Emerging from the dreadful 2010 season, the Bengals' future looked bleak and unappetizing coming off of a 4-12 season, a franchise quarterback demanding a trade, and a fractured lockerroom. Little did we know that on April 28, 2011 all of that would begin to change, and less than a year after the dreadful 4-12 season, the Bengals would have one of the brightest, youngest, and most exciting teams in the NFL.
April 28, 2011 is important for two reasons: Andy Dalton and Adriel Jeremiah Green. With No. 4 and No. 35 overall picks during the 2011 NFL draft, the team drafted their franchise wide receiver and quarterback, respectively. Despite this at the time, they were still rookies, viewed with limited (if any) expectations of them. Sure, they would start, but how effective would they be in their first year in the NFL?
July 29, 2011 is the day that many fans can remember and say, "This is the day when the Bengals began to change." On July 29, the Bengals traded veteran, and beloved (by most), receiver Chad Ochocinco to the Patriots for a 2012 fifth-round pick and a 2013 sixth-round pick. Even though the Bengals drafted A.J. Green, Chad was excited about playing next to him and even publicly stated that Green would be the future of the Bengals organization at wide receiver. Nothing but class throughout the entire process, and some even noted that the Patriots and Bill Belichek made another crazy deal and got a great player for a low value. It could be argued that this was an even better deal for the Patriots than when they traded their second round pick to the Bengals in 2004 for Corey Dillon.
October 18, 2011 was a rough day for me, as well as many Bengals fans. The Bengals' franchise quarterback, the one that Mike Brown spent over $100 million to keep as a lifelong Bengal, Carson Palmer, was traded to the Oakland Raiders for a 2012 first-round pick and a 2013 second-round pick. Even though Palmer showed noticeable decline, he was still the image of the Cincinnati Bengals for many, and to see him traded away was somewhat difficult because it meant letting go of the an realized future while placing stock into a rookie.
The Bengals shocked everyone, including much of the fanbase, making a playoff run in 2012 behind a top-ten defense in the NFL with Dalton and Green leading the offense. Whereas before the 2011 season, the Bengals appeared headed for a rebuilding phase. Afterwards, we can be confident in saying that the team has found their future in Dalton and Green. The draft choices, the trades, and the staff hirings (Jay Gruden and re-signing Mike Zimmer) were starting to make Mike Brown seem like a genius. But, this was just the beginning.
During the 2012 NFL draft, the Bengals stole the show. They drafted well, made significant trades, and got the players that they wanted. It suddenly became difficult to track down an analyst that reacted poorly to Cincinnati's draft. They filled needs, created depth, and got unbelievable value for players in the later rounds. For trading Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco, they drafted Dre Kirkpatrick and Marvin Jones, respectively. Kirkpatrick is the CB that the Bengals needed and Jones was touted as a second-to-third round prospect that they drafted in the fifth. The Bengals' front office is making smart decisions, and they are setting themselves up for success in the future.
These are not the Bengals of the 90's, or even of the 2000's. We now know that drafting Dalton and Green was the best draft day decision the Bengals have made in years, trading Chad to the Patriots was a win-win because they got rid of a distraction and gained two draft picks in the process (and after the Patriots' release of Chad on Thursday, we know that the Patriots didn't get the better end of the deal like they did with the Corey Dillon trade), and, even though some may hope that Carson does well in Oakland, the Bengals got the deal of the century for him in two high draft picks without missing a beat in the perceived discussions regarding franchise quarterbacks.
The Bengals, and Mike Brown, are being smart about their football operations and who they sign, draft, and hire. This is unfamiliar territory for many Bengals fans who lived through the 1990's, but it is also a different organization than the Carson-Palmer-era Bengals as well. Whether or not their decisions will create wins in 2012 remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: the Cincinnati Bengals are no longer going to be passed over by national media or be the punchline of any jokes (unless there's an arrest involved, but that's another subject matter). If they continue with similar decisions that encourages a positive impact that we are seeing today, they may have finally achieved the one thing they haven't grasped for decades. Sustained success.