first round in each of his first 3 seasons in the NFL, and unlike the first two, this was a home game and a game which he was supposed to win so he’s unsurprisingly faced his fair share of criticism this off-season. Can you win a Super Bowl with Andy Dalton? That’s a question a lot of people are asking.

My opinion is that he’s shown enough in 48 regular season starts to suggest that he could get hot and win the Super Bowl with the right supporting cast (which I think he has right now), much like Eli Manning and Joe Flacco did. He hasn’t shown in it in the post-season yet, but I put more value in 48 regular season starts than 3 post-season starts. In those 48 regular season games, he’s 30-18, completing 60.9% of his passes for an average of 6.97 YPA, 80 touchdowns, and 49 interceptions, better, by far, than both Flacco and Manning in their first 3 years in the NFL.

It’s unclear how the team will deal with losing both offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to head coaching jobs elsewhere, but this is a young, talented team with a bright future for 2014. They’ll get Geno Atkins, one of the top defensive players in the NFL, back from injury and, while they have a couple of key free agents, they have plenty of cap space to work with, especially once they cut off some dead weight. Bengals at 25-1 to win the Super Bowl in 2014 seems like an awfully good value play.

Positional Needs

Cornerback

Leon Hall tore his Achilles for the 2nd time in 3 years this season and might not be back next season, owed a non-guaranteed 6.8 million. The Bengals can save 5.1 million on the cap by cutting him. Dre Kirkpatrick has not lived up to his billing as a 2012 first round pick and can’t get on the field, struggling on 408 snaps in 2 seasons. Terence Newman is still playing decent football, but he’ll be 36 next season. Adam Jones will be 31 next season. Things have gotten so bad that they had to bring Chris Crocker back as a cornerback last season. He also struggled and he’ll be 34 next season. They need another infusion of youth into the position.

Center

Kyle Cook at center is the weak link on an otherwise very strong offensive line. He’s graded out below average on Pro Football Focus in 3 straight seasons and now is going into his age 31 season after grading out 24th out of 35 eligible centers in 2013. The Bengals can save over 2 million on the cap and 2.7 million in cash by cutting him and replacing him with a highly drafted rookie center. That would make a lot of sense considering how few needs they have.

Middle Linebacker

Rey Maualuga graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 38th ranked middle linebacker out of 55 eligible in 2013 and in 2012 he ranked dead last at his position. With few needs, cutting him, saving 2.7 million in cash and cap space in the process, and replacing him with a better middle linebacker makes a lot of sense.

Running Back

BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a likely cap casualty this off-season, as they can save 2.5 million in cash and cap space by letting him go. Green-Ellis averaged just 3.4 yards per carry last season and now is going into his age 29 season with Giovani Bernard as a budding feature back behind him on the depth chart. Once he’s let go, they’ll need to find a cheap backup for Bernard, preferably someone who can handle short yardage for the 200 pound Bernard.

Quarterback

Can you win a Super Bowl with Andy Dalton? That’s a question a lot of people are asking. My opinion is that he’s shown enough in 48 regular season starts to suggest that he could get hot and win the Super Bowl with the right supporting cast (which I think he has right now), much like Eli Manning and Joe Flacco did. He hasn’t shown in it in the post-season yet, but I put more value in 48 regular season starts than 3 post-season starts. Still, it’s very possible he’ll be the limiting factor in this team’s quest to win a Super Bowl and now he’s going into his contract year. The Bengals seem willing to let him play out his contract year without an extension and deal with his contract when the time comes. Adding a developmental quarterback behind him wouldn’t be a terrible idea, especially since he doesn’t have a great backup quarterback right now.

Kick Returner

Brandon Tate was their primary kick returner last season. If he’s not brought back as a free agent, they’ll need to find a new primary kick returner.

Punt Returner

Brandon Tate was also their primary punt returner.

Key Free Agents

DE Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson broke out in 2012 in the contract year of his rookie deal, as the 2009 3rd rounder and 6-7 270 pound physical freak recorded 13 sacks and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 13th ranked 4-3 defensive end. The Bengals franchise tagged him instead of giving him a long-term deal because they wanted him to prove it again. At first glance, he doesn’t appear to have proven it, recording just 5 sacks, but he also added 16 quarterback hits and 40 quarterback hurries, to go with 7 batted passes. Add in the fact that he was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked 4-3 defensive end against the run and you have a guy who was much better than his raw sack totals. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked 4-3 defensive end and he should command upwards of 10+ million dollars yearly on his next contract and he’s one of the top 4-3 defensive ends on the market along with Greg Hardy and Michael Bennett.

OT Anthony Collins

Anthony Collins has been the Bengals’ swing tackle for years and he’s always shown well when given the chance, grading out above average on Pro Football Focus in limited action in every season since 2009. In 2013, he was given his biggest chance yet, with Andrew Whitworth moving to left guard in place of the injured Clint Boling and Anthony Collins taking over at left tackle. Collins played a career high 592 snaps and didn’t allow a sack or quarterback hit all season, finishing as Pro Football Focus’ 24th ranked offensive tackle despite the limited action. Blindside protectors don’t grow on trees so someone will pay a good amount of money for him to be their starting left tackle this off-season.

Cap Casualty Candidates

DE Robert Geathers

Robert Geathers is a terrible pass rusher and a mediocre run stuffer on the edge, grading out below average on Pro Football Focus in every season since 2008, including bottom-10 finishes from 2009-2012 and bottom-5 finishes in 2009, 2010, and 2012. For some reason, the Bengals re-signed Geathers to a 3-year deal last off-season, worth 9.5 million dollars. Geathers played just 22 snaps before injury and will likely be cut heading into his age 31 season, a move that would save the Bengals 2.7 million in cash and cap space. Even if Michael Johnson isn’t retained, Geathers would still probably be 4th on the Bengals’ defensive end depth chart behind Carlos Dunlap, Wallace Gilberry, and Margus Hunt.

DT Domata Peko

Domata Peko graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th worst ranked defensive tackle last season and now heads into his age 30 season, so he probably won’t be getting any better at time soon. The Bengals have internal replacements in Devon Still and Brandon Thompson, 2012 2nd and 3rd round picks who got experience in 2013 when Geno Atkins went down with injury. They can save 4.165 million in cash and on the cap by cutting Peko, which makes a lot of sense.

RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis

Given that they can save 2.5 million on the cap and in cash by cutting him, BenJarvus Green-Ellis seems unlikely to be back in 2014. He’s not worth much more than the veteran’s minimum, going into his age 29 season, and the Bengals can find a much cheaper backup for budding feature back Giovani Bernard than him. The Law Firm averaged a career low 3.4 yards per carry in 2013 and probably won’t get any better.

CB Leon Hall

Leon Hall tore his Achilles for the 2nd time in 3 years this season and might not be back next season, owed a non-guaranteed 6.8 million. The Bengals can save 5.1 million on the cap by cutting him. He’s a talented player when on the field, but he’s missed 20 games over the past 3 seasons combined and he’s facing another grueling recovery from injury going into his age 30 season.

C Kyle Cook

Kyle Cook at center is the weak link on an otherwise very strong offensive line. He’s graded out below average on Pro Football Focus in 3 straight seasons and now is going into his age 31 season after grading out 24th out of 35 eligible centers. The Bengals can save over 2 million on the cap and 2.7 million in cash by cutting him and replacing him with a highly drafted rookie center. That would make a lot of sense considering how few needs they have.

TE Jermaine Gresham

The Bengals can save 3.6 million in cash and cap space by cutting Gresham, though they’re unlikely to. He’s an overrated player though. He’s a terrible blocker who has been miscast as an inline tight end. He was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked tight end overall last season, 6th worst in terms of blocking grade, and he isn’t a great pass catcher either, catching 46 passes for 461 yards and 4 touchdowns on 392 routes run in 2013. He was Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked tight end in 2012 and the 2010 1st round pick is starting to look like a bust. They have 2013 1st round pick Tyler Eifert waiting in the wings to be the every down tight end if they want to be frugal and let Gresham go.

MLB Rey Maualuga

Rey Maualuga graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 38th ranked middle linebacker out of 55 eligible in 2013 and in 2012, he ranked dead last at his position. With few needs, cutting him, saving 2.7 million in cash and cap space in the process, and replacing him with a better middle linebacker makes a lot of sense.

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