Since the words "clean house" float as easily around here as a helium balloon, we may as well discuss the players and coaches worth keeping. We're not the 2008 Lions and we do have some talent (we wouldn't have been calling this team the most talented in Bengals history if we didn't). So that begs the question of, if Mikey somehow wises up and decides to clean house, who is it that we should keep?
I started with the defense because I honestly think that the defense is the one part of this organization that has the fewest people worth cutting. If Kevin Coyle doesn't have a job for life here, he should. With how many defensive backs he's had to work with here, the fact that he can take the multiple names that have come here this season to help out and make them produce at a decently-adequate level is insane. Jonathan Wade looked decent out there last night for having come in on Monday. Along with him, I'm thinking all of our CBs at the start of the year need to be retained, as well as Chinedum Ndukwe, Gibril Wilson, and Reggie Nelson. I think Crocker needs to retire and Roy Williams, if he doesn't, just should go. FS should be a high priority to draft this season, if Jeromy Miles isn't the answer.
LBs....oh boy. Dhani needs to go, either by retirement or cutting. I'm not saying he's been absolutely terrible over the year, but he's regressed pretty significantly from year to year and if that trend continues, I shudder at the thought of how bad he'll be next year. Not only that, it'd free us up to draft an OLB if we move Rey into the middle or simply try the Muckman out there (in either spot). The depth for us isn't bad, and while I don't see Brandon Johnson being retained, we should still be looking at having Rey Maualuga, Keith Rivers, Dan Skuta, and Roddrick Muckleroy. Promote Vincent Rey and see what you can get out of him, but one starter is important and then depth the rest of the way.
DLine has issues, specifically DE. Peko is the only consistently-producing Tackle on this team. Pat Sims has the chance to make plays but I feel he's also the most-penalized of our tackles by a decent margin. Atkins has had little playing time, so it's hard to judge him, but he did have half a sack against the Ravens, making him the best pass rusher on our team. Tank Johnson was just signed to a four year contract, but I doubt he deserves it. He's probably the most under-performing tackle on our team and, for him to be a pass rushing specialist, doesn't do his job. End is even worse. The only worthwhile players to keep are Rucker, Fanene, and Dunlap.
QB needs to start over. Purely. Carson should start again somewhere else (he'd probably be a better option than anything Minnesota would find in the draft). With him goes Palmer Lite, so that's two QBs down. Considering that this should only be a move made if Luck is drafted, then all that's needed is a decent back-up, something that I can imagine will be easy to find. Coaxing Shaun Hill here from Detroit may not be a bad idea. For what it's worth, Hill has kept the Lions in most of the games he's been in and while his interceptions come at the worst possible times, he at the very least can keep a team competitive as a back-up. LeFevour never sees the field anyway so I see no reason to cut ties with him yet.
WR needs a clean house. T.O. will leave regardless because he wants a ring and still has it. He should probably try to latch on with the Steelers because they're probably his best chance but that's just cherrypicking. I think Caldwell just signed his ticket out of town and Simpson never really showed up anyway. That leaves Chad, Shipley, and Cosby, all three of whom should be obtained. Cosby, for what it's worth, has heavily regressed on special teams but simultaneously, when he has gotten into games, he's caught passes. He's half the reason why Carson was coming alive at the end of the Wild Card game--someone could catch passes besides Chad. Speaking of Chad, the kids need some sort of veteran presence, but Chad should also be allowed to finish his career here. He's the best Bengals WR numbers-wise and should be at least given that option, at least for another year. When your specialty is routes and sidelines, that's not something that usually goes away, unlike the speed of deep threats. Shipley's a no-brainer.
TE is probably our most set position going forward. I see Reggie Kelly retiring after this year and I wouldn't mind a push to sign a veteran, but if it's just Gresham and Coffman on opening day on 2011 (or 2012), then it doesn't bother me.
For RBs, Cedric...how to go about this. This is the man that carried us on his back in 2009 and when he's given a hole and a lane, he usually gets good yardage, but that should be said for any back. He's a power back, but he's routinely stopped at the line of scrimmage this year. I don't know if I should fault the OLine for that or simply because Cedric's wheels fell off after 2009. He's also developed a habit of fumbling, which makes him even worse. We talk about Carson being cut, Chad being cut, T.O. leaving, but for what it's worth, Benson should only come back if the team makes an open commitment to a power-running team again and takes a contract similar to one he has now. I see the former one being a good possibility if we want to raise our rookie right or simply want to limit Carson Palmer in the remainder of his time here, but I doubt Benson takes the latter. Bernard Scott is hard to judge, him being another heavily-underutilized Bengals player but most seem to hate him as a kick returner. He's got something Benson doesn't have--field vision--and I can't fault Scott for getting plugged at the line of scrimmage because Bratkowski runs him up the middle routinely, but I feel like he's worth keeping as depth, a change of pace back, and he's cheap. Leonard can stick around as the third-down back, he's very good at it and he probably picks up blitzes the best. Cedric Peerman is basically depth and doesn't need to stay or go.
That leaves the OLine. Whitworth and Andre Smith are the only keepers here, Whitworth being our best lineman and Smith having a ton of potential if he can just stay healthy and in-shape. Bobbie Williams might retire despite being on a two-year deal, since it appears we're going back into rebuilding phase. Nate Livings and Kyle Cook are average and replaceable, but simultaneously wouldn't be bad as depth. The depth outside of Hudson and Stephens should probably part ways with the team and we can focus on depth or possible starters in the offseason.
I don't fault Nugent for a lot and Huber's not terrible even if he is inconsistent. Huber has some really good punts at some really good times and Nugent's injury might've been there prior to the Colts game. He also was a victim of a blocked kick and has had a lot of long field goals. I'd be willing to give Nuge another shot next year and I don't see any wrong with keeping Huber. Our depth beyond these guys should all be good special teams players, and Adam Jones is on IR. You expect drop-off when your best player at that position isn't playing, regardless of how depth should come in and fill in at a decent level.
So, putting it all together, if we part ways with players listed, you'd get a depth chart of something like this:
QB (1): LeFevour
RB (2): Scott, Leonard
WR (3): Ochocinco, Shipley, Cosby
TE (2): Gresham, Coffman
OT (2): Whitwoth, Smith
OG (2): Livings, Hudson
C (2): Cook, Stephens
DE (3): Dunlap, Fanene, Rucker
DT (3): Peko, Sims, Atkins
LB (4): Mauluga, Rivers, Muckelroy, Skuta
S (3): Wilson, Ndukwe, Nelson
CB (5): Joseph, Hall, Jones, Ghee, Trent
K (1): Nugent
P (1): Huber
Considering Carson comes off the books in this, Joseph should get a pretty decent extension that should keep him here, with Hall getting a good one as well. These are two players I'd love to make Bengals for life, or at least during their primes.
That's it. I'll discuss coaches and optimal drafts in the next one.