The Bengals are in dire straits. The team has struggled over the past few seasons and this season has been the worst yet. Any hope that Zac Taylor could plug the Bengals’ offensive personnel into a Rams-esque system and ride quarterback Andy Dalton back into the playoffs has faded.
It’s official. This is a rebuild.
But what does that mean and more importantly how long is it going to take?
Let’s take a look at a couple of other teams that have turned things around recently and see what the Bengals are in for.
The Los Angeles Rams
In the middle of the their 4-12 2016 season, the Rams fired head coach Jeff Fisher. That year, they selected quarterback Jared Goff with the first overall pick, and he went 0-7 as a starter that year.
The franchises’ answer to Fisher’s persistent mediocrity was Sean McVay, who was hired as his replacement in the ensuing offseason. McVay brought veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips with him, but that isn’t all they did.
While Goff and running back Todd Gurley were already there, the Rams made some big personnel moves. As Bengals fans are well aware, they signed Andrew Whitworth to shore up the offensive line. They also signed wide receiver Robert Woods and drafted Cooper Kupp in the third round of the NFL Draft. A year later, they traded for Brandin Cooks and the power trio was complete.
That same year, they moved aggressively to improve the defense trading for both Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. This year, they sent Peters to Baltimore, but upgraded the position by trading for Jacksonville’s Jalen Ramsey.
The Rams improved their record by seven games and won the NFC West in McVay’s first season. In his second season they went 13-3 and won the NFC Championship Game. In terms of quick turnarounds, this is the golden standard; and a competent head coach and quarterback marriage coupled by aggressive team-building made it possible.
The Oakland Raiders
Jack Del Rio led the Raiders to a 12-4 record and a playoff appearance in 2016, but a year later, he was dismissed after cutting his win total in half.
That’s when the Raiders, to the chagrin of Gruden’s QB Camp fans, pulled Jon Gruden out of the Monday Night Football booth and signed him to a 10-year $100 million contract.
He did not have the instant success that McVay did. Under his command, the Raiders won only four games in 2018. They also dealt some of the team’s top players, sending Khalil Mack to the Bears and Amari Cooper to the Cowboys. These seemed like questionable moves at the time, but the Raiders used them to collect draft capital, selecting running back Josh Jacobs among others.
Gruden looked crazy a year ago, but nine games into Gruden’s second season, his Raiders have already won as many games as they did in his first season.
The Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals went to the playoffs in five straight seasons from 2011-2015. Then in 2016 they lost two-thirds of their starting receiving corps and in 2017 they lost the better 40% of their starting offensive line. After winning six or seven games in each of the next three seasons, they moved on from head coach Marvin Lewis.
This led the team to Zac Taylor, who nine games into his first season as head coach is still looking for his first win.
After this dismal start, many were disappointed that the Bengals did not make any moves at the trade deadline, and their criticisms are valid. There are a handful of players who it would have made sense for them to move on from. Players like A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert who are in the last year of their contracts and Dalton, who the team benched hours before the deadline come to mind. But some people want them to trade anybody and everybody. The argument is that these players won’t be here at the end of the rebuild anyway.
That kind of thinking makes no sense to me. If they aren’t on their last leg and if their contact isn’t up, why shouldn’t they be there?
Take defensive tackle Geno Atkins for example. Atkins is an elite player. You think the Bengals defense is bad now? Imagine how bad they would be without him. Atkins is a stud 3-technique, which is one of the hardest positions to fill in a defense. He is the only interior pass rusher that the Bengals have had for years and the driving force behind any success they have had stopping the run this year.
He is only 31 and still playing at a high level. This team may or may not be competitive when he is 32, 33, and 34, but it is crazy to think that they can’t be. If they moved on from Atkins, they would just be creating another hole on a roster that is becoming reminiscent of Swiss cheese.
The Rams and the Raiders were bad football teams when their respective coaching changes took place. I concede that the 2018 Bengals were different than the 2017 Raiders and the 2016 Rams. There is no need to get bogged down in the minutiae of how their rosters compare. That is not the point.
The point is that it doesn’t have to be a long process. With some good leadership and good moves a team can become competitive relatively fast.
It takes a lot to make this happen.
One thing that it does not require is a savior quarterback. Don’t get me wrong, drafting the next Tom Brady would be helpful, but it is not requisite. The Rams and Raiders after all are doing it with the same quarterbacks who had led their respective teams to a losing season a year prior.
So what does it take?
The front office has to make accurate evaluations and be willing to act aggressively. Coaches need to not only develop players, but also develop a culture built on a high standard of performance.
These things are not easy, but it should not simply be accepted that this process is going to take years. Just do it right.