Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
One of the team's many needs this offseason includes backup quarterback. Will the position be won with the return of Bruce Gradkowski or a rookie quarterback taken in the NFL draft?
The Cincinnati Bengals have the veteran in Bruce Gradkowski, but how much time and money the Bengals are willing to spend to fill the vacant backup quarterback position remains to be seen. Two years ago Cincinnati signed Gradkowski to a two-year deal worth $4 million with $1.2 million built with bonuses as a contingency after the NFL lockout and employing a rookie quarterback with limited time to prepare. Fortunately the lack of lopsided scoring routes, an Andy Dalton injury and an impressive ability to absorb the offense limited Gradkowski to only 76 snaps, of which 29 were passes. He completed 13 for 174 yards, generating a touchdown and interception, both in 2011.
Will Cincinnati address backup through free agency or the NFL draft?
Ideally the team brings Gradkowski back for another season while brainstorming a youth movement between a rookie quarterback and perennial practice squad player Zac Robinson. Of those three, Gradkowski is the reliable veteran whereas a young rookie quarterback could develop into an eventual piece with a higher ceiling and promising reliability if Dalton suffers a sustained injury.
Geoff Hobson with Bengals.com writes:
But a funny thing happened on the way to the 2013 draft. The rich quarterback crops of the last two years have withered and died. Here at the NFL Scouting Combine the consensus about the quarterbacks is that there's no consensus. Some draftnicks believe there are none worthy of a first-round grade and that none of them can help right away. There are others that think even though there are no Andrew Lucks or RGIIIs, there are some guys that can play right now and that this will eventually turn out to be a solid class.
"I think there are some diamonds in the rough," said Jim Miller, the former NFL quarterback who works for Sirius Radio. "Take a guy like (Florida State's) E.J. Manuel. Everybody thinks he's a developmental guy. He was the best one at the Senior Bowl, he picks up offenses quickly, and he's one of the biggest winners in FBS history. To me he's a late second, or third or fourth-rounder who could come into camp and you wouldn't be scared to put him out on the field."
Cincinnati hasn't had the greatest luck finding a backup through the NFL draft. Casey Bramlet was stuck behind Carson Palmer and Jon Kitna while Reggie McNeal shifted to wide receiver prior to a 2006 nightclub incident in Houston.
Jeff Rowe's Nevada spread offense didn't translate well in Bob Gradkowski's offense, failing to surpass Ryan Fitzpatrick on the depth chart and being relegated to practice squad duties in 2008 before Seattle signed him in mid-December. A five-month offseason affair with New England marked the end of his NFL career.
Cincinnati has generally stuck with proven quarterbacks in the NFL, starting with Kitna who was grandfathered into Marvin Lewis' regime followed by Anthony Wright before Cincinnati went younger with a trade to acquire Ryan Fitzpatrick. After his departure for Buffalo, the team settled with Jordan Palmer during Carson's waning moments in Cincinnati.
Free agency will quickly dictate the team's offseason plans for most positions. But it's a realistic, even probable, scenario that Cincinnati re-signs Gradkowski while drafting a late-round quarterback to compete as the third quarterback (and development superstar).