To Bengals fans that are constantly scouring the Internet, looking for whatever inside information they can find on their team, Cincy Jungle has a treat for you today!
I reached out to Cincinnati Bengals syndicated columnist and Bengals radio voice, Dan Hoard, who sat down with me for an interview on the Bengals offseason. We talked about rookies that have stood out, which offseason performances he's noticed the most, and we finished up with Andy Dalton, as Dan gives us his opinion on Dalton's ability to lead Cincinnati, and what type of deal the Bengals should be looking at with their quarterback.
Alex: First off, thank you for sitting down with me today. The Bengals have completed their mandatory minicamp, as well as their final stretch of OTAs. What are your thoughts on what you've seen from the Bengals so far in their workouts, and are there any players that have really caught your attention?
Dan: The biggest problem with evaluating players at this time of the year is that there's no hitting. It's a different game when the pads go on. But a few things have stood out over the last few weeks. Here are six observations:
- 1. Darqueze Dennard will contribute right away, and the comparisons to Leon Hall appear accurate. He looks comfortable and gets better every day. Even when he gets beat, it's never by much. I think he'll be a good pro for a long time.
- 2. Russell Bodine has a tough job. Next to quarterback, center might be the most difficult position to learn as a rookie and I'm sure that his head is spinning at times. That's probably contributed to a few poor shotgun snaps. But physically he looks the part and he still has a few months to fully grasp the offense. It will be interesting to see who starts the season opener in Baltimore.
- 3. James Wright looks like an NFL receiver. Since he was stuck behind two high draft picks at LSU, Wright was basically a special teams ace as a college senior, but he looks athletic enough to play receiver and has caught the ball well. Could be a nice late-round pick.
- 4. Chris Lewis-Harris just keeps making plays. With the return of Hall and the addition of Dennard, Chris faces a battle for a roster spot, but I haven't seen a cornerback deflect more passes at practice this spring. I hope he'll be on an NFL roster somewhere if not here.
- 5. Vontaze Burfict is insane...in a good way. The Pro Bowl linebacker oozes intensity in every drill and his defensive teammates follow his lead. There are times where you would like to see him take it easy for fear of injury, but that is simply not in his DNA. A great player who is still improving.
- 6. Andy Dalton looks good. The positive comments you've heard and read from his teammates and coaches are legit -- Andy is throwing the ball well and is completely in charge of the offense. Here's hoping the dad-to-be (his son Noah is due in a few weeks) is primed to have a big season.
Alex: It's certainly very important to note the non-contact play that we are basing observations off of. It leads to a good deal of speculation when we haven't seen the newer players in real-time football situations.
With that in mind, the first three points you made leaned towards the positive in respect to the rookie class' performances so far. Dennard has seemingly universally impressed, and it's nice to hear first-hand confirmation on the Leon Hall parallels. That's never a bad pro-comparison to make for any player, and even Leon himself has given the rookie praise. Hill has gotten action with the first-team, and you touched on Bodine and Wright.
Meanwhile, Clarke has flown a bit under the radar, and I really liked the value pickup of AJ McCarron from Alabama. I think that he'll be a solid back-up, and will eventually fit into the No. 2 role on the quarterback depth chart.
Going back a bit to the draft for a moment, what were your thoughts immediately post-draft? Did you have a grade that you gave Cincinnati for their selections? With that in consideration, as a whole, how have your thoughts changed after watching the rookies play in the offseason thus far?
Dan: It gets harder to have outstanding drafts when you pick late (24th) and do not have extra picks in the first few rounds (as the Bengals did in each of the last two years thanks to the Carson Palmer deal).
Consider the Patriots draft this year. With their first pick (27th) they selected a defensive lineman with great potential but coming off torn ACLs in both knees in college. With their second pick, they chose a quarterback who probably won't play for them for several years if at all. But those were risks they were willing to take in an effort to get potential standouts.
I like the Bengals draft because they got good value based on their own board.
They had a top 10 grade on Dennard and selected him 24th. They had a late first round grade on Hill and selected him 55th. They had a high second round grade on Clarke and got him 88th. Russell Bodine was picked in the fourth round and has a legitimate chance to start as a rookie.
Based on where they were selecting, I give the Bengals an A ... but let's see how it looks in about three years -- that's when draft grades have real meaning. Having said that, I like what I've seen so far.
Alex: That's a very fair analysis.
Now, you already mentioned that Dalton has performed well this offseason so far, confirming a lot of what has been said by the staff. But this is perhaps the biggest topic of the offseason for Bengals fans - the quarterback position and Dalton's contract as we get ready for the 2014 season.
After news on Kaepernick's deal broke, I wrote a piece considering how it might be a solid model for the Bengals signing Dalton, giving good money, but also protecting the team with the opt-out clause and incentives in case inconsistencies persist down the road in Andy's career.
At the same time, it's an understandable assumption that this type of deal is a situation agents will do what they can to avoid because of the lack of guaranteed money. It's just the way the quarterback market has evolved. The Bengals are also trying to resign Vontaze Burfict, with the upcoming need to enter contract talks with several other key players in the next year.
With all of this in mind, what are your thoughts on Andy's contract?
Dan: I have stated publicly since the day after last year's playoff loss that if it were up to me, I would not extend Andy's deal now. While I think much of the criticism of his play is unfair and overblown, it's impossible not to have SOME doubts after three subpar playoff performances. As a result, I have been in favor of playing out the final year of his contract and rewarding him if he continues to show improvement.
But that was before the Kaepernick deal. If Dalton is willing to sign a deal that gives him a hefty raise now (which he has earned) but also includes incentive-based raises going forward and opt-out clauses that protect the Bengals, I am all for it. I'm not sure he would take the same deal that Kaepernick did, but perhaps it introduced a structure that the two sides can agree to.
I honestly don't know how much the Bengals have offered so far, but if it gets done, he's not going to come cheaply. And for the record, I believe that Andy is capable of leading the Bengals to a Super Bowl title.
Alex: I really appreciate the candid response about a situation that could affect the team for a long time. That concludes the questions that I wanted to ask you about Cincinnati's offseason. Unless there's anything else you'd like to add, I'd like to thank you on behalf of myself and Cincy Jungle.
Dan: Happy to do it.