Marvin Lewis will almost certainly be back with the Bengals in 2017, but that isn’t stopping the ‘what if’ speculation across the interwebs.
While Lewis is enduring one of his worst seasons as Bengals head coach, he’s still done more than enough for Mike Brown to bring him back next year, not to mention, he’s under contract through 2017. Whether that speaks to Brown’s desire to win is a debate for another day, but for now, we’re left to ponder what life after Lewis could look like if an unexpected change were to be made.
At ESPN, Bill Barnwell did a long write-up on the Bengals and how they’re one of the best franchises for a potential head coach to take over if Lewis were to leave. Between a wealth of young, talented players on both sides of the ball, a significant number of draft picks in 2017, and a lot of cap space next year, this is the perfect team for a coach to come in and build into a contender with the right approach.
Here’s what Barnwell had to say:
If Marvin Lewis does leave Cincinnati after 14 seasons on the job, he'll be leaving his predecessor a much better job than the one he inherited. The Bengals would be a relatively promising landing spot for a new head coach, given the stability and time afforded Lewis, the presence of a competent quarterback in Andy Dalton and a healthy salary-cap situation.
The Bengals have more than $48 million in cap space for 2017 and will roll over several million dollars, giving them what would appear to be plenty of options heading into the offseason. Appear is the important word there. The reality, at least under Lewis, has been that they generally don't spend money on free agents they haven't scouted and developed themselves.
Their cap space, then, isn't quite as valuable as it might seem. Cincinnati also has plenty of veteran free agents they need to work on retaining this offseason. Their offensive line has been a collective disappointment after thriving in 2015, but with presumed left tackle of the future Cedric Ogbuehi a mess, the Bengals might very well want to bring back 35-year-old star Andrew Whitworth. Guard Kevin Zeitler also is an unrestricted free agent, as is cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. Cincy may very well let a few of these veterans leave, but the Bengals aren't performing well enough and have too much cap space to justify letting them all leave.
As of now, the Bengals will have most of their best players under contract next season, including A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Vontaze Burfict, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Andy Dalton, George Iloka, and Adam Jones.
Combined with around $48 million in cap space and 10-11 selections in the 2017 draft (including compensatory picks), a new coach could keep the core of this roster intact while also establishing his footprint on the team through the draft and free agent signings.
Even if the Bengals lose Dre Kirkpatrick, Cincinnati still has plenty of young corners on the roster ready to step up and show why they were first-round picks, including William Jackson III, who didn’t even play this year.
Kevin Zeitler is probably one of the best players on the team, but even great guards are easier to replace than most positions. Andrew Whitworth is a guy who would be a major loss if he isn't brought back or retires, but indications are he wants to be back with the team next year.
All of this is why the Bengals’ head-coaching job would be one of, if not the most desirable job open next offseason if Lewis were to be let go or retire. But, Lewis has said he has no plans of leaving and it’s hard to imagine him being replaced this season.