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Bengals Mailbag: Quarterback contingencies and offseason plans

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Our readers and listeners gave us a number of interesting questions lately and we answer them in the latest mailbag feature!

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We’re heading into Super Bowl week and then it’s full speed ahead to the next NFL calendar year. Free agency is on the horizon in just over a month, while all teams not suiting up for Super Bowl LII are fixated on the many bowl games set up for college prospects.

To start 2018, the Cincinnati Bengals have given us a high dosage of the same type of operating practices, mixed in with some changes. Might that signal some new sights for the coming months and how they construct the roster?

We answer a couple other recent questions from some of our Cincy Jungle readers and Orange and Black Insider podcast listeners.

What’s the plan if AJ McCarron leaves this offseason?

Obviously, those who are not in the Andy Dalton camp will be frothing at the mouth with the plethora of first round talents at quarterback in this year’s draft. Even so, with Marvin Lewis and Mike Brown still calling the shots in 2018, it appears to still be Dalton’s show with McCarron sitting on the roster as a capable backup.

Muddying those waters is McCarron’s contract status this offseason. He’s set to be a free agent of some kind, and he is currently awaiting a decision on his arbitration to decide whether he will remain a restricted free agent, or if he will be able to be available on the open market.

If he wins his arbitration and becomes an unrestricted free agent, you can bet that the Bengals will be out of the sweepstakes for his services. There will be teams who will be looking to sign him as a possible starter, which doesn’t seem to be in the plans for Cincinnati.

So, if he jets elsewhere, what’s the plan? The team still has Jeff Driskel and they seem to like him, but there are major developmental steps he needs to take if he is ever to be relied on to start games for the Bengals.

In free agency, there are other veteran options, but some are either way too unrealistic, are guys looking to get a starting shot somewhere, or happen to be players who have never amounted to much in the NFL.

Unless you really want to see someone like Ryan Mallett, Chad Henne, Drew Stanton or Mark Sanchez in stripes, the pickings are slim. Or, if you’re more inclined to want a recycled Cincinnati product, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Johnson might be floating out there.

No thanks.

The rumors floating through the grapevine and common sense tells us that the Bengals won’t be looking at Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen or Lamar Jackson at No. 12 overall. There are differing opinions on that stance, but Cincinnati appears to remain committed to Andy Dalton.

However, they could look to the middle rounds for an able backup to develop and lean on in an emergency going forward. The next tier of quarterbacks in this year’s draft brings a combination of excitement, productivity and noticeable shortcomings.

Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, Washington State’s Luke Falk and Memphis’ Riley Ferguson have all had productive NCAA careers with a lot of wins under their respective belts. But, issues ranging from size, durability and favorable systems are puzzling scouts.

Personally speaking, I really like Falk and Rudolph from this group. At WSU, Falk had three straight awesome statistical seasons, throwing for 106 touchdowns against 32 interceptions and an average of 4,207 yards per year from 2015-2017. He also had a career completion percentage of 68.3 and a career passer rating of 142.8.

The Cougars were a dismal football team in the pre-Falk years, but won 27 games in the three seasons he was a full-time starter, including a win over Miami in the 2015 Sun Bowl. Not bad for a guy playing in a pretty competitive Pac-12 conference.

Rudolph has almost everything an NFL team looks for in a quarterback. He’s big at 6’5”, has a strong arm and has the statistical production that would fit into Bill Parcells’ quarterback scouting formula nicely.

In his three years as a full-time starter, Rudolph never had a completion percentage below 62.3, always sniffed 4,000 yards passing and never hit double-digit numbers in the interception column. He also commandeered 10 wins in each of those three seasons, including two bowl wins.

His knocks? Playing out of the shotgun formation often and the question of the scheme and surrounding talent being the reasons for his success. Still, I like what I’ve seen from him on past Saturdays.

Sure, there are other late-round options as well, but I think this second tier of guys should be where the Bengals look if McCarron leaves free agency. Though he’s been pretty durable in his NFL career, the Bengals do need another quarterback who can come in and win games if Dalton goes down for a period of time. We saw it a bit with McCarron and I think these mid-round guys can provide that as well.

Examining the Bengals’ plan of attack for the 2018 offseason:

If you look at the four teams who played on Conference Championship weekend, you’d have noted that they are franchises who made significant moves in the offseason to improve their respective football teams. It’s no coincidence that we saw many of those players contribute in various capacities through each team’s run through the postseason.

Even though the Bengals re-signed Marvin Lewis and retained a good portion of their coaching staff, there have been some rumblings of forthcoming change this offseason. Even though they were just words from the powers-that-be and even rumor extensions of those quotes, it was a bit of fresh air.

We are just peering over the hedges, but even the most casual Bengals fan can see that the modus operandi from this franchise isn’t cutting it—especially in the past two offseasons. This team needs to seek out quality starting-type of players in outside free agency, while retaining their important internal guys, all while avoiding salary cap hell.

It sounds like a tall order, but it can be done.

As it stands, the team has needs along the offensive line, as well as at linebacker, defensive tackle and possibly tight end. Cincinnati looks to have about 11 picks again this spring and while they like to use that route to plug roster holes, there are a couple of hypocrisies that exist in that strategy.

First of all, last season, the Bengals ended up cutting three players from their coveted 2017 group of 11 picks (Jake Elliott, J.J Dielman and Brandon Wilson) by final cut down day, showing that quantity over quality isn’t always the way to go in April. Secondly, Lewis and Co. have a penchant for letting talented youngsters’ first couple of seasons rot away as they ride the pine.

Yet, even with that mindset, you won’t be aggressive in getting capable, tried-and-true veteran free agents? Okay, then.

Over the past week or so, some interesting and deflating remarks have been publicly made by owner Mike Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis. In candid interviews with both Bengals.com and The Cincinnati Enquirer, Brown sure didn’t give off the vibe that big changes were coming this spring.

Now, Lewis publicly declared that the team is anxious to re-sign one of their lowest-graded players by Pro Football Focus’ standards in Russell Bodine. The center position has largely been a mess since Rich Braham retired, and in a year where almost no position shouldn’t be scrutinized for improvement, the team is openly clamoring for this guy to return:

BodineSurrendersPressure

We all have a pretty solid idea of what the offseason plan should be after two straight losing seasons. Yet, this team, its owner and its coach are so stuck in their ways, that it appears as if we will be looking at more of the same this spring.

There could be a surprise with a high selection of a quarterback and/or these recent quotes could be nothing more than smokescreens, but for those who have been around these part long enough, it feels like watching a stale rerun.

If you’re unable to join us live, all Orange and Black Insider content is here on Cincy Jungle, as well as on our SoundCloud and YouTube channels, and on iTunes! You can tweet us @BengalsOBI or get in touch with us via email at theobinsider@gmail.com. Thanks for listening!