It was a terrible way to go out, but in perspective this was a team that swept the AFC North, held onto the division and finished with an overall winning record. Looking back, I would never have expected this to happen. For that I am happy. However, now with the Bengals division champs, comes great expectations. I expect to repeat as division champs despite a much more difficult schedule and I expect to make the playoffs next year. But this team must go through a "rebuilding" process, as in "rebuild" the offense. And more importantly....
1. ADD TO THE DEFENSE. This is a defensive football team. As much as I would like to see the offense improve, I would like to see the defense improve that much more. Use the first round pick on DEFENSE. Draft a defensive lineman, tackle or end, I do not care. If there are no defensive lineman worthy of our pick, then please use the pick on a safety or linebacker. We all saw what happened when guys like Odom, Peko, Roy and Rey went down. Our defense has "some" depth but the overall defensive play really declined. You can never have enough defensive players. We need even more depth along the defensive line, linebacking corps and secondary.
2. FIRE BRATKOWSKI. The overall offensive philosophy has to change. That doesn't mean I think we should become a pass-first team again, because it is clear this is a run-first offense. However, the passing game is atrocious, and quite frankly pathetic and difficult to watch. Obviously, Palmer is not the same, but this year he came off SEASON-ENDING ELBOW SURGERY. Now comes thumb surgery, but I expect him to be much improved next year. We need a more imaginative play-caller. There was not one screen pass the entire game. There were zero WR screens and zero HB screens or shovel plays. There was only 1 quick slant that I could remember. We need a change on the offensive side of the ball. In years past when the defense wasn't ranked highly the defensive coordinator got the boot. The offensive side of the ball has been towards the bottom of the league for the last 2 years and Bratkowski should take the fall.
3. DRAFT OR SIGN A WR. I love Ocho but he won't be around forever. Overall, he had a respectable year and expect the same next year. Coles is over the hill. Caldwell is fine but nothing more than a 3rd down option. Simpson is a bust as far as I know. I wouldn't waste a first round pick on a WR but I would take another in 2nd or 3rd round. Instead of drafting a WR, I think it would be a good idea to just sign a WR in free agency that actually has some playing experience.
4. DRAFT OR SIGN A GUARD. We need a guard who can play left now or play right in the future. Bobbie Williams is getting old but he had a great year. Whitworth is solid wherever he plays tackle or guard. They need to have more consistency at right and that can be solved by either playing Roland or Smith the WHOLE game. Again, you can never have enough depth at the offensive line position.
5. NEW KICKER. Unless Graham comes back at a very respectable price (LARGE LARGE DISCOUNT). That means he should be paid at the median price or lower (between 16 and 32 on the kicker scale).
6. DRAFT OR SIGN A QB. Carson is still the quarterback for now, but we need one for the future. I would not mind seeing the team draft a QB in rounds 2 or 3. Also, I would not mind seeing the team sign a veteran QB who can manage a game in the event that Palmer gets injured or a QB who can actually advise Palmer in certain situations. Clearly, O'Sullivan is adequate at best. We need someone like AJ Feeley or Billy Volek. Someone like Jason Garrett when he played.
7. SIGN A VETERAN TIGHT END OR RESIGN REGGIE KELLY. Foschi and Coats were season fill-ins. Apparently, Coffman is another project a la Jerome Simpson. I do not want the team to draft a TE. This position will not resurrect this offense and it is not worth it to draft a guy like Gresham who didn't even play this year. Sign a veteran. If all else fails, resign Kelly. If Kelly played this year the tight end position would not have been a concern at all.