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Bengals’ aging defense shines light on need for overhaul

The Bengals’ defense ranked as the second oldest in the NFL last season. That can’t continue to be the case if the Bengals want to get back to their winning ways in 2017.

Cincinnati Bengals v Tennessee Titans Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

How much rebuilding do the Bengals need to do this offseason in hopes for a bounce-back year in 2017?

There are quite a few holes on the team, which only become bigger when you consider the players who are set to hit free agency in Cincinnati this March.

There are many questions to answer that will also dictate the future of the team. Will Jake Fisher be starting at right tackle in 2017? Who will be starting a left tackle? Will the Bengals re-sign Andrew Whitworth? How about Kevin Zeitler? The team could use an enforcer at linebacker to pair with Vontaze Burfict next season, who will that be? Somebody currently on the roster? And clearly, Cincinnati needs to step up the defensive line performance after a below average year from the unit in 2016; how will that be handled? Will Dre Kirkpatrick be re-signed and will Adam Jones be cut? Will the Bengals actually make a deep dive in free agency and sign a player who commands a big price tag?

The answer to that last question is ‘probably not’, but just how many changes do the Bengals, who were 12-4 just one season ago, need to make to get back into the playoff discussion in 2017 and actually make a deep postseason run?

ESPN ranked the need for a re-build for each of the 24 NFL teams currently sitting at home and out of the playoff race. In their ranking, the Jets, 49ers and Browns predictably lead off the list. And, the Bengals rank right in the middle at No. 12.

12. Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals began a bit of a roster overhaul last offseason, when receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu left in free agency. They could part this offseason with veterans on offense such as tackles Andrew Whitworth and Eric Winston. A youth movement on defense is what the Bengals need most. Cincinnati had the NFL's second-oldest starting defense in 2016.

It’s possible the Bengals part with one of Zeitler or Whitworth, but I don’t see them missing out on re-signing both. Assuming one of the two of them is back in 2016, that’s one less question that needs answering. The Bengals’ defense wasn’t the same in 2016 as it was in 2015 and much of that can be attributed to the aging unit referenced by ESPN. Domata Peko, Michael Johnson, Rey Maualuga, Karlos Dansby and Adam Jones are all on the wrong end of their careers. Across the board, the play of each of those Bengals defensive players declined in 2016. This is so much the case that there’s a good chance Peko, Maualuga and Dansby aren’t back in Cincinnati next season. And if Jones proves guilty following his recent arrest, he could be sent packing, too.

So the need is definitely there to re-build parts of this team during the offseason and with 10 or 11 draft picks expected due to compensatory picks, the Bengals should be able to answer quite a few questions and fill considerable holes in the draft, starting with the No. 9 overall pick.

Do you believe the Bengals are in need of a roster overhaul following a disappointing 6-9-1 season?