The Cincinnati Bengals' 12-4 record in 2015 came in large part because of the offensive resurgence the team had after a subpar 2014 campaign.
A big reason why the offense surged in 2013, fell off in 2014 and re-surged in 2015 was because of Marvin Jones. After catching a career-high 10 touchdowns in 2013 as part of the Bengals' eighth-ranked passing offense, Jones missed all of 2014 with a foot injury as Cincinnati finished with the league's 21st-ranked pass attack.
This past season, Jones returned with a vengeance while catching a career-high 65 passes (on 103 targets) for 816 yards to go with four scores. Though the touchdowns were down, Jones was arguably more effective this season in helping to keep the offense moving before Tyler Eifert (13 scores) began getting the majority of red-zone targets. The Bengals were ranked in the top 10 and even top five at times this past season in passing offense, but finished 15th after Andy Dalton missed the final month of the season.
While Jones was typically the third option in this offense behind Eifert and A.J. Green, he was still a crucial piece to the Bengals' passing game and would be going forward...
That is, if Cincinnati is able to re-sign Jones this offseason. Of all the Bengals' free agents, you could make a good case for Jones being the most important of them to Cincinnati. While George Iloka is probably the best free agent in the short and long-term, he's far more replaceable with guys like Derron Smith and Shawn Williams waiting in the wings.
The same cannot be said of Jones, and we need not go back too far to remember how much this offense struggled without Jones in 2014. In the same breath, injuries made Jones a non-factor much of his rookie year and all of his third season, meaning he's had two good seasons and two lost ones in his first NFL contract.
Still, this offseason will see one of the weaker wide receiver free agent classes in recent memory, so much so that, after Alshon Jeffery of the Chicago Bears, Jones may be the second-best receiver to hit the market in March. That will undoubtedly lead to at least one NFL team throwing a big contract at Jones that suggests he'll perform at a high level for 3-5 years on his next contract.
Do the Bengals really think Jones will do that after only doing it two of his first four years? And even if they do, do they view Jones as someone worth the four-year, $22-million deal Spotrac projects him to get?
Personally, I don't think there's any question the Bengals would re-sign Jones if all it took was a deal paying him around $5.5 million annually. The problem is, I see Jones getting far better offers than that.
A big reason why is Jones may end up being the best receiver to hit free agency. Jeffery would be the No. 1 guy, but reports suggest the Bears are not letting him go, whether it be through a new deal or the franchise tag. The Bengals cannot afford the luxury of tagging Jones, as he's just not worth that kind of money.
So, that means Jones could be hitting a market that may include guys like Cleveland Browns receiver Travis Benjamin, Miami Dolphins receiver Rishard Matthews and New York Giants receiver Rueben Randle.
Jones will be getting deals better than those guys. In other words, if Jones isn't re-signed before he's allowed to hit free agency and hear what other teams are offering, I don't see him being back in Cincinnati next season.