Taking a moment to look back over the previous 17 months, you have to be clutching onto a feeling that things have improved within this organization. They've changed. Along with a vastly improved draft strategy that's resulted in critical foundation pieces, this team has added significant contributors through free agency (Thomas Howard, Manny Lawson) and surprisingly renewed an effort to bring back their own (Reggie Nelson) with enough conviction to replace Jonathan Fanene and Frostee Rucker through free agency and the NFL draft.
Let me make a bold statement. Marvin Lewis has more power today than he did in 2010. Let me make another one. The Cincinnati Bengals have to sign Lewis to a long-term extension.
Lewis has enough speculated influence to make his draft selections, complete control on the personnel of his coaching staff and strong persuasion with ownership to sign a player that he, or someone within his coaching staff, likes, helps reach such conclusions. The scouting department is undergoing renovations, the team is more convinced today than ever about the importance of an indoor practice facility with a willing approach and foresight to prepare for long-term extensions among the team's core players. A franchise quarterback and the team's all-time wide receiver were traded for draft picks during the 2012 NFL draft and two more on tap for next year as well.
Things have changed. Much of it unexpected, all of it welcome. At least that's the plan that we're led to believe.
Almost 17 months ago Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was a free agent. The team failed to sign the head coach to an extension during the team's playoff push in 2009 and the follow-up four-win campaign that evoked anger against the team once again. Public opinion was split on whether Lewis should remain. No playoff wins, lack of consistency, failure to repeat as postseason participants, too many distractions, inconsistent draft selections, two four-win seasons in the span of three years, it was all there.
Lewis wanted changes within the organization if this partnership was going to continue, ranging from an indoor practice facility, to an improved scouting department, an enhanced role within personnel decisions and total control over his entire coaching staff.
Though it's never been confirmed nor denied that those were his demands, nor has it been acknowledged that those supposed (and reported) demands were capitulated by the team's front office, it's clear that this front office, this organization has changed, specifically after the Bengals signed Marvin Lewis to a two-year deal on January 4, 2011.
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Lewis' return easily marks a reference of the team's recent evolution. Though it might be more than that. There is reason to believe that while overall ownership remains with President Mike Brown, his daughter Katie Blackburn is becoming more active in daily operations operations for her aging father. Our belief is that while Mike Brown knows he's the son of the legendary Paul Brown with decades of experience (and thus no need for external voices), Katie Blackburn has enough awareness that decisions made by an NFL team can't be made through a single mind with a singular voice. Afterall it was additional voices that spoke through the choir that led to the Bengals selecting quarterback Andy Dalton and not Ryan Mallett.
It's time to cement this relationship between team and coach, not with just another one or two-year extension. It's time to finalize the partnership with something larger for a head coach that did the impossible -- work with Mike Brown, go to multiple postseasons with a continued evolution of the team's overall philosophy.
In the end it's in Marvin Lewis' hands. The Bengals have already approached Lewis about talks for a long-term extension and Lewis has already admitted that he wants ownership on board with the direction he believes they should take.
"There’s a lot of things that go into that. In the direction of things that we’re doing and how we’re doing things that are important to me," Lewis said. "There were things when I started in this job in 2003 that were important and we can’t change those. They have to stay on track and I have to make sure we’re continuing to progress that way. Those are the things that are more important to me as anything.
"I’m talking about structure, decision and how we do things and how I have the ability to do things that give us an opportunity to win football games."
If our suspicions of an organizational evolution are true, then the Cincinnati Bengals will have no issue falling in step with Lewis' overall vision to modernize a team that people once laughed so heartedly at.
So maybe it's not just in Lewis' hands. It's the Bengals too who have to put forth that commitment. The personnel is improving, the coaching staff is wanted (two received head coaching nominations and last year's defensive backs coach is now the Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator) and internal changes are modernizing the team.
It's time to sign Lewis to a long-term extension and keep this show rolling.