The Cincinnati Bengals finished 11-5 and captured their first AFC North title since 2009. Unfortunately for the Bengals, the end result was the same. Cincinnati was eliminated in the Wild Card round of the playoffs for a third straight year. The pressure is on head coach Marvin Lewis to deliver the Bengals first playoff win since 1990.
While other AFC powerhouses have been extremely active in free agency, the Bengals haven’t done a whole lot. The most notable additions to this point have been safety Daniel Manning (Texans), offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse (Packers), backup quarterback Jason Campbell (Browns) and corner R.J. Stanford (Dolphins). Not making a big splash in free agency isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Cincinnati has done an excellent job of building their team in the draft and have more than enough talent to defend their division title.
Two key players the Bengals have watched sign elsewhere this offseason are defensive end Michael Johnson and offensive tackle Anthony Collins. Cincinnati also parted ways with speedy wide out Andrew Hawkins, veteran outside linebacker James Harrison, and starting center Kyle Cook.
Not going after big name free agents, increases the importance of filling holes in the draft. The Bengals will pick 24th in the first round and have nine selections overall. They were awarded compensatory picks in both the 6th and 7th rounds. Here’s a look at the five positions I feel Cincinnati needs to target when they are on the clock this May.
Just how big of a need this is will depend on the health of Leon Hall, who tore his Achilles for the second time in three years last December. There’s a huge concern that he won’t ever be the same player. Veterans Terence Newman and Adam “Pac-Man” Jones both played well last year, but they are each on the wrong side of 30 (Newman turns 36 before next season). Cincinnati used their 2012 first round pick on Dre Kirkpatrick to avoid this problem, but so far he’s been a disappointment. I think it’s in their best interest to use one of their early picks to address this need.
The Bengals are set on the left side with Carlos Dunlap, but the loss of Michael Johnson leaves them needing to add some depth. The hope is that 2013 third round pick Margus Hunt will emerge into a larger role. They also could probably make do with veteran Wallace Gilberry. Still, I think it makes a lot of sense for the Bengals to use one of their selections here.
It’s going to be interesting to see what Cincinnati decides to do with Andrew Whitworth, who opened last year as the starting left tackle but moved inside to guard because of injuries. Johnson did a nice job taking over at left tackle, but he’s no longer in town. Newhouse has experience at both tackle spots, but I’m not convincined he’s a good fit as the starting left tackle. The Bengals are expected to get back left guard Clint Boling, which would allow Whitworth to move back outside. While I could see Cincinnati adding another tackle to the mix, the real need comes at center. Losing Cook wasn’t a big a deal, as he’s been the weakest link up front for quite some time. They just have to find someone who can step in and fill the void.
Geno Atkins and Domata Peko form quite a combo inside at defensive tackle, but Akins is coming off an ACL injury and Peko is entering the final year of his contract. It would be a wise investment to add in some insurance, who they can develop into a starter.
This may come as a bit of surprise to some Bengals’ fans, but I think Andy Dalton is a big part of Cincinnati’s struggles in the playoffs. Dalton is a good quarterback and would start on a lot of teams, but he’s not the elite talent that can consistently have his team contending for a Super Bowl. This is the final year of his contract and there’s no guarantee they keep him around. If the right guy falls to them, I could see the Bengals pulling the trigger as early as round 2.
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