Let’s just get one thing straight: Zac Taylor is going to coach the Cincinnati Bengals in 2020. This is as much of a guarantee as anybody can make in the NFL. It’s about 99.999999999% going to happen and if you want to round that up, it would be a more accurate representation of the true odds.
Yet, despite it being an inevitability, it may not be a move that’s unanimously supported.
The most visible stain on Taylor’s short résumé is his current record of 1-14. The reality that comes with possessing the first-overall pick in the NFL Draft is the fact that your team is the worst in the league. Crucial injuries and an 0-8 record in close games suggest that this team may not actually be the worst, but they’re in shoddy company nonetheless.
This was the risk in moving on from Marvin Lewis, who managed to keep this franchise out of the basement while simultaneously keeping it from the penthouse, and it’s the bruise they now have to deal with it. Taylor deserves to run it back in 2020 if for nothing else to ensure that canning Lewis after 16 years was not done without some kind of plan in mind. There are a few other reasons why as well.
The Bengals have not shown any signs of quitting
It was truly jaw dropping to witness the first 10 minutes of the Bengals’ Week 16 matchup against the Dolphins. For the first time all season, it appeared as if Taylor’s team had finally quit. There was no reason why the Dolphins should’ve ever scored 35 points in regulation while holding the Bengals to just 12 for three-and-a-half quarters. It was a new level of abysmal. All of the sudden a flip was switched, and what ensued was perhaps the most miraculous comeback in the history of the NFL.
A win didn’t come out of it, but it has become the prime example of how much drive this team has played with despite the constant losing.
Eight of Cincinnati’s 14 losses have been one-score games. Only the Los Angeles Chargers have more losses (nine), but the Bengals have been involved in the fourth-most close games and are the lone team without a win. The numbers tell us that a team this unlucky will rebound in such scenarios the following year, but you can make a case for Taylor whilst ignoring the history too.
The Bengals have played their hearts out this year and have next to nothing to show for it, considering they’ve played the toughest schedule in the league, it’s worth crediting Taylor that most of his defeats have come by eight points or less. He’s gotten his team to play hard and to not give up. The Bills, Cardinals, Raiders, Steelers, Browns, Patriots and most definitely the Dolphins can attest to this.
We can’t know for sure if Taylor has lost or kept the locker room throughout this long year, but seeing a team clearly fight tooth and nail every single week is a good enough case that this roster still believes in his message. That deserves some level of commitment from the top.
A deserved chance to establish stability
Not only would it be wildly uncharacteristic for a franchise to fire a head coach one year after firing their head coach of 16 years, it would be the definition of brash. This isn’t to say that every head coach should automatically be given two years, but for Taylor’s case, his firing would further damage the reputation of Cincinnati’s front office.
Taylor wasn’t officially hired until the first week of February this past offseason. His full coaching staff wasn’t assembled until right before the scouting combine a few weeks later. To blow it all up for the second year in a row after barely putting together a staff before free agency began would deter any worthy replacement candidate from coming to Cincinnati. If the guy before him was given a single year in Hell and was canned regardless, why would it be any different for the next one?
We could look to the Cardinals as the exception to this rule, and a hire similar to Kliff Kingsbury would have to be sought after: a coach with limited or zero experience at the professional level who’s looking for his first big break. Taylor already fit this description pretty well and to go after someone with a similar background would damage the credibility of the entire coaching search.
All of this aside, Taylor has said all the right things and has shown how much control he already has with player personnel. He’s clearly had his shortcomings as a first-year head coach, but things aren’t so bad to blow it all up again. The Bengals are the golden child when it comes to valuing continuity above all else, and in this case, sticking to that mantra is in their best interest.
The true roster reset is still upon us
Taylor may’ve brought the majority of this coaching staff, but he inherited this roster. If Lewis and his experienced crew couldn’t make it past seven wins in his final three years with this roster, it would’ve been beyond impressive to see Taylor do more in his first year.
The unfortunate re-signings of Bobby Hart, Preston Brown and C.J. Uzomah aside, the 2019 Bengals were still the team Lewis built. When Taylor and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo instituted their initial schemes, they quickly found out they didn’t mesh with the personnel they had. A lack of quality personnel gives you limited scheme versatility; a less than ideal situation for inexperienced play-callers.
The main goal for this offseason will be turning over this roster to a point where it becomes unrecognizable from the Lewis era. This may not be as prevalent with the top of the depth chart, where legitimate talent does still reside on both sides of the ball, but the rest of the roster will see heads rolling. A season this bad makes this an inevitability.
It will come after all of free agency, but all of this really starts with the quarterback position. The true transition into the Taylor era will involve replacing Andy Dalton with Taylor’s choice at quarterback in the NFL Draft. All logical signs point to LSU’s Joe Burrow, but what matters is that he’ll be Taylor’s guy. A change at the top of the roster signals change for everyone else and by the time he’s in the building come April, this team will look much different than how it looks now.
The start to Taylor’s head coaching career did not go as planned, but the plan mustn’t be abandoned after one rushed year. This is a franchise that usually avoids making major changes until their backs are up against the wall. In a certain light, moving on from Taylor would be the ultimate progressive move, but from their current standing, it would likely stunt them further back from where they want to be.
To quote The Mandalorian, this is the way.