The 2016 Bengals will not make the playoffs. That’s not to say it’s impossible, but Cincinnati would have to make drastic changes if it were to go on a run and make the playoffs, step one being a victory in Baltimore on Sunday.
Unless Marvin Lewis’ team becomes a new team — embracing a new mentality, playing a different style of football and putting the past in the past — the Bengals’ 2016 season will more than likely result in a high draft pick next offseason.
That’s not all too bad, as there will be plenty of talented players at the top of the draft. But the notion that tanking will be good for the Bengals’ long term success is one that needs to be dispelled. Tanking rarely works, and in the rare case it does, it only works when the team picking first nails its draft, usually landing a franchise-caliber quarterback.
The Bengals’ season is not mathematically over, and despite the losses of A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard, a turnaround is still possible. After all, Cincinnati boasts talent on both sides of the ball, a more-than-capable coaching staff and a roster that is still somewhat healthy, despite the Week 11 losses.
But in the case that things don’t change and the Bengals’ season ends with more losses than we’ve seen in five years, we’re going to take a look at the past few drafts and evaluate whether high draft picks are all they’re made out to be.
Using the 2013 draft as an example, it becomes very clear that teams that land high draft picks don’t always manage to turn around quickly.
After a dismal 2-14 season in 2012, the Chiefs picked offensive tackle Eric Fisher with their first overall selection — a guy who many Chiefs fans would still consider a bust to this day. Yet Kansas City, led by new head coach Andy Reid, managed to turn around the ship and make two playoff runs in the next three seasons, even ending a seven-game losing streak in the playoffs against the Texans in 2015.
The only other teams outside of Kansas City to manage playoff wins — the Cardinals, Panthers and Saints — like the Chiefs, were led by veteran coaches. And despite the relative playoff success, none of these teams managed to hoist the Lombardi trophy. This brings us to the question that needs to be answered: Does having a top 10 pick in the draft correlate with Super Bowl success?
With this research, it becomes evident that in recent years, teams with top-10 draft picks rarely turn around their luck and win the Super Bowl. And when they do, it generally takes time. Of the past five Super Bowl winners, only two teams had made top-10 draft selections, both of which had come five years prior to their respective championships.
So in short, landing a high draft pick rarely makes an immediate impact on a team’s chances at winning a Super Bowl. If the pick eventually pans out, and the team improves with time, there’s a shot said team will have a title window in a few years — generally three at least.
This brings into question how long the Bengals’ Super Bowl window will be open for. In September of next season, Andy Dalton, Geno Atkins and Green will all be 29-years-old. It’s safe to assume Dalton will be good for quite some time, but the fact that Atkins and Green are nearing the end of their respective primes leaves genuine room for concern. If this research says anything, it’s that the Bengals’ best shot at winning a Super Bowl will come when these players are 32 or older. And while the Bengals’ big three have been able to overcome virtually every obstacle that has come their way, at some point, time catches up to players. Cincinnati needs to hope it doesn’t catch up to Dalton, Green or Atkins as quickly as it catches up to others.
So the bottom line is this: rooting for the Bengals to tank doesn’t make sense. Teams who pick near the top of the draft generally stay there for a few years, with very few exceptions. And the Bengals are still a talented team. Rather than rooting for failure, we should hope the team can turn around their luck. Because which football player in his right mind would want to play for a team that punched out with time left in the season? Tanking will only worsen the Bengals’ reputation — not just with fans, but also with players and coaches.
For those who hope a bad season will lead to Marvin Lewis getting fired, I offer you this: Lewis is under contract through next season, and he’s survived losing seasons before. If you want the Bengals to make a change, it’s not contradictory to simultaneously hope the team wins games while also hoping Lewis resigns after this season. Face it, Mike Brown more than likely won’t fire Lewis while he’s under contract, even if the Bengals lose out from this point forward. However, as we saw last season with Lewis’ proposed succession plan, the coach might feel as though his time has come to an end in the Queen City. Lewis has been a solid coach in his tenure with the Bengals, but as I pointed out in the State of the Jungle, the Bengals feel like a team that needs change.
There’s no proof that tanking works, and with the Bengals still in the mix, it certainly doesn’t hurt to cheer them on. Rather than hoping Lewis gets fired, hope the coach evaluates his options and elects to step down. Lewis is still a good head coach, but he’s just not the right fit in Cincinnati at this point in time. Hopefully a resignation could be a mutually beneficial move, as a team like the Jaguars, for example, could certainly benefit from hiring the longtime Bengals coach. And the Bengals stand to gain (or lose) a lot from making a change. But at this point, things feel stagnant with the Bengals. A parting of ways feels like a mutually beneficial move.