Well, the good vibes sure cooled down quickly.
After hearing many positive things from the early Bengals minicamps, we received the news that we didn’t expect, but still dreaded. Jonah Williams had shoulder surgery and appears to be done for the entirety of 2019.
Unfortunately, we had the displeasure of discussing the Williams injury on this week’s Orange and Black Insider. Aside from the immediate doom-and-gloom that comes with headlines like these, there are other facets to consider and we looked at the devil hidden in the details.
The staggering injury issues with recent first-round picks
As the Bengals made a stellar run to five straight postseason berths from 2011-2015, their regular season success can be pointed at two draft classes from 2010-2011. Guys like Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, A.J. Green and Andy Dalton helped to successfully transition the team from the Carson Palmer era with a modicum of success.
However, when you look at the first round picks by the Cincinnati Bengals from 2012-2019, eight of the nine players experienced significant injury issues early in their career. Dre Kirkpatrick played in five games as a rookie, while Tyler Eifert’s horrible luck started in his second season.
Darqueze Dennard missed eight games his first two seasons, and the Bengals drafted Cedric Ogbuehi knowing it would be a redshirt rookie season. William Jackson missed his entire rookie season, with John Ross playing in three games back in 2017. Billy Price was drafted with a partially-torn pectoral muscle and then missed six games last year with a foot injury.
You can even go back further to Keith Rivers missing 12 games in his first two seasons and Andre Smith’s disastrous rookie campaign for more immediate injury issues to first-round picks.
The outlier from 2012-2019, you ask?
Kevin Zeitler, who did miss four games in both his second and third seasons, but played 17 games three other times for the club. But, yeah, he wasn’t worth keeping in free agency.
And, now there’s Williams who didn’t even have a significant snap in practices before seeing his rookie year evaporate in front of his eyes. The saddest irony of the most recent situation is that Williams was a pinnacle of health at Alabama, playing in 40 games the past three seasons.
To add insult to injury (see what I did there?), Green and Dalton, the poster children of the post-Palmer turnaround and, really, of health, haven’t had the cleanest slates either on this front. Both guys have landed on I.R. two times apiece in their eight previous seasons, though those stints were well into their careers after establishing themselves as high-producers.
Needless to say, this type of “bad luck” totally cripples a franchise. In fact, it’s kind of a marvel that the Bengals made six playoff appearances from 2009-2015, given the myriad of injury issues that plagued their top picks.
The Blame Game
When something is negative and out of one’s control, it’s human nature to start pointing the finger. This is sadly a common practice amongst Bengals fans, who seem to endure more misfortune than other fan bases.
Not doubling-down on tackle in the draft: There was talk that Cincinnati attempted to move up in the second round of the draft, likely for another offensive lineman, but they felt the cost was too steep. Was exacerbated that potential belief was that the team just grabbed the most talented lineman in the class.
Still, as night two kicked off, Jawaan Taylor, Cody Ford, Greg Little and Dalton Risner were all available just before the Bengals’ pick at No. 42 overall. Moving up a few spots probably wouldn’t have cost them all that much if they weren’t overly-confident after drafting Williams, as well as in their love affair with Bobby Hart.
Instead, Cincinnati moved up in the fourth round for a backup quarterback. Said quarterback, Ryan Finley, has had an awful first couple of months of practices with the club.
The continually-weak approach in outside free agency: Cincinnati threw big money (yes, we’re aware of the team-friendlier figure hidden behind the numbers) at Hart, in what seemed like a bidding war against themselves. It wasn’t a stellar free agency class at tackle, but Trent Brown, Ja’Wuan James and even Ty Nsekhe were options to pursue.
“Who will play right tackle?” Troy Blackburn asked us all through the media when defending the Brown signing. Well, if it was one of those aforementioned names, things would be a little sunnier than they currently are with Williams on the shelf.
It’s fine to prioritize the NFL Draft when constructing a roster—it’s a great way to accumulate cheap, young talent. However, teams do need to supplement those youngsters with talented veterans to balance out the roster and move towards success.
Maybe one of these days the Bengals will prioritize immediate contributors over sixth-round compensatory picks who struggle to make the practice squad.
The risk with the “If Strategy”: This sentiment kind of plays off of the previous two points. The mantra for the Bengals this offseason has been “if we’re healthy, look out!”.
No NFL team goes through the rigors of a season without major casualties. This is why most teams supplement their draft hauls with quality free agents—it’s a way to tip the scales more into the franchise’s favor when relying on such an idea.
I’ve both followed and covered this team for a long time and I’m hard-pressed to find another franchise that is as confident in its operational practices after seeing so many failures. And, those failures start with the operations and trickle down through to on-field performance.
In truth, the Bengals have a solid point with the “If Strategy”. They have a number of talented players on their roster and the hope is that Zac Taylor’s new, energetic staff can mine more out of each of these men.
Unfortunately, the risk with the strategy is a large one. We’re seeing the negatives of it in the form of Williams’ injury.
Tinfoil hat bad luck theories: Whether it’s “The Curse of Bo Jackson”, the ghost of Bill Walsh, or Paul Brown’s spirit of disappointment, Who Dey Nation has a number of Boogeymen to point to when it comes to the Bengals’ ineptitude.
In fairness to Cincinnati and to Williams, injuries are often things that are freak incidents that cannot be avoided. For instance, when one looks at the history of ailments with Eifert, many are simply bi-products of crazy scenarios and ugly tackles on the player.
However, making sure a franchise employs top-notch training and medical staffs, monitoring meaningless practices closely and doing due diligence in the scouting process to weed out players with these proclivities can swing the pendulum a bit more in one’s favor. Needless to say, at least two of those three aforementioned facets have traditionally not been strengths of the Bengals and their operating practices.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: if you’re going to rely on the “If Strategy”, whereby you believe in what you’ve already created from a personnel standpoint, you need to allocate adequate resources to the other areas to support that strategy. We’re not completely sold on the idea that the Bengals have been or are doing that.
Offensive line shuffling
“Hey, Cordy, we need to talk. We value you a lot, man, but we need you at guard now that Jonah is here.”
Can you imagine the conversation going on between the staff and Cordy Glenn now?
With Williams out, Glenn, who has had a little bit of an injury history of his own, will move back to left tackle. We don’t know what’s going on with Clint Boling, but we assume he’s safe now that a roster post is freed up and he may resume his post at left guard once he’s back (cross your freaking fingers).
Essentially now, the only foreseeable change in the lineup from that of 2018 is John Miller at right guard. Is that enough of a bump to get the line to at least be average this year? Are we needing to more heavily rely on improved development from younger guys like Price and Bobby Hart (although he’s just 24 years old, he’s going into his fifth NFL season) as a tool to bolster the line?
Even if the team does decide to tweak the left guard spot, that wasn’t the area of issue last year. Center and all the way to the right side of the line sported major issues, with occasional blips also occurring at left tackle.
And, if the Bengals were going to use Williams as a tackle, his absence isn’t cured by the slew of interior line options the Bengals brought back and/or added this offseason. Miller, John Jerry, Michael Jordan and Trey Hopkins aren’t true tackles, especially not left-side options, so this could get messy pretty quickly.
At least it won’t be any worse than it was last season...right?
Also on this week’s OBI episode:
- Knowing what we know now, should the Bengals have made a move away from Marvin Lewis immediately after the 2015 Wild Card loss? Hot names at the time were Doug Pedersen, Ben McAdoo, Dirk Koetter, Chip Kelly, Adam Gase and Hue Jackson.
- Did it take the Bengals three more stale, losing seasons to finally push them into a coaching hire that was a one-eighty from the Lewis regime?
- Are they better for that hire, or would they be better served in the fourth year from a previous rebuild after that Wild Card loss?
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