A fourth consecutive postseason berth for the Bengals turned into yet another playoff loss, as their postseason drought continues into it’s 24th year. Yet despite their disappointment in January, to go along their disappointment in December when they let their grip on the AFC North title slip at the 11th hour, Cincinnati goes into the offseason with $36 million of salary cap to make the big-name landings to finally propel them to the next level in the AFC.
Losing Michael Johnson to free agency last year is still hurting this team, and it showed throughout the majority of the Bengals’ 2014 campaign. Carlos Dunlap can’t dominate on his own, and Robert Geathers is well past his prime. Upgrade and depth are required for this issue to be put past them. Beyond the potential Rookie of the Year winner in second round draft pick RB Jeremy Hill, their 2014 draft class was irrelevant. Still showing progress for the long-term future, but irrelevant in 2014. 2014 showed that the Bengals were still a good football team; a playoff-bound football team, but was still without that x-factor threat that Mike Brown has seriously lacked in signing over the past couple seasons.
Marvin Lewis continues to do a great job with the resources at his disposal. Despite the below-par defensive production throughout 2014, several low-key players progressed and developed into starting-potential performers. Notably, LB Vincent Rey and George Iloka have grown into solid pieces of a future defense in Cincinnati. DC Paul Guenther has also done a great job with the Bengals’ secondary. Adam Jones and Reggie Nelson; two seemingly legitimate busts have transitioned into key contributors. The rise of young CB Dre Kirkpatrick down the stretch gives Guenther and Lewis plenty of depth and quality within their defensive backs moving forward.
The way in which Jeremy Hill was bought up to become a starter in relief of injured Giovani Bernard was magnificent. With expected, mixed results early on, Hill soon blossomed and turned in spectacular outings. Even when Bernard returned, his effect in the passing game was a perfect way to utilise and maximise the talent of both men simultaneously. It took the Bengals on a great winning run into December, helping them stay atop of the AFC North for the majority of the season.
Team Needs: G, DT, DE, OLB, ILB
Free agency should revolve around the front-seven for the Bengals. Previous contributors like DT Domata Peko and ILB Rey Maualuga should be scrapped in favour of newcomers. With Ndamukong Suh receiving plenty of interest, look for the other Lion on the market – Nick Fairley – to generate interest from an organization that has already found one athletic, versatile star in Geno Atkins. The interior linebacking talent in free agency is very thin, with David Harris and resurgent Rolando McClain being the front-runners for a big pay-check, however, pass-rushers are another matter entirely. Justin Houston should be the first name on the Bengals’ list to compliment Carlos Dunlap.
One position that they should not pursue is quarterback. Andy Dalton continues to play only to a solid level, but he already has plenty of competition around him. Re-sign Jason Campbell, and give that extra few reps to A.J. McCarron. Cincinnati’s second half of the year saw their offense somewhat combust and was never wholly fixed. This occurred when A.J. Green returned, and when Bernard went down and Hill exploded into a star. What on earth happened to Mohamed Sanu? Once a front-runner in receptions at the mid-point, his inability to provide a solid #2 WR option with an increase in drops and a decrease in big plays would make me question how much talent there is behind A.J. Green.
X-factor acquisition: WR Jeremy Maclin
With questions surrounding both Mohamed Sanu and returning Marvin Jones, there is a need to upgrade at WR. Jeremy Maclin is a weapon best utilised in open space; one who can create nasty mismatches from the slot position, as well as make big plays downfield with his speed. As we’ve witnessed through the multiple weapons at RB and TE, Andy Dalton enjoys spreading the football around, as well as utilising his depth. Adding Maclin to the fold will introduce another threat alongside the dangerous A.J. Green.
XX-factor acquisition: OL T.J Clemmings (21st overall pick in NFL Draft)
T.J. Clemmings would walk into the Bengals’ locker-room as a threat to take over nearly all of the five current offensive line positions. With Andrew Whitworth beginning to sail past his peak, he would be an ideal backup at both tackle positions. Or, better yet, throw him into competition with current LG Clint Boling and see if an upgrade can develop from within, instead of overspending in free agency. Clemmings’ versatility will benefit both him and the Bengals organization before he becomes starter-potential, which won’t be too far away.