Back by unpopular demand, I've returned from my long hiatus to remain trapped in Bungledem land and provide my always-disputed two cents. Honestly, I probably have less hope for this season than I ever have before - yet, I actually think we're headed in the right direction and had a discreetly-decent offseason. Was it tremendous? No. Am I unaware that we are currently $27M under the cap? No... but we can't set our expations too high while Mike Brown is still alive.
A few months ago, against an onslaught of disagreeing and slightly hostile comments, I laid out a long-term plan for the Bengals to get out of the cellar and become a competitive franchise in the NFL. This plan included accepting a rebuilding year(s), cutting loose the older veterans, establishing a new precedence of building through the draft as opposed to free agency, getting rid of Palmer (with his salary and underachieving career), focusing immidiately on the interior lines and linebacker spots, avoiding tunnel vision on keeping aging & costly big-name players, not taking QB's in the first round, and acquiring average skilled players with quality linemen as opposed to vice versa -- basically what Holmgren is doing right now with the Browns.
Whether MB and Marvin read my thoughts and are trying to implement them is unclear, but it is pretty clear they seem to be moving along this direction. They certaintly didn't hit any homeruns this offseason, but got what I'd equate to a lot of singles and a few doubles. They've seemed to have accepted a rebuilding year (as evidenced by the release of several quality players - whether or not all of them were good decisions), didn't try to overhaul the starting lineup with free agents, got rid of (for all intents and purposes) Palmer, somewhat addressed the interior line (at least offensive) and linebacker positions, didn't overpay to hold onto a high-profile player in Joseph, avoided drafting a QB in the first round, and didn't bring in any big-name divas (in addition to getting rid of a few). Though some of these decisions seem controversial, I think the majority were steps in the right direction.
Departure of Joseph: Did it hurt to see him go? Definitely. Are we better off without him this season? No. But was this a good or bad move on our part, considering how much he was demanding? Possibly so. The facts: In the last three seasons, Joseph has missed 12 games due to injury, eventually reached a deal worth $48M for 5 years (nearly $10M per year) with the Texans, and we had a returning Pacman who showcased himself as a solid CB along with several other young CBs (i.e. Ghee) and the potential of picking up Nate Clements (not Joseph, but solid). Like most good teams, instead of overpaying for a demanding veteran, we let him go and replaced him with less expensive players who can possibly fill in without much of a dropoff (if Pacman doesn't return healthy, Clements lays an egg, and Ghee doesn't pan out though, this may turn out bad however). Oh and FYI, Joseph is currently riding the injury report in Houston with a pulled groin...
Palmer: The fact that we're not paying $14M+/yr anymore for an underachieving QB is in itself a relief. What the 2004-2006 offensive line did for Palmer can be duplicated in Dalton if we rebuild it (the bookend tackles hopefully already in place). I would have preferred a lower pick in Mallet or McElroy, but I believe Dalton with proper protection and coaching will put up stats which make him "appear" as a "quality" QB. Now, if we can get ANYTHING for Palmer, I'd be happy...
Finally getting rid of 85: After half a decade of waiting, I've finally gotten my wish. I'm not even going to go into this, because it sickens me just thinking about him and all the drama we've had to put up with over the years. So much, I won't even mention his name. And I'll leave it at that.
Cutting the veterans: Reggie Kelly, Dhani Jones, Tank Johnson, 85, Roy Williams; all (with the exception of one) good players and great leaders - though aging and taking up roster spots which younger guys with potential could be filling in during our rebuilding year. Though they may have been the best options this year, I felt in the long run, it was better for our franchise by allowing players like Scaife, Muckelroy/Rey, McDonald/Sims, and Whalen/Cosby to remain on the roster and increase the likelihood of finding permanent replacements. Only two I felt should have also gone are Chris Crocker and Bobbie Williams.
Clint Boling and Max Jean-Gilles: Would have preferred drafting higher for an offensive lineman, but at least we snagged one in the fourth, who seems to have decent potential. Add to him a relatively young veteran (27) in Gilles, who could very well be the next Bobbie Williams, and we may have a new set of guards. Though Gilles certaintly hasn't validated himself yet as a starting quality lineman, there is reason for optimism. Coming into the league 5 years ago as a massive pilepusher who could run, he had serious weight issues and battled injuries for the early part of his career (very similar to Andre Smith). Proving himself serious about losing weight, he overwent lap-band surgery last year right before training camp to drop roughly 50 lbs. This season, a year removed from surgery, being healthy, and in decent shape for the first time in his career, look for him to possibly have a breakout year. Just imagine runs to the right with Andre and him plowing ahead. Again, would have preferred drafting quality linemen through the draft, but this should be some consolation.
Going with Dalton in the second round: Yes, we could have gone with Locker, Gabbert, or Ponder in the first round - but then we'd be stuck with an unproven QB costing us a minimum of $5M/year (Locker, as a 8th overall pick, signed a $19.6M contract for 4 yrs) which would hinder us in acquiring other talent. Instead, we got a promising QB who is only going to cost us $5.2M over the next 4 years and has an elite reciever (though I would have preferred a lineman to give him more time in the pocket) to throw to.
Lawson, Howard, and Moch: The injury to Rivers may be a blessing in disguise, as I hopefully won't have to see him get blocked out of the way and tackling RB's 5 yards downfield anymore. The injuries to Moch and Muckelroy not so much... But Lawson and Howard should be an upgrade over Rivers and Maualuga on the outsides. Hopefully Moch, Muckelroy, and possibly Rey can provide some legitimate competition and we'll have a strong corps of young LBs to include Brandon Johnson.
Bottom line, we shouldn't be gearing up for football in January, but we should be able to watch this season with hope for the future....