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Bengals Mailbag: Marvin Lewis' contract status, running back swap-outs

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Our questions in this week's mailbag contain one that has been a lingering issue since the playoff loss and another that has piqued interest with some rumors of late, which quickly were put to rest. Send us your questions to be answered in this weekly feature!

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All eyes are on the NFL Draft, which is set to take place at the end of the month, but other odd issues are bubbling to the surface with the Bengals. Some of those issues, like some Steeler hatred toward Vontaze Burfictjust won't go away, while others have also been long-lingering issues with recent news pushing it back into the spotlight. Our questions this week stem from these type of issues.

Send us your questions every week via Twitter or email to be answered in this weekly feature!

Right as I finished this week's mailbag, news broke on another one-year extension with the club for Marvin Lewis. The deal was struck on Friday, and marked the veteran coach's fourth extension with the Bengals since 2012. In the first edition of this post, I was arguing my opinion on hypotheticals, not actualities, but, this is the Bengals after all, so here we are.

We relayed a report from Jason Cole of Bleacher Report, who cited a source claiming the Bengals' front office is growing impatient with Lewis and his 0-7 playoff record with the team. Meanwhile, The Cincinnati Enquirer had their own sources stating that Cole's report was rubbish and everything was gravy with the 14-year head coach. Adding more mud to the waters was a one-eighty done by Cole from his initial report, who recently went on the NFL's XM/Siirius radio channel, saying he "fully expects the Bengals to give Marvin Lewis a contract extension". As it turns out, the Enquirer and Cole's second report were the accurate ones.

Owner Mike Brown and the rest of his front office staff really like Lewis and trust his philosophy in building a team. After all, Lewis has had three major roster re-constructions (2003, 2009, 2011) in his now-14-year tenure, and all have paid off with postseason berths and division titles. The overall competitiveness of his teams and their ability to make the playoffs every other year on average is a stark contrast to the "lost decade" of the 1990s.

In short, things with the Bengals have been pretty good, but far from great. Lewis might be this generation's Marty Schottenheimer, with the ability to take a terrible franchise and re-build it, but also showcasing the inability to win the big games.

As I prepare myself to sound like a broken record, it's not just the postseason failures that worry me. Primetime games, in general, are frequently embarrassing. Some fans believe it to be a coincidence, but I see a trend. It takes an increased amount of focus for these games, ranging from the heightened level of pressure from increased viewership, to the players re-arranging their pre-game schedule from the norm for an evening game. It's also on the coaches to come up with innovative game plans to not trot out the same stale formations and plays the opposing team has seen before.

Not all of the struggles in massively important games are Lewis' fault though. In three of the team's playoff appearances under his watch, he either didn't have his starting quarterback available (Carson Palmer getting injured on their second offensive snap of the game, Andy Dalton's thumb injury this year), or he had a rookie in Dalton who was still finding his way.

Still, the Bengals have scored a deplorable 12.8 points per game in the playoffs under Lewis, and the team seems totally unprepared for big moments. It's in that reasoning in which I don't agree with the Bengals' decision to extend Lewis once again this offseason.

I almost feel like the front office is operating out of fear when it comes to Lewis. You had better believe that Brown vividly remembers the 1990s, and doesn't want to see the Bengals go back to that--whether you're a cynic and think it's only because of an increased revenue with a competitive team, or because he really does want to win a championship in his lifetime. Or, maybe a bit of both. Still, the Brown family realizes that Lewis brought them out of the doldrums and brings a sense of stability to a team that completely lacked it from 1992-2002.

Even so, one can't operate the major facets of their business out of fear. For the past 13 years, Lewis essentially has had one job: get the team a postseason win(s). Sure, giant steps on the way to that goal like finding a suitable staff, a capable quarterback, as well as simply getting to the postseason needed to be made, but the unifying goal hasn't been reached. We've seen talented coaches like Andy Reid and Tony Dungy get fired from jobs with more postseason success than Lewis. And as much as I respect Lewis and what he has done for the Bengals, I still have to ask why it hasn't happened here.

But, we know all of this by now. Frankly, it has been discussed amongst the masses since the team's second playoff loss in 2009 to the Jets. "Is Marvin Lewis the guy to lead the Bengals to a championship?"--that is the question fans keep asking themselves, with many answering it with a "no". Obviously, the team feels differently--or do they?

One-year extensions for a coach who was entering the last year of his current deal doesn't exactly scream confidence. That's my major qualm with these extensions Lewis has been signing. Why does it have to be these temporary lease agreements? If the Bengals front office loves him, why not keep him around on a long-term deal? If they are still wondering about his ability to coach the team to a Super Bowl win, why not let 2016 play out to see if the eighth time is the charm?

I don't understand the timing, nor do I think Lewis is deserving of a little more rope after so many failures in some of the biggest games in franchise history. Would other teams accept the behavior of Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones at the end of the Wild Card game, who many believe point to the loose leash given by a "player's coach"? What message does keeping a coach around, with a deplorable postseason track record, give to the locker room? When does this weird sequence of little contracts stop?

Wouldn't you love to have a candid chat with Lewis' agent? For all we know, these short-term deals are what Lewis wants because he doesn't know how much longer he wants to coach. Maybe the Bengals want to offer him long-term deals, but he is close to retirement, thinks he can smell a championship and wants to do the Peyton Manning ride off into the sunset. One could say he's come close to that dream--others would whole-heartedly disagree.

The Bengals are telling you that they are happy, even if for the immediate future, with what Lewis has done and what they think he can do in the next two years. Do you feel the same way? I find it hard to have faith that year fourteen and a potential eighth postseason will finally be the random magic numbers for Lewis and the Bengals. We'll see.

*****

Anthony –

Great work on the site as usual. Other than Hobson, you are the only other Bengals media person that I always read. Keep it up man. My question – Do you think the Bengals can package Jeremy Hill & possible 2017 3rd round pick for a 2nd rounder this year ? I am not sure how the value would work with this scenario ?

· The 2017 3rd round pick should hopefully be a really late round selection

· I believe the Bengals should get a 3rd round compensating pick from losing Sanu & Marvin ? So, this pick should have similar value as their slated 3rd rounder.

· Possible hope that Ezekiel Elliot is available when they select in round #1. And then go with a WR & DT w/the 2nd round picks. Or pick up Henry from Alabama with one of the 2nd round picks

This way both the Bengals and Hill can move on from last year’s playoff debacle. I don’t know how understanding Cincy fans will be with Hill. They have been waiting decades for that playoff win. (unless Hill goes off next year). I understand that the Bengals generally do not make moves like this, but this could help with the "win-now" mentality without mortgaging the future.

Thanks,

Matt

First of all, Matt, thanks for reading and for the kind words. I'm so flattered when I receive such a high compliment as this. I hope to continue to meet the high standard you've set for me and my work in the time ahead.

The thing with running backs is that their trade value is usually pretty low. Teams are finding quality runners in all rounds of the draft and they usually aren't willing to give up multiple mid-to-high round picks for another back. The reluctance will also likely be there because of Jeremy Hill's struggles in 2015. If you're speaking in business terms, that's committing the cardinal sin of buying high (a second round pick in Hill in 2014), and selling low, given that I think the Bengals wouldn't be able to net what you're proposing.

One side note about the 2017 compensatory pick you mentioned: regardless of what rounds they'll be receiving those in next year, it's the first time teams will be able to trade compensatory picks per the CBA that was signed back in 2011. I'm not saying this will or won't play into a potential Bengals trade for Hill or anyone else, but it is something to keep in mind, and likely one of a handful of reasons the Bengals let six players walk in free agency this year.

Back to running backs--aside from the trade market not being there for the position and likely Hill, specifically (at least not for second and third round picks), I think the team still needs to give the embattled youngster at least one more year to right the ship. Keep in mind that the third-year back won't even be 24 years old until the middle of this season, and he realizes he has to play much better to get out of the coaches' and fans' doghouse. After things came so easy for him as a rookie, he experienced the dreaded "sophomore slump", and I'd like to think he'll work hard to get out of the funk.

One of the things that may have plagued him last year was a little bit of a big head after a stellar rookie season. I don't know that for sure, but it sure is something to point at with ease when talking about a second-year struggle. Interior blocking was inconsistent throughout 2015, and I also think Hill ran into a bit of bad luck with the fumbles, as the ball bounced in his fortune as a rookie, but not last year.

Could the bulking up of his legs at the request of Hue Jackson also have hindered his progress? His former offensive coordinator wanted him to change his 2015 offseason workout program, but it might have taken away from who Hill truly is and what he does best--be a big back who has power, but is shifty and has surprising big-play ability. Last year's workout regimen might have made him a bit more of a plodder and short-yardage guy, as evidenced by his lack of big plays last year and many of his 11 rushing touchdowns coming deep in opponents' territory.

Maybe that's just a quirky conspiracy theory of mine, though.

2015 Heisman Trophy winner, Derrick Henry, does intrigue me. A guy who is 6'3", 245 pounds and runs a 4.54 40-yard dash? That's just nuts. Granted, that straight line speed doesn't translate to cutting, elusiveness or other attributes, but he definitely has more speed than many thought. To me, Henry projects as a taller, more athletic and a likely higher NFL producer than Ron Dayne, as well as a higher-ceiling and faster version of Brandon Jacobs.

As for Elliott, everybody is raving about him and the Bengals have the luxury of being able to often take the best player available in this year's draft, but I just don't see him in the cards for the team, even if he falls. I mean, it's possible, given their taking of Tyler Eifert in 2013 with another first round tight end on the roster in Jermaine Gresham, but with wide receiver, defensive tackle, safety and even linebacker needing some depth, I don't think running back is in the cards.

Like I said, give Hill another year and re-stock the rest of the team. Maybe new offensive coordinator Ken Zampese will find a way to more utilize Hill to their strengths. Some backs are the type who get better with more carries, and I see Hill as one of them. They seemed to have a very short leash with him last year, and sometimes running the football requires extreme patience.

The key to it all though is Hill's work this offseason and his drive to have a much better season. The Buccaneers exercised patience with Doug Martin after an outstanding rookie season, two subsequent miserable years, and were then rewarded with another good one in 2015, which helped Jameis Winston and the team go a surprising 6-6, before losing their last four. Maybe Cincinnati's patience with Hill will pay off in a similar fashion in 2016.