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Reflecting on the Bengals’ 2016 offseason and what went wrong

2016 was most definitely not the Bengals’ year and when you look back, the signs were all there.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals seemed to have a solid offseason in 2016.

They didn’t bring in any splashy free agents, but they did sign two well-known players to help out positions in need. Brandon LaFell and Karlos Dansby both played prominent roles with the Bengals this year and their signings were good ones. Even though Dansby had some bad games and terrible missed tackles, he filled a hole and he served a purpose on the team. LaFell turned out to be the better signing of the two and he had a solid season as the Bengals’ No. 2 wide receiver. The issue of drops that plagued him in 2015 with the Patriots was never an issue in 2016. In fact, per Sporting Charts, he had just one drop all season, making for a 0.9% drop rate. Interestingly, A.J. Green had four drops and a 4.0% drop rate. You really couldn’t ask for a better season from LaFell.

But, when it came to the draft, what at one point seemed like a great class, became one that was doomed by injuries before the season began. That’s not completely fair to say as the rookies who stayed healthy actually showed a lot more than many of the Bengals’ previous rookie classes under Marvin Lewis. Among the draft class, Tyler Boyd, Nick Vigil and Cody Core all had impressive moments during their rookie seasons and undrafted free agent Alex Erickson also had a great year as the Bengals’ primary kick/punt returner. Unfortunately, we’ll need to wait until 2017 to get a look at William Jackson III and Andrew Billings. And for that matter Christian Westerman who didn’t play one snap all year. There’s also Marcus Hardison, who was drafted in 2015 but hasn’t played a snap yet due to back-to-back preseason injuries that landed him on Injured Reserve for both of the last two years.

Before the season began, ESPN graded every NFL team’s offseason and gave the Bengals a B. And now that the season is over, they’ve revisited those grades and re-graded the Bengals with a C for their 2016 offseason work.

Cincinnati Bengals

Re-grade: C | Original grade: B

The Bengals were one of the NFL's most disappointing teams in 2016. They arguably should have done more to add speed at wide receiver and teeth to their pass rush, but overall, the moves they made in the offseason do not deserve as much blame as offseason circumstances largely beyond their control. That is why the re-grade isn't especially harsh.

The ankle injury Tyler Eifert suffered at the 2016 Pro Bowl lingered longer than anticipated, hurting the offense. First-round choice William Jackson III should have provided needed youth on defense, but the cornerback never played after suffering a torn pectoral before the season. The week Jackson became eligible for activation from injured reserve coincided with Giovani Bernard's torn ACL, which led Cincy to activate running back Cedric Peerman over Jackson.

Finally, while the Bengals' decision to go with Cedric Ogbuehi at right tackle backfired, paying to keep 2015 starter Andre Smith would not have been a great move either.

Here’s a few snippets of what ESPN had to say when handing over that B grade back in May:

Tyler Eifert could absorb perhaps 30 of the targets that would have gone to Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu had those wide receivers not left in free agency. Second-round choice Tyler Boyd and free-agent addition Brandon LaFell could also fill some of the void, but Yates thought funneling additional passes toward Eifert would be the smartest way to go.

"Boyd will be a really good receiver for them and make up what they lost from Sanu, in my opinion," Dominik said. "He will quickly move up the depth chart and take over the starting spot."

Riddick called Boyd one of the "least talked about, most productive and versatile players in the draft" and someone who would fit right into the offense.

"You give Cincy credit from a team-building perspective," Riddick said. "They drafted my favorite corner in the draft, William Jackson. His ball production is off the charts. They drafted replacements for Sanu. They have replacements for Andre Smith. All they need to do is win a playoff game to get everyone off their backs. You just cannot argue with anything they do personnel-wise."

As Mike Sando, who did the re-grade, says, offseason circumstances largely beyond the Bengals’ control hurt them in 2016. From losing coaches, to Eifert’s Pro Bowl injury, to Jackson’s training camp injury, things just didn’t go the Bengals’ way in 2016. This is especially true with Eifert as the Bengals needed him to step up due to the losses of Jones and Sanu, but instead, he spent half the season injured. And while Ogbuehi was terrible this season, Smith wasn’t someone the Bengals wanted to keep around and he ended up on the Vikings’ IR list shortly after the start of the season. Sometimes you take a gamble and lose in the NFL, that seems to have been the case with starting Ogbuehi this season.

Looking back, knowing what we know now, how would you grade the Bengals’ 2016 offseason?