Marvin Lewis and Paul Guenther are facing a tough offseason full of questions and uncertainty on the defensive side of the ball.
Many of the Bengals' top defenders are set to hit free agency, including six players who started games last year and have been regular contributors for several years. Reggie Nelson, George Iloka, Adam Jones, Leon Hall, Vincent Rey and Emmanuel Lamur are among the host of key guys set to test the market when free agency opens next week.
While a dramatic change for the Bengals could be coming, Lewis isn't viewing it as a negative.
"It’s a good thing," Lewis said, via the Dayton Daily News. "We’re going to start fresh again. There’s no doubt about it. We’re going to start fresh, and I feel good about that. That’s what we need to do."
As to why Lewis said that, he thinks having so many free agents and the potential for change could keep the team and franchise as a whole from becoming complacent, especially after the Bengals came up short of their goal.
"There needs to be no complacency of anything," Lewis said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. "We’ve got to start fresh. We weren’t good enough. We didn’t get to be the last team standing. We’ve got to drive, and drive harder, and find better ways to do our job in every way, and that’s coaches and players alike throughout this thing. And when we get started in April, we’ll spend a lot of time about that. It’s not going to be about X’s and O’s. It’s about all the other things that contribute to winning and losing throughout."
It's rare you see an NFL team make five straight playoffs, not to mention going all five without a postseason win. All of that failure can be deflating, but Lewis' drive to win and hate of losing has helped prevent any major steps back during that span.
"Anytime you go out there, there’s an opportunity to fail," he said. "You just have to detest losing, hate losing, and that’s part of it. That’s what drives you. It’s not the winning part of it. It’s the losing part of it."
As for the thought of retiring this offseason, it was something owner Mike Brown brought up after Lewis completed his 13th season with the Bengals. However, it wasn't something Lewis even considered.
"That’s literally the first thing we talked about," Lewis said, "There was no doubt. That’s the first thing he always asks me, but no."
No one would have blamed Lewis for thinking about retirement after the heart-breaking way the Bengals watched their season end. Jeremy Hill's late fumble was symbolic in how Cincinnati let a win slip through their hands, but Lewis doesn't think that costly fumble will affect the young running back.
"Hill’s a young guy, and he’s going to have thousands of opportunities," Lewis said. "He might have another 300-400 opportunities to carry the football — whatever a running back ends up with at the end of the year — so Jeremy will be fine.
"I don’t want to keep getting into Jeremy," Lewis continued. "One play doesn’t win or lose the football game for us. I would tell our coaches to quit talking about Jeremy. All of them. They just need to shut up and we need to get ready for this football season and do what we need to do. That’s our own jobs, everybody."
As for the rest of the offseason, Lewis thinks this Bengals team has enough firepower and continuity to keep building toward a championship-caliber team.
"We’ve got to drive, and drive harder, and find better ways and find the better way to do our job in every way, and that’s coaches and players alike throughout this thing," Lewis said. "And when we get started in April, we’ll spend a lot of time about that. It’s not going to be about X’s and O’s. It’s about all the other things that contribute to winning and losing."
"We’ve got a group of guys who have grown up together. It seems like every year we’ve got 12 to 16, 17, new guys that make up the roster and we’ll probably have that again this year. That’s a good thing. We’ve got to keep churning it over and keep getting better, keep it competitive throughout."
As tough as the end to the season was, the Bengals made the right call keeping Lewis as coach and hopefully, the team also keeps its big free agents who've been key to Cincy's success by Lewis' side.