From 1992 until 2003, the Cincinnati Bengals were a punchline in the NFL. It was a really quick and frightening transition from the team that built a mini-dynasty in the preceding decade. What ushered in the "dark ages" of Bengals football was a lethal combination of the dismantling of a once-excellent roster and the inability to re-stock that roster, the hiring of inept coaches and, worst of all, horrible draft decisions.
Bengals icons were leaving Cincinnati left and right, and Boomer Esiason was falling out of favor with the team going into the 1992 season. The team missed the playoffs the year before and with Mike Brown now at the helm of the team, things weren't looking great. Former head coach Sam Wyche left after 1991, while Brown's and Esiason's relationship soured.
Brown and the front office looked for Esiason's replacement in the draft and sought out the record-breaking quarterback from the University of Houston, in David Klinger. He was the successor to Heisman Trophy winner and NFL bust, Andre Ware, but that didn't stop Brown from pulling the trigger. Some warned that Houston's offense wasn't NFL-caliber and that is why Ware didn't work out in the NFL with the Detroit Lions. Unfortunately, it wasn't a different result with Klinger.
After four seasons with the club, the Bengals turned to Jeff Blake for a handful of exciting seasons. They put their once-prized quarterback out to pasture and attempted to move on. Klinger never lived up to the No.7 that Esiason once donned and bounced off to the Raiders. After Blake couldn't win many games, the Bengals decided on a one-year experiment with Neil O'Donnell and that disaster had them finally concede that they needed another quarterback high in the draft.
Enter University of Oregon's Akili Smith. In a quarterback-rich 1999 Draft, the Bengals decided to go the with the uber-athletic, but one-year wonder with the No.3 overall pick. Though the Bengals were sure that they had their guy, Smith didn't have a chance because of circumstances that were both in and out of his control. It started on draft day with the Bengals' decline of a mega-trade from Mike Ditka and the Saints that would have immediately re-stocked the team.
After an extensive holdout that wiped out Smith's rookie year and ultimately hindered his growth in the NFL, Smith was handed the starting job in the 2000 season. As the starter, Smith had to deal with two rookie starting wide receivers in Ron Dugans and Peter Warrick. Behind them, there were other inexperienced wideouts in Danny Farmer and Craig Yeast--not exactly an all-star cast which left only Corey Dillon as the lone offensive weapon.
The Bengals plodded to a 4-12 season behind Smith's three passing touchdowns in his 11 games started. Let that sink in for a second. As if that wasn't bad enough, the Bengals also had to deal with games started by Scott Mitchell after Smith's ineffectiveness. After the contract holdout, a poor sophomore season when surrounding talent didn't help him and his confidence shattered once being benched, Smith never stood a chance. He left after the 2002 season with the arrival of Marvin Lewis and his drafting of Carson Palmer at No.1 overall.
The question we are posing here is which quarterback from the "Lost Decade" truly was the bigger bust? To be honest, I don't know that I have an answer, and either holds weight. Is it Klinger who kicked off the terrible run of Bengals football as the supposed successor to the great Esiason? Or was it Smith as the second drafted disaster to continue the run of futility into 2002? I'll just pose the stats and allow you to discuss. Prepare to cringe.
|Quarterback||David Klingler||Akili Smith|
|Draft Position||No. 6 Overall||No.3 Overall|
|Bengals Seasons (Games Started)||4 (24 Started)||4 (17 Started)|