January 28, 2012; Mobile, AL, USA; South Squad defensive lineman Courtney Upshaw (41) takes a bow after making a quarterback sack during the Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-US PRESSWIRE
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What a strangely productive week for the Bengals. They've signed Terence Newman, re-signed Dennis Roland, Donald Lee, and Dan Skuta, waived Rico Murray and traded embattled linebacker Keith Rivers. The haul for Rivers was the New York Giants fifth round pick, giving them three for that particular round (that answers a tweet I received about the trade this week from Kyle). The draft is officially wide open for the team and the more we try to predict what is going to happen, the more we get confused.
Regarding the draft, I was asked if I think that the Bengals were going to move around and either trade up or down, given the plethora of picks that they've accrued:
I think they do have something up their sleeve. Many people are mocking the Bengals to take a cornerback with one of their first two picks. Truthfully, I saw the Newman signing coming after the draft if the team lost out on a corner that they had been targeting. It surprised me to see it happen two weeks prior to draft weekend. With that signing, the team now has six cornerbacks, with five being former first round picks and one being a former third-rounder. They may feel that they are completely set there, even though a player like Stephon Gilmore or Dre Kirkpatrick could provide an upgrade at some point in the near future. We don't know how they feel about that group.
The wild card of that group is Jason Allen. He apparently can play both safety and cornerback and we haven't heard exactly where he'll be fitting in and if he'll be playing any safety for the team. If they feel he can fill in at one of the safety spots (keep in mind that the team doesn't really have a true strong or free safety, as they intertwine their roles) that was vacated by Chris Crocker, they may feel that drafting Mark Barron becomes a moot point and they may look at corner once again. We also don't know exactly how high they are on Taylor Mays' progress at this point and if they believe that he's ready to take over the starting role.
One thing is for certain: the team has a multitude of picks to play around with. They have been playing things close to the vest and usually that's a sign that someone is up to something. And while they may not have traditionally been big movers on draft day, I can see something coming. Aside from having an additional first round pick, they now have three fifth round picks. What people are also forgetting is that they have an extra second round pick (which could become a first) to dangle out there as well if they want to move around.
Now, this isn't going to play out like a Madden Football Franchise mode draft scenario. They will not end up with something crazy like three first round picks, two seconds and two thirds and call it a weekend. Quite frankly, fifth round picks aren't valued enough to get you back into the first round. Either way, I don't think they'll do much moving in the first round, as I think that they like where they're sitting with their two picks. I see them making a move up in the second if a guy they've targeted is sitting out there and presents great value. That's where I can see one of the fifth round picks and next year's extra second coming into play. I can also see a similar scenario occurring in the third or fourth rounds, especially if they haven't grabbed a running back or wide receiver yet.
As for "dark horse" picks that I can see them making in the first round, it's tough to say because their draft can go in so many different directions and we don't know who will be slipping, yet. I think the usual suspects in DeCastro, Gilmore, Barron, Kirkpatrick, Glenn, and Wright will all be tossed around, depending on who's available. I think they really like Doug Martin and could take him at No.21 and that could come as a surprise to some. If North Carolina's Quentin Coples falls all the way to them (and he might, by some experts opinions), he could be a guy that is a bit of a surprise.
The one guy that nobody is really talking about though, is Alabama's Courtney Upshaw. Marvin Lewis publicly professed his love for the OLB/DE hybrid player recently and I wouldn't be surprised if they gave him a hard look at No.21. Lewis has always been enamored with athletic guys who can rush the passer and play the field as well--one of his personal favorite players was Baltimore's Peter Boulware and I believe he's been looking for that player since he stopped coaching him. They've tried Michael Johnson at that capacity and it didn't work out and neither has Dontay Moch in his short career here.
Earlier this week, The Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy made an interesting observation after the Rivers trade that got me thinking.
#bengals have made six trades in the past 19 monthsAlso means the
I began to wonder if these player trades had anything to do with the new contract that Marvin Lewis signed in January of 2011 to remain with the club. If you remember, the rumors were that Lewis gained "conceded power" from owner Mike Brown, though to what level that went was unknown. So, I began to look into the six trades that Reedy mentioned and they are as follows (I'm not going to include trades that only involve players, not solely draft picks):
- Keith Rivers traded to Giants in 2012 offseason
- Carson Palmer traded to Raiders in 2011 regular season
- Trade for Kelly Jennings with Seahawks shortly before the 2011 regular season
- Trade for Taylor Mays with 49ers shortly before the 2011 regular season
- Chad Ochocinco traded to Patriots in 2011 offseason
- Trade for Reggie Nelson from Jaguars shortly before the 2010 regular season
Breaking this down, five of the six trades were made after Lewis signed his most recent contract. The exception is Nelson, but they have since re-signed him, and that again was after Lewis signed the 2011 contract. I also began to recall the player trades that were made before the Nelson one was made in the Lewis era. Conversely, the trades made from the 2003 offseason when Lewis was first hired to Cincinnati to the late offseason of 2010 were (feel free to alert me if I've missed any):
- Trade for Brian Leonard with Rams in 2009 offseason (this was one of the most favorable trades in Bengals history, as Leonard has been a contributor for the past three seasons and they ended up re-signing Orien Harris later in the season)
- Trade for Shaun Rogers with Lions in 2007 offseason (revoked and failure)
- Trade for Deltha O'Neal with Broncos in 2004 draft
- Corey Dillon traded to Patriots during 2004 draft
Thanks to the failure of the Rogers trade, the Bengals have made half as many trades (three) in the prior seven and a half years compared to the last 19 months. What's also interesting to note is that of the total nine trades, one-third of them have been because disgruntled, "franchise-type" players have wanted out of Cincinnati (Palmer, Ochocinco, Dillon). That's quite a black eye on a franchise. You also must remember that the Ochocinco trade came three years late. If you remember, the Washington Redskins made a very lucrative trade offer for the wideout after he made his trade demands public. Brown stood on his principles and he wasn't traded until 2011 when his value was far less.
It was those same principles that almost prevented the Palmer deal from happening. If not for an incredible trade offer from the Raiders and the urging of Lewis and Katie Blackburn to take the deal, the Bengals wouldn't be in the great draft situation that they are right now (by the way, how hilarious is it that Hue Jackson has returned to the Bengals just a few short months after being fired by the Raiders, and that firing was largely due to the state the team was left in following the Palmer trade?). Though it's an unconfirmed aspect that we attribute to Lewis, it still points to that new control he supposedly gained.
The cynical Bengals fan will claim that this sudden spike in player trades is largely due to the recent CBA that was agreed upon last offseason. There's some truth to that. With the rookie wage scale that's now in place, teams aren't handcuffed to terrible rookie contracts and are more willing and able to make trades for veterans that have relatively hefty contracts. There are even rumors for teams willing to trade for restricted free agents, like Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace, and those are usually a messy situation for the club instigating the trade.
Since Lewis' contract from early 2011, there have been new scouts added, a revamping of the medical staff and new coaches added to the staff. I think that this increase in trades have something to do with Lewis gaining more control over player personnel decisions and within the organization as a whole. Because of that, don't be surprised if the team makes more moves this offseason, much like the ones over the past year and a half .
Next week, I'll do a three-round, AFC North mock draft, outlining what I think each team will do with their first few picks. I'll also be taking questions so send them my way.