The moment Kimo Von Oelhoffen tore up Carson Palmer's knee, the Cincinnati Bengals tail spun into a web of injury, controversy and distraction. It was the exact moment of regression. From 11-5 to 8-8. From Rudi Johnson's assault on Bengals rushing records in 2005, to his performance depreciation in 2006. From a general consensus of having one of the league's top offensive linemen, to a patch-work from injury. Things went downhill during that Wild Card game and the team failed to recover afterwards.
So the general question is: Was 2006 a "back down to Earth" moment or was it an accumulation of extreme variables -- like the arrests or the injuries -- that will dissolve heading into 2007? With the draft replenishing the lost free agents and players recovering from long injuries, this team should rebound nicely.
The Bengals weren't expected to drink at the free agency party this year. The general philosophy is to build your foundation through the draft and sign free agents to fill the holes within the roster. Marvin Lewis has held that philosophy to a premium. Heading into 2007, only five of the 22 projected starters, were not drafted by the Bengals -- Bobbie Williams, Reggie Kelly, Sam Adams, John Thornton and Dexter Jackson. You could probably add Deltha O'Neal on that list, but it's questionable if he'll retain starter status.
After the team questionably cut Brian Simmons, they unsuccessfully tried to re-signed Kevin Kaesviharn, Tony Stewart, Eric Steinbach, Marcus Wilkins and Anthony Wright. They let Tory James and Kelley Washington sign with other teams and let Shaun Smith sign with Cleveland.
Free agency wasn't a total loss this year. Along with the apparent personnel turnover, the Bengals signed defensive tackle, Michael Myers, inside middle linebacker, Ed Hartwell and center, Alex Stepanovich among others.
THE NFL DRAFT RELENISHES
Leon Hall is expected to become the second half of a good cornerback combination opposite Johnathan Joseph. Kenny Irons is one of two scenarios. Will he replace Rudi Johnson or is he just apart of a general combination of backs? Will Irons replace Chris Perry? Marvin White was drafted to replace the departed Kaesviharn; Matt Toeaina to replace the departed Shaun Smith; Dan Santucci to replace the departed Eric Steinbach; Chinedum Ndukew to round out the secondary and help rebuild Special Teams.
Jeff Rowe, while replacing Anthony Wright, was a different scenario. The Bengals signed left over quarterbacks to one-year deals in the past. This year, Marvin Lewis and company drafted a young low-round quarterback to add stability behind Carson Palmer.
In a way, the Bengals improved their team by improving personnel at positions that left for free agency. Add that to players returning from injury, the 2007 Bengals should rebound to 2005 form.