March is a peculiar month. It teases us with the potential of warmth and sunshine, but often frustrates and disappointments us instead. We shake our fists at wintery mixes that wash-out ambitious golf outing and cook-outs. We scrape our windshields for what seems like the thousandth morning in a row and murmur under our breath. We want better, but rarely get it in March.
The Bengals offseason does the same to people. They read the fancy names and dream the day away about how it would look to have so-and-so in Stripes. Yet, they watch other teams browse the expensive free-agent store, holding something up and checking its price tag, or trying something on in the changing rooms, while Mike Brown and his team linger just outside, pacing and checking their watch a lot. They wander across to the discount store and buy a few disposable things out of boredom. Fans gripe to one another using phrases like cheap and backward, and despair about a stagnant franchise sets in to the smartest of us. This disappointment shows up almost every season, just like a chilly March.
Signing Marshall Newhouse and R.J. Stanford didn't seem to get anybody jazzed up about the Bengals. Pundits will call them "losers" because of their inactivity, while teams who are constantly rebuilding, like Tampa Bay, will again be praised for their shopping spree. Unless Newhouse wins a spot, there will be no new starters that played for other teams last year. The 2014 campaign could be characterized as in-house, because nearly every change this year is an internal promotion, and that doesn't sit well with the always forward-thinking fanbase. It's part of football life.
What did make a ripple on the news wire, though, perhaps because there was nothing else to talk about, was a Marvin Lewis extension that may have been the least surprising thing to happen to any team this winter. Then, despite given even more security to his job, folks began to speculate that he is on the hot seat if he fails to win a playoff game again. Only in Cincinnati do we make the leap from contract extension to a new coach only nine months from now. I believe that Mike Brown, in his mind, has made Lewis a lifer, and that the two men see the business eye-to-eye. If there were a separation between the two, it seems Lewis would make that call before Brown did. MB values loyalty to himself and the organization above all else and has proven time and again to prefer to employ men he has worked with in the past. He also has shown that he certainly would rather see the contracts he write carried out to their finish rather than undergo a hasty split beforehand. How this translates to a hot seat is hard to discern.
But when September rolls around, most observers aren't picking the Buccaneers to finish over the Bengals, even though the Bucs nabbed two former Bengal starters on the market with Michael Johnson and Anthony Collins. In fact, even without a full draft yet-an area the Bengals have excelled in the last handful of years-Cincinnati remains a top-five AFC team. They don't need anything, except enough cash to keep such a solid existing roster in place for the future. It isn't sexy, but it's what good teams do.
As far as Marvin's statements about how it would be wise for Andy Dalton to sign a reasonable contract, it's par for course. Were there layers of public relations in his statements? Of course there were. Was he wrong in his points? Absolutely not.
Marvin talked about (in so many words) how it is important to field a quality overall team and not put too many eggs into the quarterback basket. Taking a look around the league, one can see that unless your quarterback is elite, he should be paid a modest amount of money in order to strengthen other positions. Seattle is the ideal example of why this works for teams, the Ravens and Steelers prove the opposite point.
Jason Campbell is one of the better backups in the league and is a reasonable option should Dalton go down. He also may be used as a bargaining chip in the Dalton negotiations. If Cincinnati is unable to land a promising mid-round signal caller in this draft, and Dalton balks at the Bengals contract offer to him, the team will at least not be left in total shambles. Campbell is hardly the face-of-a-franchise kind of player, but as far as the bottom of the barrel goes, he could be a lot worse.
I think Marvin Lewis' statements also echo the sentiment that he plans on being here longer than Dalton does. He wants to win now, obviously, but the pairing of Lewis and Brown has always had an eye on the future-arguably too much so at times. This is not the sort of Carpe Diem type of ownership you might find in Washington, Dallas, or even Denver; it doesn't go "all in" for a season. One could say they tried that in 2010 when it blew up in the team's face. The Bengals run their ship like a small business, low overhead if they can help it, and just enough credibility to be invited to important trade shows. They sometimes make noise and become noticed by their competitors, but are largely forgotten when it's time to dole out annual awards.
So while you may feel frustrated and disheartened by what's happened this off-season, you should not be surprised. You were told it would be this way, but you hoped it would turn out otherwise. Not so, my friend. Whether you want to look at it as a sturdy franchise maintaining its impressive core of personnel, or as a small-market team taking the predictable road of frugality is up to you, but know this: it is the Bengal way, like it or not.