Giving up on a Day 2 draft pick after only one year is not something that the Cincinnati Bengals do often, and certainly not something they want to make a habit of. But, if and when they do it, you know there's a reason.
On Sunday, the Bengals shocked many around the NFL when they waived second year linebacker P.J. Dawson, the 99th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft out of TCU. Since he was drafted, there have been rumors swirling that Dawson possesses such poor work ethic that it effects his relationship with the coaching staff. Some fans at the preseason finale even claim Dawson had a physical altercation with a teammate on the sidelines, which was not shown on TV. Further rumors exist suggesting Dawson was late to team meetings, but of course, all of these are just rumors. Based on the limited information we currently have regarding the situation, people are trying to dig up an explanation for why the Bengals decided to part ways with their 2015 third round draft pick.
Up until yesterday, the battle for the final spot in the linebacker corps was thought to be between Marquis Flowers and Trevor Roach. A third year, former sixth round draft pick in Flowers who has only ever started one game in his professional career, and spent all of last year on Injured Reserve, and a second year undrafted player with no starting experience to speak of in Roach, weren’t supposed to have a chance to beat out a highly touted second year player who was once considered to have first-round talent.
Dawson had a few impressive plays in his rookie preseason, and even managed to contribute three tackles and a pass deflection as a rookie, despite the Bengals rarely giving rookies much of a chance to contribute. He looked to be performing well enough this offseason that his roster spot wasn’t in jeopardy, given his perceived level of potential.
However, it’s also worth remembering that Dawson was massively outperformed by both Flowers and Roach this preseason. He also was a healthy scratch for Week 3 of the preseason, which there’s surely a reason for. During the course of the preseason, Dawson recorded 10 tackles. He didn’t record any other stats, and regularly made critical mistakes that led to the edge not being set, allowing botched plays like this one against the Vikings.
Flowers alone recorded 15 tackles over the course of the preseason. One of those tackles was for a one yard loss against the Lions, a fantastic heads up tackle that set the Lions up in a passing situation that led to an interception.
Roach, on the other hand, recorded 13 tackles in the preseason. But, that number could have been higher, as he didn’t get to play against the Vikings and Lions due to a hamstring injury. He took some time to adjust in his first preseason game against the Jaguars, recording two tackles. But, he absolutely exploded in the final preseason game against the Colts, leading the team with 11 tackles, more than double the tackles of anyone else on the team. It’s no wonder the Bengals coaching staff decided to keep him around with a final impression like that lingering in their minds. You may remember, Roach was also active for the Wild Card loss back in January, a game he was promoted off the practice squad for after injuries hit in the regular season finale.
When you get right down to it, the simple fact of the matter is that Dawson was the least deserving member in the linebacker corps of a roster spot. As I said before, the Bengals don’t want to make a habit of giving up on former Day 2 draft pick so quickly going forward. But, they also don’t want to give off the impression that players can make the team purely based on draft status or dormant potential.
This offseason, it seems the Bengals coaching staff was somewhat frustrated with Dawson, but ready to see him step up.
“Paul Dawson wasn’t ready to go in there yet from an overall perspective,” Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said back in February. “Not just football, but the whole picture. When he comes back in April he has to be a different guy. And say, hey, I’m ready to compete for a starting linebacker job.”
It seems the Bengals didn’t think Dawson was that different guy this preseason.
If the reports of Dawson’s frustratingly low work ethic are true, it was probably a good idea that the Bengals went ahead and let him go so that hard working guys like Flowers and Roach could get the chance they have proven they deserve. If not, the decision becomes a bit harder to understand, although the fact that he was outperformed so significantly by fringe third string players means he probably wasn’t on track to becoming the great starting linebacker many of us thought he could one day be.