It's finished. The Bengals went from first to worst in the AFC North in one of the most epic downfalls in Cincinnati sports history. We were all fed a steady diet of Bengals are going to win the Super Bowl nonsense in the off season and just like many of you, I drank the Kool-Aid and I drank a lot of it.
Here's the seven things that I know now that the Bengals finished with a 4-12 record and ended the 2010 season as the AFC North basement dwellers.
Thing I know one: Simpson hurt Chad's chances of being on the Bengals roster next season
Jerome Simpson finished the season with more than a quarter of Chad Ochocinco's yards and one less touchdown. Simpson played in three games. Ochocinco played in 14. If the Bengals pick up Chad's option next season, they will have to pay him $6 million. If they let him go to another team, they have to pay him $3.5 million. After watching the way that Carson Palmer connected with Jerome Simpson, and to a slightly lesser extent Andre Caldwell, over the past three games and after seeing exactly what Mike Brown and Co. saw in Simpson all along, it is hard to imagine that the Bengals will pay Chad an extra $2.5 million when they could use that money to help sign one of their big name potential free agents. Speaking of free agents......
Thing I know two: I don't remember the last time the Bengals had so many big name free agents
The two biggest free agents, of course, are cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who is on the verge of becoming one of the NFL's premier shutdown corners, and running back Cedric Benson, who is coming off of his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season and was the main reason the Bengals won the AFC North and went to the playoffs at the end of the 2009-2010 season. Some other free agents are: right guard Bobbie Williams, who has emerged as a locker room leader -- tight end Reggie Kelly, another locker room leader -- middle linebacker Dhani Jones, who has led the Bengals in tackles over the past couple seasons and has served as the defensive captain -- wide receiver Terrell Owens, who is almost not worth mentioning because we know he's probably not coming back -- safety Roy Williams, who has finally played more games than he was injured for this season but isn't the greatest in pass coverage -- safety Chinedum Ndukwe, who has proven to be a reliable back up safety -- linebacker Brandon Johnson, who played very well when filling in for one of the starting linebackers, is the special teams captain and has been very reliable in pass coverage on obvious passing down -- defensive linemen Jonathan Fanene and Frostee Rucker, who have both proven to be extremely reliable when starters go down with injuries, especially Fanene who can play interior or exterior defensive line -- and finally, running back Brian Leonard, who has been incredibly impressive in Cincinnati as a third-down back and has some of the most memorable plays in the last minute drives that the Bengals pulled off to beat the Steelers and Ravens in 2009.
Wow... that's a lot.
It's clear that Mike Brown is going to need to either shell out some massive dough or he's going to let some major talent walk out the door. Rey Maualuga may take Jones' job at middle linebacker. The Bengals may draft a safety. Reggie Kelly is probably unlikely to resign with the Bengals after Jermaine Gresham's breakout rookie season. It's going to be an incredibly interesting off season to say the least.
Thing I know three: Marvin Lewis may not want to be the coach of the Bengals anymore
Lewis has a list of demands, including an indoor practice facility. If we all know how much Mike Brown hates spending his hard earned cash on such things, then you know that Marvin does too. There's a decent chance that Lewis made the demands knowing that they wouldn't be met so he could easily walk out the door and still look like the good guy. The big question is, would you blame him?
Thing I know four: Bengals have solid and young foundation for a positive future
On offense, the Bengals will build their future on tight end Jermaine Gresham and fellow rookie receiver Jordan Shipley. Both of these rookies have been better than good and should continue to post positive stats as long as they're playing with the Bengals. If the Bengals can surround these two with a little more talent and give Carson Palmer enough time in the pocket, the Bengals should have no problem producing in the future.
On defense, young defensive lineman Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins will team up with young linebacker Rey Maualuga and defensive backs Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph (hopefully) to build a solid defense in Cincinnati. The tenured defensive linemen like Antwan Odom and Robert Geathers will make way for Dunlap and Michael Johnson and Dhani Jones may even leave Cincinnati (better than he found it, mind you), making way for his groomed replacement Maualuga.
The Bengals a very solid core of young players to build a future on. Now they just have to do it.
Thing I know five: quarterbacks are going to dream about Dunlap
And they're not going to be good dreams. They're going to be wet the bed dreams. Offenses are going to have to come up with specific game plans on how to slow Dunlap down. He broke the Bengals rookie record for sacks, set by Justin Smith in 2001, and he only played in 12 games and he finished the season on a streak of having at least half a sack in his last six games. I'm impressed. Now if we can only get Michael Johnson to do the same thing, which he can, the Bengals will have a pair of quarterback sacking machines.
Thing I know six: Marvin may be the best option for Cincinnati
Since Mike Brown has taken over as the Bengals dictator in 1991, the Bengals have had two winning seasons and four seasons in which they finished 8-8. Both winning seasons resulted in a home playoff game and both of those winning seasons were coached by Marvin Lewis. He also coached three of the four teams that finished with an 8-8 record. There have been five coaches in the Mike Brown era and I refuse to believe that five coaches are wrong. That means that the problem is.... yeah, you already know.
Lewis is by far the most successful head coach under Brown's reign and there is no reason to believe that letting him go will improve anything. In fact, letting him go may actually put the team in reverse, if that's even possible, and hurt the franchise more than it helps. Obviously, Lewis has learned how to deal with Mike Brown in the past few years and I think that he will be more successful in getting the team what it needs than a different head coach would be.
One more thing I know: At least we can look forward to the Reds this year
The Reds are going to be good this season and for once, we can watch them because we want to watch them, not because football is in their off season. When football season finally rolls around, I won't forget that Cincinnati has a professional baseball team this year. That should curb my annual NFL off-season depression a little.