CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 12: Dre Kirkpatrick #27 of the Cincinnati Bengals works out during a rookie minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium on May 12, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Better late than never, right? Even though ESPN's Matt Williamson is perceived to be behind the curve in publishing his thoughts on the Bengals' offseason, the truth is that sometimes waiting and letting everything digest gives one a clearer picture of things.
Though he wasn't as glowing as other national pundits, Williamson did have positive things to say about the team's moves. You need an ESPN in$ider account to view the breakdown and since we're so nice, we'll oblige you with the text after the jump.
Like many others, Williamson was critical of the team's approach to free agency this year:
Analysis: A few days into the free agency period, I was critical of what the Bengals were doing. They had a ton of money to spend, and after watching their 2011 season, I didn't think they were far from being a serious AFC contender. Cincinnati should have been aggressive in landing a huge free agent such as G Carl Nicks, WR Vincent Jackson or one of the several quality cornerbacks who were available. Instead, they stressed quantity over high-end, expensive quality in free agency and the draft.
In free agency, Cincinnati acquired quite a few former first round picks -- which could pay off or end up as a waste of time. Green-Ellis isn't a clear upgrade over Benson, and replacing Simpson could prove more difficult than many believe. Like cornerback, guard was a problem position a year ago, but the Bengals used both first-round picks to fortify these spots (Kirkpatrick and Zeitler) while being proactive in free agency.
While there's some truth there, it's not like the team didn't make upgrades at positions. Most view both Travelle Wharton and BenJarvus Green-Ellis as upgrades at their respective positions, even if it's marginal. The team rarely makes the big splash in free agency and to some on the outside looking in, that was a major gaffe in the offseason plans, given their cap space and playoff appearance from a year ago.
It was the draft that had Williamson raving about the team's offseason.
I think their approach worked -- and I'm not implying that the Bengals brought in mediocre players. The Carson Palmer trade set up Cincinnati to excel in the draft and select the best player available at that pick, regardless of position. The Bengals' draft was superb, and I see seven or eight draftees who should substantially help the team. Cincinnati may have had the best draft of any team.
We agree with this sentiment. Even the players taken in the lower rounds have a chance to make immediate contributions as rotational players. The Bengals owning the draft has become a consensus opinion among NFL writers and analysts.
Overall, Williamson gives the Bengals a "B". It's a bit lower than most others have given the club, but it rated as highest in the AFC North, tied with Pittsburgh.