Some might call this the slow period for the 30 teams not participating in Super Bowl 50, but there is still plenty to talk about with the Cincinnati Bengals. This could be considered to be among the most important offseasons in the history of the franchise, but it might end up being a lot more of the same we've seen from the Bengals in recent years.
Great question. It's hard to say if the Bengals will opt for a back in this year's draft for a variety of reasons. Among those reasons is the productive duo consisting of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill at the top of the position group. There is also the versatile Rex Burkhead and special teams ace Cedric Peerman behind the top two dogs, so adding another back in the draft, particularly with a somewhat high pick, seems unnecessary.
But, there is more here than just what's on the surface. Hill had the dreaded "sophomore slump" in 2015 and doctors have diagnosed him with a case of chronic fumblitis. Coughing up the football almost never comes at an opportune time, but Hill's have been back-breakers, including the one heard 'round the world in the Wild Card game. If the Bengals are asking themselves where to look for a running back in this year's draft, they also need to be asking themselves just exactly who they think the real Hill is.
Is he the guy who took the league by storm in the second half of his rookie year, or is he the tentative-looking fumbler we watched through most of 2015? Maybe somewhere in the middle of the two extremes? Another question might also surround the notion of how long of a leash they give him to find out his true identity.
Each of the four backs the Bengals carried last year are talented and carry specific skill sets. Bernard and Burkhead provide dual threat options, while Hill is the guy who has a nose for the end zone and Peerman just made the Pro Bowl as a special teams player. It's hard to see the team getting rid of any of these guys for a newcomer.
What does point to backs being added to the team are the recent departures of two practice squad guys in James Wilder, Jr. to the Bills and Terrell Watson to the Browns. Both guys flashed promise in the the preseason after both went undrafted the past two years, so the Bengals will need to re-stock the shelves in a similar route, at a minimum.
However, if the Bengals play free agency right by shoring up position group depth and retaining many of their own key guys set to hit the open market, the draft could get interesting. Part of what has built the Bengals into a perennial contender is their frequent drafting of the best players available over some perceived immediate needs. What if the team takes care of many needs through free agency and the first few rounds of the draft and a talented back inexplicably slips to them in the fourth or fifth round when projections have said theoretical player going a couple of rounds earlier? Do they pull the trigger?
It depends on a number of factors. One thing I'd like to see Marvin Lewis embody is the mantra Pete Carroll has brought to the Seahawks. Competition is atop the priority list for Carroll, who always wants even his star players to have a little bit of uneasiness when it comes to job security. While he's done a great job re-creating the Cincinnati roster into playoff teams, Lewis' strategies hasn't netted them a postseason victory. We're not pointing directly at running back for the latest failure, but upgrading your team in a way that would get them through the postseason should at least be considered.
That being said, I think they look late in the draft and/or to college free agents to add to the group, barring something unforeseen.
@CincyJungle do you think we'll resign Leon Hall?— Tristen Shifflett (@BengalsWhodey8) February 2, 2016
The Bengals and Lewis have shown an odd dichotomy of preferences when it comes to the cornerback position. Cincinnati's head coach has gone on record saying that he likes drafting corners high and the team has gone that route in the first round four times in his 13 previous draft classes (Hall, Johnathan Joseph, Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard).
Yet, for all of the love Lewis has gushed publicly about these high picks, only Hall played significant, immediate snaps and started of the four. It's a double-edged sword because they didn't need Kirkpatrick and Dennard to start right away, but they've oddly preferred the veteran rental services of Nate Clements, Terence Newman and Adam Jones as starters. To the Bengals' credit, all of these veteran corners performed beyond fan expectations, but some feel like it has hindered the development of younger players.
We discussed the cornerback group on this week's episode of Inside the Jungle podcast, including the status of Hall. With the primary focus of the Bengals likely moving toward safeties Reggie Nelson and George Iloka, as well as wide receiver Marvin Jones, a 31-year old corner who has had two Achilles injuries to each leg in the past is likely to fall down the pecking order.
I foresee one of two things happening with Hall and the Bengals this offseason. The first scenario is a short-term, team-friendly deal to have him in the back of the positional depth chart to continue to bring stability and veteran leadership. The other alternative is Cincinnati keeping Hall on speed dial if/when an injury occurs during the camp times and he's an insurance policy.
One other thing to consider: if the Bengals lose out on one or both of the aforementioned starting safeties in Nelson and Iloka, Hall might become a little bit more coveted by the Bengals because of his dabbling with the safety position last year.
@CincyJungle my other question do you think the Bengals are safe in Cincinnati for the long run I always get paranoid— Tristen Shifflett (@BengalsWhodey8) February 2, 2016
This question is especially interesting given the history of the Bengals and the Brown family with the city of Cincinnati, which has been a tumultuous one. In the midst of their "Lost Decade" of the 1990s, owner Mike Brown had the audacity to essentially hold The Queen City hostage, as the product he placed on the field was a dumpster fire.
In the negotiations for a new stadium, Brown subtly threatened to move the Bengals to Los Angeles if a deal couldn't be struck , who, at the time, had just lost both of its professional football franchises. The city and its taxpayers eventually caved and Paul Brown Stadium opened before the 2000 season.
Of late, relations between Bengals ownership and the city have thawed. Both have been working well together for various improvements to the facility, and have re-arranged a previous agreement on who was footing the bill. All in all, major projects at The Banks, new video scoreboards, workout facilities and other improvements have been made, while the two parties have been singing "kumbaya".
"Very quietly we have been working with the County on a cooperative basis for some time now. Today, with the announcement of our financial participation in several stadium upgrades we are able to take that cooperation to a new level and put behind us several issues that in the past would likely have turned into battles," Brown said in a statement back in 2014, via Bengals.com. "These new improvements allow Paul Brown Stadium to remain an exciting place for local fans and the Bengals are happy to contribute to getting them done.
The improvements and heightened relations should point to the Bengals staying in Cincinnati for the long haul. Most recent stadiums seem to have a shelf-life of 35-40 years of quality, true usage (the old Riverfront Stadium was used by the Bengals from 1970-1999), depending on when the facility was opened. By that standpoint, PBS is approaching the halfway point there.
It's going to be interesting to see how appeased the Bengals will be in the coming years, in regards to the dink-and-dunk (from a macro perspective) improvements/face-lifts to an aging facility. Will the team want a new stadium in 10-15 years to rival the mega-projects in Dallas and Los Angeles? If so, will they get their wish once again?
My guess is the Bengals are here to stay in Cincinnati. The rivalries they have built within the division and the weight the Brown family name carries in the state of Ohio will make it difficult for them to migrate elsewhere.
If you want to worry about something, worry about the lack of an indoor facility attached to PBS or the team's 0-7 record in the playoffs under Lewis. The Bengals sticking around in Cincinnati shouldn't be a concern.
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