There’s always the other side of the coin.
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.
For a minute, let’s just say the improbable happens.
The Bengals win tomorrow against the Browns would give them a record of 2-14. Despite ending the season on a high note, this would give them a tie with the 2002 Bengals for the worst record in franchise history.
A loss, on the other hand, would give them the worst record in the franchise’s 52-year existence. Either way you look at it, this season can be viewed as an objective failure.
Boom. Zac Taylor’s name is featured on black Monday and the Bengals are back to square one. How do they justify this?
Sending a message for incompetence intolerance
The Bengals’ roster did not change nearly as much as the coaching staff this past offseason, yet the team dropped a handful of wins from the previous season. Is this a testament to how poor the roster really was, or how ill-prepared the coaching staff managed it? That could be up for interpretation depending on who you ask, but let’s not forget the hope for Taylor specifically entering this year.
A constant complaint made towards the end of Marvin Lewis’ tenure was the sheer underutilization and lack of development of certain players. Has Taylor made any tangible strides in these areas? He had full seasons from Giovani Bernard, Tyler Eifert and C.J. Uzomah (all three signed new contracts in the offseason) and none of them made much of an impact this year.
Taylor was hired to bring offensive innovation to a team that had definite potential on that side of the ball. The lack of A.J. Green proved to be a clear road block, but how much they regressed from season’s past eclipsed the overall impact Green has on this offense. Instead of maximizing Andy Dalton’s abilities, Dalton turned in the worst season of his career. It took Joe Mixon nine games to reach 400 rushing yards. It took 15 weeks for the unit to score more than 23 points. On and on the list goes.
Overmatched is an apt description for how Taylor fared as a first-year coach and offensive play-caller. Sure, the veteran quarterback in Dalton is getting the boot this offseason, but if the front office wants to make a statement to establish expectations, relieving Taylor of his duties would send a clear message to the league that still remembers the team that held onto Lewis for a decade-and-a-half.
The need for veteran leadership
Not only did Taylor provide a different coaching background from Lewis, he came from an entirely new generation. Paired with one of the youngest rosters in the league, inexperience quickly transferred from a potential issue to a very real issue.
While being 0-8 in one-score games signals a large degree of bad luck, it can also mean a lack of learned leadership from the most important positions. The Bengals could’ve easily won a handful of games this year but always found a way to end up on the losing side. Does this all fall on Taylor? No, but when has that ever stopped anyone from placing this specific problem on the head coaches shoulders?
The appeal that came with Taylor’s youthful persona was the stark contrast it provided from the previous head coach. That was what attracted the Los Angeles Rams to Sean McVay, but that resulted in instant success. Directly comparing the organizational philosophies of the Rams and Bengals seems irresponsible, but if the Bengals opt to look for a more seasoned candidate over Taylor after getting burned, they have what resembles an argument.
A direct pairing between head coach and quarterback
Finally, we come to an actual specific scenario.
If you’re thinking anyone other than Joe Burrow is the favorite to be picked by the Bengals with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, you’re kidding yourself. Sure, the process will play out and other top players will get interviewed and worked out, but if all goes well for Burrow, he’ll be the first player off of the board and the newest member of the Bengals.
One of the cleanest quarterback prospects in some time, the only visible red flag on Burrow is the uncertainty that he can be productive in a system that’s not run by Joe Brady. LSU hired Brady from the New Orleans Saints this past year to be their receivers coach and passing game coordinator. The perception is that Brady simply brought the Saints’ offense 80 miles northwest to Baton Rouge, but the plain truth is that he just brought LSU into the 21st century. The biggest beneficiary was Burrow, and some say that their relationship should be destined to continue.
Looking again at the Kliff Kingsbury hire, the Arizona Cardinals took a chance on an offensive guru and trusted his faith in a quarterback that he previously worked with. Though Kingsbury and Kyler Murray had little success at Texas Tech, the two have helped improve the Cardinals’ offense from 32nd in 2018 to 12th this year in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric.
Editor’s note: Kingsburgy tried to recruit Murray to Texas Tech but the quarterback chose Texas A&M. Kingsbury has known him closely ever since.
Pairing Burrow with Brady in Cincinnati could quickly evaporate the criticisms of letting Taylor go after just one year much like when Cardinals fired first-year Steve Wilks last offseason. But the margin of error will be as slim as it was in Arizona.
Obviously, the justifications for canning Taylor aren’t as strong as keeping him, but with how bad the Bengals ended up becoming this season, everything is theoretically on the table. Taylor staying put him drafting Burrow are the only things we can comfortably bet on, everything else is up in the air.
But, it’s fun to pretend. It is the offseason, after all.