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Bengals mailbag: There’s always next year!

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Was the team expecting 2018 to be a struggle in an effort to have 2019 be the crowning achievement? What does Justin Herbert staying in college do for the Bengals’ draft plans? Leave it to the Orange and Black Insiders to find the truth.

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We’re down to just one final game in this disappointing 2018 season for the Cincinnati Bengals and it seems like 2019 could be more of the same—at least with there being a similar cast of characters.

Even if familiar faces return, can the team buck trends to break the poor three-year cycle we’ve seen from 2016-2018? That’s where Bengals fans’ head space is at right now. Here are a couple of questions we received this week on our variety of platforms.

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We received an interesting email this week, asking about the plan surrounding Lewis’ two-year contract he signed in January of 2018. Essentially the question asked was if it was internally-known that this season was going to be a bit of a struggle because of a rebuilding project, and if 2019 was always planned as the culmination of Lewis’ 16 previous years of work.

The reasoning? Here are some of the points laid out by John, the emailer:

1. Marvin gets a two year deal rather than a one year deal. I know the Bengals have an out after one year, but why bother with a second year if this was a “prove it” deal. Especially since (If I remember correctly) he got one year deals in past.

2. They cut veterans (Iloka, LaFell, Jones) and played rookies (Bates, Price) that in the past they would deem not ready.

3. They made trades and free agent signings in the offseason for players that will be with them beyond this year, but at the same time they refused to make trades for short term help in midseason even when the playoffs were a realistic goal.

First of all, no team openly admits that they are rebuilding in that year and that they expect to have a tough immediate future, and the Bengals are no different. John isn’t implying that, by any stretch, but I’m throwing that out there as a general disclaimer before we go any further.

While there is reason to question the moves (or non-moves, depending on the case) this offseason, there are conflicting ideas here. In fairness to John, he did note that at least some of the theory came from a fellow fan with the interjection of his own curiosities.

Starting with point No. 1, the logic in pointing to 2019 being “the year” is obvious. In speaking with Mike Brown about a new contract, Lewis likely laid out a two-year plan in which they both thought a championship could be possible.

Get some new assistants, reload the offense for Andy Dalton and make some minor roster tweaks. He probably would have noted that the team, while younger (see point No. 2) might see some early struggles and improve towards the end of this season. And, thus, they’d really hit their stride when 2019 rolled around.

But, where things go haywire, in terms of finding logic, is in point No. 3. Yes, they swung a trade for Cordy Glenn who will be their left tackle for the foreseeable future, but other free agent acquisitions reek of the classic Cincinnati rental system.

Preston Brown was signed to a one-year deal and after only playing in seven games this year, it’s hard to predict whether the Bengals will want him back long-term. Chris Baker and Matt Barkley were two other outside additions that didn’t even make it to the final roster, while Bobby Hart looks like another one-year stopgap. There was also the “prove it” deal to Tyler Eifert, which was one year, as his season ended after just three and a half games.

If the Bengals were truly planning for 2019 and beyond this past offseason, wouldn’t some of the outside free agent acquisitions be longer-term? This, of course, would require the team to be aggressive in the March foray, which they haven’t been in quite some time.

Furthermore, one would have thought that the team would have looked at quarterback this past offseason, should 2019 be viewed as the year for a championship. That’s no slight on Andy Dalton, per se, but usually a rebuilding project also ushers in a new signal-caller with high upside. This is especially the case since Dalton had seven seasons without a postseason win before the 2018 season.

And, wouldn’t you know it? This past draft class was chock full of talented quarterbacks—five first-rounders to be exact. That would have been a great opportunity to give Dalton one last shot in 2018 and/or give a young guy a little needed in-game experience to build upon for the 2019 season.

Nope.

Instead, the plan was to re-supply Dalton with weapons (Eifert, Glenn and Billy Price) in an attempt to prop that 2011-2015 window back open for a couple of more seasons. Short-term band-aids were the remedies that they came up with when the ink was drying on Lewis’ contract.

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Speaking of quarterbacks, another question we received on this week’s Orange and Black Insider podcast was about the possibility of the Bengals drafting Dalton’s heir this upcoming spring. What the query centered around is the fact that one of the top prospects in Justin Herbert of Oregon, recently opted to return to the University of Oregon for his senior year.

This essentially means that Dwayne Haskins, Drew Lock and Will Grier will headline a weak class in a few months. Might one of those names be tempting enough for the Bengals to pounce?

Wouldn’t it be so very Bengals-like to potentially grab a quarterback in a draft a year later than they should?

At any rate, if they do grab a quarterback, this potentially means the Bengals may not be true competitors for a championship until 2020 or later. This is based upon the career trajectories of Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff and others in recent years.

Of course, Dalton and Co. will have something to say about that. A.J. Green will be back from his toe surgery, Tyler Boyd is coming off of a 1,000-yard season, while John Ross has seven touchdowns in his second season. Throw in another budding star in Joe Mixon and there are pieces to build around this offseason.

And, that’s what Lewis and the Bengals will probably point to—especially when they opt to go with other positions in April. With Lewis in the last year of another contract, as well as Dalton getting longer in the tooth and coming back from injury, they’ll try and give it one more shot with who they have before a potential overhaul in the following seasons.

So, no, I don’t think that Herbert staying in college alters the Bengals’ plans in the coming months. But, might he be a guy they covet in 2020?

At 6’6”, Herbert has the prototypical size for the position, while also putting up some nice numbers this past season. In 12 games, he threw for 2,985 yards, 28 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He has also shown the ability to use his legs, running for nine touchdowns in three seasons with the Ducks.

However, there are two things to watch for in 2019 that were concerns this past season. One is that shoulder injury he suffered, but the other is in the area of completion percentage.

It’s said that one indicator of potential pro success from a college quarterback is in their ability to complete over 60% of their throws throughout their career. In 2017, Herbert had a 67.5% completion rate, which was better than his 2016 number of 63.5%. But, he threw for only 59.6% this year, as Oregon stumbled to an 8-4 record.

Even so, if he resembles the numbers from his first three seasons with the Ducks, Herbert should be looked at as a No. 1 overall-type of prospect in 2020. And, going back to hone his craft another year should help his draft stock to propel him to a potentially solid NFL future.

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We also talked a bit about Baker Mayfield’s villain status with the club after his second display of gloating towards Hue Jackson in as many games against the Bengals. He’s 2-0 in “The Battle of Ohio”, so he has room to talk, even if Bengals fans don’t like it.

You can submit yours to us on Twitter (@CJAnthonyCUI, @CincyJungle), or by tuning in to the live recordings of our OBI podcast on YouTube. We have a call/text line for the show in which we answer questions on air, as well.

If you’re unable to join us live for here at Cincy Jungle or YouTube every episode, all Orange and Black Insider content is available here on CJ, as well as on our SoundCloud, Stitcher, through the Google Play Music app and YouTube channels,ART19 as well as on iTunes! You can tweet us @BengalsOBI or get in touch with us via email at theobinsider@gmail.com. Thanks for listening and go subscribe to our channels!