The Bengals’ offensive line has been one of the hot topics of the NFL offseason. The group, which allowed 41 sacks in 2016, includes two starters and one backup set to hit unrestricted free agency in March and another soon-to-be restricted free agent backup.
But, in speaking with Bengals.com’ Geoff Hobson last week, Lewis said he believes the line, which struggled mightily for nearly all of 2016, is “not a concern.” And as a fan, that is particularly concerning.
“(The line is) not a concern,” Lewis said. “We know all areas of our team, particularly the offensive group, have to do a better job of protecting our quarterback and that comes from every person and every position group on the offense,” Lewis said. “(Protecting the passer) is always a priority. It’s never changed. It just doesn’t fall on the line. It falls on everybody.”
Maybe Lewis is trying to keep fans and outsiders calm, but, could he actually believe than an offensive line that featured multiple players who were benched at times during the year isn’t a concern? Could he still believe that when the two best players from that struggling line (left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Kevin Zeitler) are set to become free agents in just a few weeks? And could he believe that when the player who filled in (Eric Winston) when 2015 first round pick Cedric Ogbuehi struggled as one of the NFL’s worst right tackles, is also about to become a free agent? This all combines to be a situation that’s not concerning to Lewis?
Well, it’s certainly concerning to me.
The Bengals can’t afford to let the offensive line bring down the team again in 2017. Andy Dalton was remarkable in 2015 when the offensive line was one of the Bengals’ greatest team strengths. The only changes from 2015 to 2016 were losing Andre Smith and Clint Boling’s shoulder injury. Ogbuehi, who took over for Smith, was a major issue in every game he played in 2016 and Jake Fisher didn’t inspire much confidence when given a chance down the stretch. If Whitworth and/or Zeitler leave, who fills in? How does the line handle losing one, or (please no!) two starters? As the roster currently stands, it would be inexperienced players taking over the starting jobs, and we saw how that worked out in 2016 with Ogbuehi. There’s so much uncertainty and so many questions, that it just seems strange for Lewis to claim the Bengals’ offensive line “is not a concern”.
Sure, every position group can use improvement. And sure, the entire offense can help out when it comes to pass protection. But, that still doesn’t make the offensive line a non-issue this offseason.
Let’s hope Lewis and the Bengals’ front office realize how important Whitworth and Zeitler are, as well as how important the offensive line is as a whole to this team. This isn’t a unit to be taken lightly this offseason. Improvements must be made and impending free agents must be retained along the offensive line if the Bengals are to achieve the first playoff win during Lewis’ tenure in Cincinnati.