2016, without a doubt the Bengals’ worst season of the Dalton-Green era, is finally over. The Bengals are not in the playoffs for the first time during this era, so the focus within the organization is strictly shifting toward figuring out what exactly went wrong in 2016 so they can build upon it what went right and improve in 2017. It is hard to say what changes are coming this year, but, Marvin Lewis says we should definitely expect something.
“I feel like there's a lot of change that happens every year,” Lewis said in a press conference on Monday. “I don't know that you can put a percentage on that or whatever. But we weren't good enough this year, so we have to revise and be better.”
Part of the reason 2016 was such a disaster was the amount of turnover that took place within the organization after the 2015 season ended. Not only did the Bengals lose key players in free agency like Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Andre Smith, Emmanuel Lamur, Leon Hall, Reggie Nelson, and (briefly) Wallace Gilberry, but they lost key coaches like Hue Jackson, Vance Joseph, Jay Hayes, and Matt Burke. Expect plenty of changes this offseason, albeit more changes initiated by the Bengals.
“Well, yeah, there always becomes an urgency of things. We had a lot of changes last year for other reasons,” Lewis said. “We don't know what happens this year. Guys may get opportunity, we don't know that. So we'll have to adjust as we move.”
One change that we’re certain won’t be happening at this point is Lewis’ position as head coach. He has already refuted any claims that he was contemplating retirement after a rough season and days after the season has ended, he still remains as head coach. The way he is talking, it sounds like he is fully prepared to be part of the Bengals’ decision making process heading into next season. It seems the decision on Lewis’ future with the Bengals will be made at the end of his contract after 2017, although Lewis isn’t sweating that either.
“Mike and I have not talked since Friday about my future,” Lewis said cheekily as he’s been asked the question in every press conference for the last two weeks. “I’ve gone into the last year before and everything has worked out fine. We’ll see what happens this year, I expect it will be fine. Either way, I’m not concerned about that. My biggest concern is me taking care of the football team.”
One thing that the Bengals absolutely have to fix this offseason is the issues in the kicking game. Sure, the 2015 offseason rule changes that pushed the extra point back threw off the kicking chemistry for more teams than just the Bengals. But, the Bengals’ issues were so pronounced that it prompted long time kicker Mike Nugent’s release. Unfortunately, kicking problems persisted even after the Bengals made a change at the position.
Things did improve in the kicking game to an extent. Replacement kicker Randy Bullock made all but one of his chances, but the one everyone remembers is the game losing missed field goal against the Houston Texans. So there are still some clear issues to iron out and the Bengals don’t have a kicker under contract for 2017.
“I think we are up in the air right now,” Lewis said. ”That’s what I told Randy. I know where we are. I know Randy has ability and talent, but yes, we will have a competition. We cannot go through what we went through this year.”
During the press conference, the possibility of Mike Nugent being part of that kicking competition was brought up. But, rest assured, Lewis seemed rather confident he would not be part of the competition, much less back next year.
Without a doubt, the Bengals will be looking forward to the 2017 NFL Draft, where they will enjoy the luxury of the No. 9 overall pick. It is the first time since 2011 that they will be looking at top 10 talent in the draft. The Bengals would have preferred to see a winning record to wrap up 2016, but the high draft status is a nice condolence. The Bengals have been impressive with finding talent in the draft in recent years, so they will absolutely be counting on this to help bring things along.
“I think obviously it’s important to the organization. I have no idea yet about the players or anything. I do think we should end up with some compensatory picks, which would aid what our other picks are, and that would be helpful,” Lewis said. “It will be an influx of new talent again and that’s going to be important to us that we do a great job in this draft of evaluation and so forth and get guys that fit the mentality that we want and we need.”
The Bengals’ results in 2016 weren’t good enough. So, changes absolutely have to happen this offseason so the Bengals can get back to playoff football in 2017. Lewis and the Bengals know this so, despite their general aversion to making big changes, there is plenty of motivation to make those changes this offseason.
“We need to have a big jump” Lewis said. “I think that’s important. From us as a standpoint as a staff, I take the responsibility that we have to do it better.”
But what drives Lewis to do better? Why does he still want to be the Bengals’ head coach and enter his 15th season as the Bengals’ head coach in 2017? Why should you have faith that Lewis can actually lead the Bengals to the Super Bowl, or even get his first playoff win in Cincinnati?
“At 4:50 this morning, it’s like, ‘What are you doing?’ But it just drives you to be better. I mean, it’s a competitive thing. Now we’re in the competitive thing to be better, and we’re getting a head start on 12 teams,” Lewis said. “Twelve of the 32 are still playing, and we’re with the other 20, and we’re all trying to get to the end next year. That’s what we have to do. And it’s important.”