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Bengals mailbag: Organizational “changes”, its future effects and Andy Dalton’s future

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Our readers have spoken up about some of their thoughts as the Bengals prepare for the draft.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

We’re a few short weeks away from the 2018 NFL Draft and though we think we know the direction the Bengals will go with their 11 picks, they just might surprise us. After all, the odd situation with Marvin Lewis and his return was a little bit of a surprise, as was the trade for Cordy Glenn.

Given the all-important end-of-April festivities, our readers have a number of questions they want answered. If you want yours to be answered in this regular feature here at Cincy Jungle, you can hit us up on Twitter at @CJAnthonyCUI or @CincyJungle, or you can join us on The Orange and Black Insider Bengals podcast, as we answer listener questions on the air.

Let’s just get this one out of the way from our “friends” over at Niners Nation in the SB Nation network:

There are a contingent of Bengals fans who only remember the Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton eras of the team. There have been some pretty reasonable amounts of success since 2003, but there was a time before Marvin Lewis where the team saw its biggest single-season successes.

It’s weird—sometimes the NFL plays out a drama whose script rivals that of the pre-written WWE matches. I won’t go into the whole thing, but there was an incredibly interesting storyline in both of these Super Bowls centering around the Bengals, their coaches and 49ers legend, Bill Walsh.

Walsh got the better of his former employer, Paul Brown, twice, in the biggest game in the world of sports, so with that we Bengals fans give the Niners credit. These wins, among others, made them a NFL dynasty that resides in the class of Lombardi’s Packers and Belichick’s Patriots.

What I also know is that it took last-second miracles by some of the best players to have ever played the game (Joe Montana and Jerry Rice), to eke out wins in each of these Super Bowls. So, even though these rank up there with the most heartbreaking losses in Cincinnati history, I’ll take solace in the fact that the Bengals fought hard in two of the toughest, closest and iconic Super Bowls ever.

What I didn’t know was that trolls comparable to the level of Steelers fans existed. Kudos, but go pound sand. Respectfully, of course.

*****

“Aggressive” and “control” are totally relative terms. For the Bengals, the aforementioned trade for Glenn and the signing of linebacker Preston Brown as two projected starters from outside free agency is “aggressive”, by their standards. And, because of what we’ve become accustomed to in their recent March dealings, it holds that standard with fans as well.

“Aggressive” to a team like the Rams this offseason includes the adding of Ndamukong Suh, Brandin Cooks and re-signing center John Sullivan. To each their own, I suppose.

Let’s start with the question on Brown and control. A few years ago, Brown noted that he has let the triumvirate of Marvin Lewis, Katie Blackburn and Duke Tobin take more control of the direction of the franchise.

Yet, shortly after Lewis improbably re-signed with the club this January, Brown balked a little at the idea that the coach had ultimate say on personnel, etc.

“There are issues. They are countless.” Brown said back in January. “Quite often I permit him to go forward when I don’t necessarily see it the same way. Occasionally, I will say no, it’s going to be this way. It’s a mix of all that.”

I’m not totally sure what to make of this offseason. Is it the organization admitting mistakes that it hasn’t in the past and that’s why the move for Glenn was made? Did the team’s brain trust sense the restlessness from the fans and do a little more at the onset of free agency than in recent seasons?

Regardless, they’re now in draft preparation and free agency barrel-scraping mode. The former is where the team still admits as to where they primarily build their roster in the offseason.

For the second offseason in a row, the Bengals have 11 draft picks, And, for the second season in a row, we’re left wondering if they have room for that many rookies on their roster.

On the surface, a team who has finished 13-18-1 the past two seasons needs an influx of talent. But, when you look at Cincinnati’s roster, it isn’t devoid of many play-makers most teams covet.

If you’re asking me, this draft needs to be a “meat-and-potatoes” and/or quality over quantity type of draft. There simply isn’t room for 11 rookies to make this team and they learned that lesson the hard way last year.

Jake Elliott, J.J. Dielman, Brandon Wilson and Mason Schreck were all missing from the first iteration of the final roster last year, with the former three being released and Schreck landing on I.R. If the Bengals are truly in “win-now mode”, as Troy Blackburn recently noted, having 36% of their draft class not on their initial 53-man roster isn’t the ideal situation for that proclamation.

If you’re asking me, the true sign of change this offseason will be in the Bengals navigating through the draft—primarily upward. Cincinnati needs immediate impact players at a handful of positions and they can fill those spots by being flexible.

In previous years, it’s been about the best player available falling into the Bengals’ lap. It’s been an acceptable practice after the team averaged 10.4 wins per season from 2011-2015.

However, the cuteness of the strategy has worn off some. I think it’s something the Bengals can afford to do with their mid-round picks, but if there are guys they want in the first couple of rounds and they need to move up to get them and sacrifice picks, they should do it.

That’s “change”.

*****

Another offseason and another calling for the Andy Dalton guillotine. It’s not completely unwarranted, given the team’s lack of playoff success and slippage into mediocrity the past couple of years, but the front office has also let him down.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if a team commits to Dalton as their guy, they need to surround him with ample help. Be it through free agency, the draft and/or keeping guys he’s comfortable with, the Bengals didn’t do him many favors in the 2016-2017 offseasons.

To be honest, this was the offseason for the team to easily cut bait with Dalton, if that was their desire. They have a team-friendly “out” on his contract this season, the draft has a number of high-profile talents at the position and they could have made a big play to keep AJ McCarron if they really thought he was a better solution.

Those scenarios haven’t happened and/or don’t look to be happening in a few weeks.

If the Bengals remain competitive, reach the playoffs and even grab a postseason win over the next year or two, there isn’t a foreseeable way that Dalton doesn’t see out his contract (expires in 2020). It’s no coincidence that Lewis’ current contract runs out just a year before Dalton’s does.

What if there is a regression, though?

Cincinnati has openly-prioritized other extensions before another one for Dalton this offseason. I don’t want to say that this isn’t a vote of confidence in Dalton, but if he were a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, it wouldn’t even be a discussion as to whether or not it should be a priority.

You can call it “quarterback purgatory”, or being in a better situation than most franchises, and, in either case, you’re probably right. In a year where the team may continue to surprise us, they might draft an interesting quarterback in a deep class this year.

However, I think they’re going to try and reload the offensive line, rely on the second-year skill position players on offense and shore up some areas on defense as a form of stilts to prop up No. 14.

At the earliest, the Bengals will be looking at a new “franchise quarterback” after Lewis’ contract expires in the spring of 2020. Otherwise, we might be looking at 2021 when Dalton’s deal is done, or even beyond.