Positions of Need
Other than Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins, the Bengals’ defensive line was horrible last season as only those two players played a snap for the Bengals on the defensive line and graded out above average. Wallace Gilberry and Robert Geathers were horrible as the Bengals #2 and #3 defensive ends last season, grading out 46th and 59th respectively out of 59 eligible 4-3 defensive ends. Geathers can be a cap casualty, while Gilberry can be a reserve. Margus Hunt and Will Clarke are recent early picks, 2013 2nd round and 2014 3rd round respectively, but neither has been able to make it on to the field much early in their careers. Hunt has played 352 snaps in 2 seasons, while Clarke only played 64 snaps as a rookie, despite the aforementioned significant struggles ahead of him on the depth chart. More talent needs to be added this off-season.
Geno Atkins had a down year by his standards this season, grading out just 20th at his position, but he’ll be better in 2015 in his 2nd year since the ACL tear. The issue is next to him, where Domata Peko has graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 66th ranked defensive tackle out of 69 eligible in 2013 and 80th out of 81 eligible in 2014. Going into his age 31 season, the Bengals should cut him to save 3.7 million in cash and cap space for 2015. Even if they don’t let him go, they should still bring in an upgrade and make him a reserve. Peko should not be starting for this team next season.
The Bengals need to figure out their linebacking situation. Rey Maualuga was only a part-time player in 2014 (for good reason after how he struggled in 2011, 2012, and 2013) and now he’s a free agent. Vontaze Burfict was limited to 5 games by knee problems and then had a serious knee procedure that has put his 2015 in doubt. Emmanuel Lamur and Vincent Rey both saw significant playing time this season, but both struggled. Lamur was Pro Football Focus’ 39th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker out of 40 eligible, while Rey graded out below average in action at both outside linebacker and middle linebacker.
I detailed the Bengals’ linebacker problems above. Emmanuel Lamur is currently penciled into one 4-3 outside linebacker spot, but he struggled mightily last year. Vontaze Burfict was great at outside linebacker in 2013, but his future is clouded by injuries. Vincent Rey can play outside linebacker, but he struggled there in 2014 and he can also play middle linebacker. There should be more clarity before the draft, but I still expect them to add one linebacker at least in the early to middle rounds.
Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler have been a great guard duo over the past 3 years, since they drafted Zeitler in the 1st round in 2012. Both have graded out above average in all 3 seasons for the Bengals. However, Clint Boling is a free agent this off-season and the Bengals are in danger of losing him. If he’s not able to be re-signed, he’ll need to be replaced.
I know the Bengals like him, but 4th round rookie Russell Bodine played like one, grading out 33rd out of 41 eligible. I’m not convinced he’s their center of the future. They should add some competition for him this off-season.
The Bengals are in an awkward spot with Andy Dalton. Dalton has lost each of his first 4 playoff games, the 2nd quarterback in NFL history to do that. That has led some to wonder if he can ever possibly win a playoff game, which is an absurd question considering the list of quarterbacks who have won playoff games (TJ Yates and Tim Tebow are recent examples). Dalton is there every year, making the playoffs in each of his first 4 years in the NFL, and he is a quarterback capable of winning the Super Bowl if everything is right around him, but he’s also far from the ideal signal caller. The problem is the Bengals aren’t exactly in a position to find an upgrade on him any time soon. Jason Campbell is a free agent this off-season though, so the Bengals should at least find a better backup quarterback in case they need to turn to him.
Key Free Agents
G Clint Boling
Boling, a 2011 4th round pick, barely played as a rookie (175 snaps), but he’s been a starter over the past 3 seasons, making 44 of 48 starts (2 of which were at right tackle) and grading out above average in all 3 seasons. He was Pro Football Focus’ 22nd ranked guard in 2012, 18th ranked in 2013, and 19th ranked in 2014. He’s quietly one of the better guards in the NFL and will command a decent amount on money on the open market. He’s expressed interest in returning to Cincinnati and they’d love to have him back.
CB Terence Newman
Terence Newman looked done after his 2011 season with the Cowboys, when he graded out 94th out of 109 eligible cornerbacks, but he revived his career in Cincinnati over the past 3 seasons, making 41 starts and grading out above average in 2 of 3 seasons. The issue is the one season he did grade out below average was last season, which is especially concerning for two reasons. The first reason is that it was his first season in Cincinnati without legendary defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who Newman was successful with in Dallas as well. The second reason is simply age, as Newman heads into his age 37 season. He might not have another left in him. He’ll probably have to wait a while for the phone to ring if he wants to keep playing. Perhaps a reunion in Minnesota with Zimmer would be good for both sides.
MLB Rey Maualuga
Rey Maualuga started his career at outside linebacker and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 17th and 11th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in 2009 and 2010 respectively, after the Bengals took him in the 2nd round in 2009. However, the Bengals moved him to middle linebacker for 2011 and it’s been a steady decline. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 36th ranked middle linebacker out of 51 eligible in 2011 and worst ranked in 2012. He was re-signed to a 2-year deal after that disastrous 2012 season, but he started seeing progressively fewer passing down snaps, playing 610 snaps in 2013 and 452 snaps in 2014. He graded out below average in both 2013 and 2014 once again and he missed 7 games with injuries combined in those 2 seasons. He’s decent against the run, but horrible in coverage. He’d be best off as a two-down 4-3 outside linebacker somewhere in his next stop.
TE Jermaine Gresham
Jermaine Gresham, a 2010 1st round pick, somehow made the Pro-Bowl in both 2011 and 2012, but has hardly been a Pro-Bowl caliber player thus far in his 5 year career. His receiving numbers aren’t horrible (280 catches for 2722 yards and 24 touchdowns in 74 career games), but he’s a terrible run blocker and one of the most penalized tight ends in the game. He’s graded out below average in 4 of 5 seasons in the NFL, including each of the last 3. He was a little better in 2014, but he ranked 61st out of 62 eligible tight ends in 2012 and 64th out of 64 eligible in 2013. With 2013 1st round pick Tyler Eifert in the mix and ready for a bigger role in 2015, I don’t expect Gresham back with the Bengals.
Cap Casualty Candidates
DE Robert Geathers
Robert Geathers was Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2014. This should not be a surprise considering he ranked 58th out of 62 eligible in 2012, 57th out of 67 eligible in 2011, 65th out of 65 eligible in 2010, and 70th out of 73 eligible in 2009. He wasn’t going to be better in 2014, on the other side of 30, coming off of torn elbow ligaments that limited him to 22 snaps in 2013. Now he’s going into his age 32 season in 2015 and the Bengals can save 3.050 million in cash and on the cap by releasing him. It shouldn’t be a hard decision.
DT Domata Peko
Domata Peko was once a solid starter for the Bengals, but he has really struggled over the past 2 seasons, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 66th ranked defensive tackle out of 69 eligible in 2013 and 80th out of 81 eligible in 2014. Going into his age 31 season, the Bengals could easily cut him to save 3.7 million in cash and cap space for 2015.
CB Leon Hall
Leon Hall made 15 starts for the Bengals in 2014, but graded out below average last season for the first time in his 8-year career. That shouldn’t be a surprise considering he tore his Achilles twice and had a 3 year stretch from 2011-2013 where he played 28 games. Now going into his age 31 season, Hall’s best days are likely behind him. Hall is owed 7.8 million non-guaranteed in 2015 and the Bengals can save all 7.8 million of that in cap space by letting him go this off-season. Even though they’re not starved for cap space, they might still pull the trigger on that move, especially if they want to be big free agency players, and go into 2015 with Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard, Adam Jones, and maybe Terence Newman at cornerback.