"You can't make an omelet without breaking a couple of eggs". It's an idiom that we have all heard at some point, basically pointing that there are mistakes and risks that are taken to get the results that one wants. We see it every year with clubs around the NFL--a splash free agency signing, a trade for a disgruntled star, and/or a team mortgaging future draft picks for a collegiate star that they want.
All the while, the Bengals sit idle at their draft position and pick over the scraps of the free agency frenzy. This isn't a complaint--the strategy has worked well for the Bengals and their four postseason appearances in the past five seasons, including three straight. However, three consecutive one-and-dones and a well-built roster leave everyone wanting and expecting more.
In the days before the Super Bowl, I wrote a piece on how the Bengals should be taking notes on the two Super Bowl squads. Even though the game itself wasn't much of a contest, my article's premise still holds weight--particularly surrounding the point about bringing in as much talent as possible to get the team to the promised land. Going forward with this plan of attack requires a team to recognize that they are close to being a championship squad.
Take the trade by the Seahawks for Percy Harvin as an example. Pete Carroll and Co. loaded up at other positions and saw the need for an explosive playmaker. They traded a first round pick for him, but were only able to get a couple of games of note from Harvin on the year. It just so happens that two of the games where Harvin contributed the most were in the NFC Divisional Game and the Super Bowl. Those two performances alone make the trade worthwhile.
Not good enough of an example? Okay then, let's take one a bit closer to home. Look back to 2004 when the Bengals came back to relevance, but star running back Corey Dillon wanted out of Cincinnati despite that fact. The New England Patriots knew that they were a good team and that a good back could get them another championship. They traded a second round pick for Dillon and both teams went their separate ways. Dillon helped pave the way to a Patriots Super Bowl championship that year, while the Bengals got by to what ended up equating to Deltha O'Neal and Keiwan Ratliff. Yeah, pretty even.
Here are some of my reasons why the Bengals should consider taking some chances on trades, free agent splashes, etc.:
A Deep Enough Roster To Fall Back On:
If a major move doesn't pan out because of injury, etc., the Bengals have accrued enough young talent to overcome a snake-eyes roll of the dice. Heck, in 2013 the team was able to still get eleven wins with two of their best defensive players going down for the year in mid-season. Some of the young and inexperienced guys are tested veterans now, so they know the stakes and are hitting their collective prime.
Recognize someone that could literally be a team-changer and go for him. Trade up in the draft, sacrifice picks or spend a little more than you may want in free agency. With the extra cap space in 2014 (projections are at $23-$26 million), they have room to move. Yes, there are key pieces to lock up, but there is plenty of other room to make some big moves and not mortgage the future by being up against the salary cap.
They have already locked up many key pieces to solidify the well-rounded roster, so there shouldn't be fear of having financial issues in the years ahead. If the Broncos can figure out a way to pay for a once-in-a-generation free agent contract the size of Peyton Manning's, the Bengals can surely do some work.
Potential One-Year Tests For Andy Dalton And Marvin Lewis:
Both the team's quarterback and head coach go into 2014 without long-term deals going forward. It's an interesting thing really, given all of the good things that Dalton and Lewis have done for the franchise. However, they just haven't won the big games and the Bengals are stuck in neutral. Both men would be wise to clamor for as much talent they can to continue to have jobs in Cincinnati after this season.
The Bengals may use some of that 2014 cap space to extend Dalton, but that's no sure thing. Some say that he has earned an extension while others are yelling to get a new man under center. Lewis has been given an extraordinarily long leash by Mike Brown, but if the team continues its same offseason plan and the same lack of playoff success occurs, he isn't likely to have another run at it.
If Lewis truly has the eye for talent that most think that he does, he would be wise to be a bit selfish this offseason to make moves that give him the best chance to be successful. Be it a college player at a position worth moving up for, or identifying a key free agent, Lewis needs to get into Brown's ear about it.
Exciting A Flatlined Fan Base:
Today's Bengals fans are a bit spoiled, given the previous decades of futility and downright unwatchable football. We've seen the club struggle to sell out games with a playoff squad taking the field. This year's first round matchup against the Chargers had to have been an embarrassment to the front office.
The bottom line is that fans have grown stale of the team. Sure, they're competitive and are becoming an annual entry to the postseason, but they can't play with the big boys. They fall on their faces in primetime and certain star players disappear. If not for anything, the Bengals would be wise to use the age old saying of "you have to spend money to make it". Grab a couple of exciting, yet reasonably-priced free agents. Move up and do some things in the draft that we don't normally see. When management shows the fans that they are really serious and committed to winning a championship, fans will flock to Paul Brown Stadium on those eight to ten Sundays when the Bengals take the field.
What Is There To Lose?
If you make a big move (provided that it isn't a salary cap nightmare) and it doesn't pan out, what is really the harm? You rolled the dice and took a chance on a guy that you thought would put you over the top. If he doesn't, get off of the mat and try it again down the road. If the Bengals are worried about reputation, that has long been thrown out of the window. The Brown family is notoriously known for their frugality and stubbornness, but they have also recently shown a shrewdness in negotiations and an improved eye with talent.
"What will the pundits say if this guy doesn't work out?". "What if we trade up for a guy in the draft and he flops?". Well, to that I'd ask "what if he works out and immensely helps with a postseason run and a championship?". Try it. The times that they have and failed have been years ago without this recent refocus on talent evaluation.
Most Bengals fans that read this article will immediately point to Terrell Owens, Antonio Bryant, Sam Adams and others as reasons to not make a free agency splash. Aside from my points in this piece also looking at draft pick trades and player trades, there is one other flaw in this argument. Aside from Bryant, none of these deals were financial back-breakers because they came here on the tail end of their career. The same can currently be said about linebacker James Harrison.
The Bengals are a good team. Not a great one yet, but can be with the right influx of talent. How many pieces do they really need on this roster? A cornerback or two, a linebacker, an offensive lineman, maybe a running back? Will late-round picks really be the ones to round out this roster to a championship one? What if the Bengals can get their hands on a solid player at one or more of those positions by being creative? Be exciting. Be daring. Be like the Seahawks and Broncos.