I expect most of you who read this have already read my previous fanpost, "Breaking down the broken Steelers". This is, if you will, the follow up where I explain in greater detail how I believe we can start righting this ship. Let me preface this though by asking you some rhetorical questions along with their appropriate answers...
What is a house without a foundation? A house that gets blown over or withered away. Can a house without a foundation look nice for a temporary period of time? Yes. And is it not quicker, easier, and cheaper to build? Yes. But does it last? No. On the other hand, is a house with a solid foundation easier to maintain and result in more longevity? Yes. However, does the average person think about or see a foundation? No. But does it matter? Yes.
In the same way, Mike Brown's Bengals is a franchise whose house has never had a foundation. They have always been an ecliplic rag-tag bunch of high-profile players thrown together at the last minute who may occasionally achieve success, but always revert back to failure. Always depending on rookies, FA's, and run of the mill backups to immidiately contribute to a system their unfamiliar with. And after 20 years of watching this tragedy, it's time to finally start building a foundation. This means taking one step back, but eventually two steps forward.
First of all, why should we disregard 2011 and build for the future?
- There may not be a 2011 season and preparing for it may be a wasted effort, whereas being provident for 2012 could give us a leg up during the next actual season of play.
- With a new Offensive Coordinator, it'll take some time to get the offense synchronized and we may not be firing on all cyclinders until later in the season anyways.
- Assuming Palmer is gone, we'll most likely have a young (probably rookie) QB(s) who is going to need a year of adjustment to the NFL.
- Andre Smith, who proved (in my mind) our current offensive line is not adequate without him will have time to completely heal his foot without being rushed back into training camp again.
- We'll have the opportunity to see what some of our current and next year's reserve players (i.e. Muckelroy, Stephens, Hudson, Vincent Rey, Ghee, Cosby, etc.) can do and give them some development by incorporating the best method: playing time.
- If we seriously attempt to be competitive in 2011, we will be continuing our foundationless trend of possibly (though not likely) having a decent season, but culminating in the loss/injury of key players without legitimate backups filling in for the future.
What should we do to prepare for 2012 and the future?
- Shed some of our older veterans (i.e. Chad, Tank, Odom, Crocker, Geathers, Roy Williams) who are taking up roster spots, which can be given to younger prospects, capable of becoming starters later down the road. Only elder veterans we should keep are those who can provide adequate mentorship to the younger players (i.e. Bobbie Williams, Dhani Jones, Reggie Kelly).
- Draft (not necessarily in the top 2 rounds) and/or pick up at least two, maybe three, young QB's, who can begin learning Gruden's system and provide a year's worth of evaluation time for Gruden to select his long-term starter. Maybe even set up a rotation for them throughout the season. Not only do we develop an adequate starter, we also groom capable backups.
- Whitworth, Cook, Andre Smith, and two upgrades will hopefully be the future of our o-line. To augment them, retain dependable backups in Livings, Collins, and possibly Hudson/Stephens. Don't let them leave! There will be a day when a few of them will be called upon to fill in voids left by injured starters.
- Keep drafting large DT's to potentially provide a dominating force in the middle. Peko is adequate, but not a dominating presence. Sims is coming on strong, though still not nearly at Ngata/Hampton status. Atkins is a great weapon on 3rd downs, but limited to that degree. We may not have Fairley available, but I'd love to see a 330+ lb DT drafted in a latter round who could turn out to be a sleeper and potentially provide a disruptive force in the middle which stops the run and frees up our DE's on the outsides by demanding double/triple teams.
- Allow Gruden flexibility to experiment with his offense and harness all the advantages of his weapons. Maybe pick up some irregular players, like an over-the-middle/blocking reciever, fullback who can catch, or Hillis type of RB and try them out.
- Draft and/or pick up 2-3 each of young LB's and DE's to compete with Maualuga, Rivers, Muckelroy, Rey, & BJ -- Dunlap, MJ, & Fanene. In addition to competition and potentially earning starting spots, these young players will provide quality depth to the box (the nucleus of the defense) and eventually become starters down the road after having spent years learning the system (with more young talent filling in behind them).
- Don't pick up Shaun Rogers or any other veteran "big name" players! Start building our team through the draft. This will do three things: provide us players with more longevity, enable them more time to develop & learn the system, and allow the coaches more time to assess & figure out better ways to incorporate them into the system before throwing them into the fire.
The road ahead....
A Bengals team who builds itself through the draft. At each position, there are backups who have been on the team for at least 2-3 years. We will never be pressed to fill an immidiate need at any position through free agency or the draft. As some of our players become prime time and demand excessive salaries near the twilight of their careers, we let them go and replace them with backups who will be nearly as good - and potentially better. We'll never release valued reserves because we want to overly pay for their fellow starters. We also will avoid and mitigate players with big egos who care more about themselves than the overall team. We will do this by not playing them significantly right away. And when their heads do eventually become too big, we trade them away to another franchise, looking for a "quick fix" and willing to give away potential to us.