Now that the 53-man roster is released, do this for me: Grab the piece of paper with the 53-man roster, crumble it up, and drop it in a bucket of gasoline. Light a flame into the gasoline and watch it burn into nothing. Then bury the lighter and use Walter White's vat of acid to dissolve the shovel.
What you see today is meaningless tomorrow.
Now the Bengals will bury themselves into tape, scouting and medical reports, obsessing over free agency and the waiver wire for further additions. So don't think for a second that this is Cincinnati's final roster. That's a white rabbit. There is no final roster. Never will be.
That being said, this is the core of your 2013 Bengals; mostly built with the same players that we've projected since the NFL draft. There are few a exceptions, such as Jayson DiManche earning a spot as an undrafted free agent. Not that it's really a surprise, considering that three of the five linebackers that made it were signed as college free agents by the Bengals. A fourth, if you include James Harrison (but that's not really applicable, is it?). But once the injuries began piling up at linebacker, DiManche's inclusion started to become a foregone conclusion.
Disappointing, and maybe somewhat telling, is that the Bengals waived linebacker J.K. Schaffer. With Emmanuel Lamur headed to Injured Reserve, the Bengals left the sixth spot on the team's linebacker roster vacant. Head coach Marvin Lewis said Saturday afternoon that they'll check the waivers for a sixth. Schaffer was projected, but the team obviously didn't view him as a suitable replacement.
At some point from now until Chicago, the Bengals will acquire a linebacker. Considering that the team kept seven receivers (released Cobi Hamilton and kept Ryan Whalen and Dane Sanzenbacher), figure that the next linebacker (likely acquired via free agency or waivers) will use the spot vacated by Andrew Hawkins when the receiver goes on Injured Reserve with a designation to return. And no, they can't make that move until after 4 p.m. on Tuesday.
Another point is that the Bengals only kept five cornerbacks, which is somewhat surprising considering that Brandon Ghee and Dre Kirkpatrick are undergoing concussion protocols. Adam Jones has also been rehabilitating from an injured rib, leaving starters Leon Hall and Terence Newman as the healthiest corners right now. We can only assume that Ghee and Kirkpatrick are returning soon and Jones actually did play some against the Colts last week.
The philosophical earthquake arrived when the team informed fullback John Conner that he won't be making the 53-man roster early Saturday morning. Suggesting his departure as a surprise might be an overstatement, but his release was disappointing after piecing together a good preseason. It's evident that the Bengals have more invested into Orson Charles as the dynamic H-back than any need for a traditional fullback. However, I'm not buying the "Charles can play two positions" talking point. It's one thing to play two positions; it's another to actually play those positions well. And Conner was good at his.
Pro Football Focus graded Conner with the stronger preseason compared to Orson Charles.
#HardKnocks featured the FB battle between Bengals John Connor and Orson Charles. Preseason grades: Connor +3.7, Charles +0.4...— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) August 31, 2013
All in all, it was a roster that has largely been projected since the start of the preseason. Many of those roster battles that we focused so much time and energy on this year, won't be significant factors in the grande scheme of things, save for a player on punt coverage, a blocker on kickoff return, or specific packages during certain scenarios.
It's a good roster. A roster with heavy expectations heading into the regular season, which begins eight days from now. But there will be more changes coming. The Bengals aren't finished. They never will be. There is no white rabbit.