Cincinnati Bengals Are Finally Drafting Today For Tomorrow

USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals continue applying a drafting philosophy that may give them significant gains in the future.

It's unusual when you think about it.

After drafting based on dramatic needs, requiring rookies to immediately contribute since the early 1990s, the Cincinnati Bengals are easing to a new philosophy. A good one, though unfamilar.

Drafting today for tomorrow.

When asked during the post-draft press conference about planning ahead, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis appeared to be embracing the philosophy, now that the roster is comfortably developing with long-term ideals.

"We're trying to get there," said Lewis. "The only way you convince anyone you're there is you've got to be successful on the field. We've had a degree of success on the field, but not to the degree that we want to be. I think the only way to do that is to keep sustaining it and get further. We've got to move through the playoffs and beyond. That's important. Then, all the parentheses will be taken off (laughs). We can reduce all the parentheses and all the comparisons. We've got to earn it though."

Cincinnati selected tight end Tyler Eifert in the first round, despite having starting tight end Jermaine Gresham signed through 2014. Regardless, Eifert figures to be a significant contributor on offense who could play in the slot or out wide. Cincinnati also selected Margus Hunt, who may be a contingency if they're unable to sign Michael Johnson or Carlos Dunlap to long-term extensions. Linebacker Sean Porter could develop under James Harrison, eventually replacing Harrison, who turns 35 next week.

"They knew there were certain things that they were going to need to get done this offseason," Marvin Lewis said Saturday night, comparing to the Baltimore Ravens. "They drafted accordingly the year prior and when you get to the end, you know there are certain guys on your team that are going to be of focus."

Look back to last year, when the Bengals selected Devon Still and Brandon Thompson in the second and third rounds respectively. Anticipating that Pat Sims would leave this year maybe game-plan for an eventual Domata Peko departure within two years, the Bengals planned ahead to ensure that defensive tackle remained stocked. Dre Kirkpatrick could be argued similarly, sitting behind Leon Hall, Adam Jones and Terence Newman on the depth chart. Though Kirkpatrick's absence on defense last year was related to injuries, not a plug-and-play scenario in the future.

"Every football team in the NFL can't pay each guy top level at their position; it just can't happen," said Lewis. "It doesn't happen. So we have to be strong with the draft. We have to develop our young players. That's an important thing to do. And if we have to go out and supplement it a little bit with a current NFL free agent, we have to be prepared to do that. But as you know from me, it's going to be a guy that fits our work ethic and fits into what we do and how we do it, because at that point, it's too hard to change their habits and what they're used to doing."

If Cincinnati is successful in preventing Geno Atkins, A.J. Green, Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson, Andy Dalton and even Jermaine Gresham from leaving, there's no telling when this window will close. Based on their philosophy during the NFL draft, it might be open for a while if they're successful plugging departing players with talent groomed over time.

That's the plan anyway.

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