Here’s a fact about me that you probably don’t know. In addition to coaching college football, I spent eight years as an adjunct professor of psychology.
It is that side of my background that inspired this article, which is a play on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Don’t worry, this article isn’t about psychology, but here is a very basic explanation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs just so you get what I’m going for.
Humans have needs which drive their behavior.
The hierarchy is a tier system. Needs in the bottom tiers are more urgent and must be met before addressing needs on higher tiers. At the bottom of the hierarchy are basic needs like food and water. As you move up the hierarchy becomes more advanced. This is where we find our needs for love and respect among others. At the top is self-actualization. If you reach that level, you are essentially an elite human being.
This metaphor is a little loose. Okay, very loose.
After all, there are many different ways to attach team-building. The Buffalo Bills and certainly the Kansas City Chiefs were a lot farther along than the Bengals are now when they got their quarterback. So unlike our personal needs, the personnel needs of an NFL team can be addressed in any order.
The point of this article is really just to rank the team’s needs.
Now let’s get to football.
Immediate Pressing Needs that Can’t be Avoided
It is well established that Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals are going their separate ways. That means that quarterback is the most important team need. Fortunately, we know who the quarterback is going to be, we know where he is coming from, and we even know roughly how much he’ll cost. Score!
This is a quarterback driven league. When you have an adequate quarterback, it is an area where an upgrade could make a huge difference. On Maslow’s hierarchy, it would be self-actualization (the highest level) for a well-established team.
The Bengals are however not in that position, so quarterback is on the lowest level. This means it needs to be addressed first. Okay, great. Draft Joe Burrow, and we should be good to go.
Next is linebacker.
This unit improved when Germaine Pratt was added to the lineup, but Nick Vigil was a problem and could leave in free agency. The team should look to make an upgrade at this position in free agency. Even a minor improvement would prevent them from having to address it early in the draft, and allow them to draft the best available players in the second or third round.
It is a pressing need because behind Vigil on the depth chart, there is a whole lot of nothing; and most of that nothing isn’t being being re-signed.
Clear Deficiencies that Should be Addressed
Nickel cornerback fits into the second tier of the hierarchy. They could address it internally by resigning Darqueze Dennard, but there is potential that he will get a better offer and depart. If so, B.W. Webb isn’t gonna get it done and I’m not sure Darius Phillips gives them what they want in the slot.
They should really do something in the draft or free agency.
Over the course of the season, the offensive line showed improvement. By the end of the season, they were passable as a unit.
Obviously, that is not good enough. The return of 2019 first-round selection Jonah Williams will hopefully lock down the left tackle position, just as extending Tre Hopkins took care of the center position.
That leaves three starting positions on the offensive line. John Miller, Billy Price, and Michael Jordan have been underwhelming at guard. The Bengals could add a quality free agent to start at one guard position and let that trio duke it out for the other starting spot.
Bobby Hart was serviceable late in the season and Fred Johnson emerged out of nowhere to impress at tackle in Weeks 16 and 17, but right tackle could be improved if the opportunity arises. This could be a spot the Bengals address at the top of the second round if someone they have highly ranked falls out of the first round.
An Upgrade Could Make a Big Difference
Andrew Billings is a potential free agent, but Josh Tupou played well and could fill that void. Both are more in the early-down run stopper mold. If the Bengals were able to add an interior pass rusher to put beside Geno Atkins, that could make a huge difference. This could be an issue they address in the draft if the right guy falls into their lap on day two of the draft.
Similarly, a dominant, versatile safety could make a huge difference. Former Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield Jr. could be just the ticket. He makes a ton of plays in the passing game and is good against the run as well. He does really good things whether he is in the deep field zone or rocked down to linebacker depth.
Could be a Problem Next Year
You always want to be proactive rather than reactive in team-building, so the Bengals should consider not only what their roster will look like in 2020, but in 2021 and beyond.
This is where wide receiver comes in. As we saw last season, depth is a concern, but more concerning is the uncertainty of A.J. Green and John Ross’ respective contract situations after the 2020 season. With the depth in the 2020 draft class at wide receiver, this could be a position they address early and more than once.
There is also good depth at cornerback in the upcoming draft, which is good because the Bengals need to think about their future at the outside cornerback position. William Jackson is only under contract through next season and Dre Kirkpatrick has been rumored to be a potential cap casualty this year. Phillips could play one spot, but obviously he can’t be in two places at once. This is a position they could address as early as the second round and will probably attack in free agency as well.
Depth and Role Players
At the top of the hierarchy we have depth and role players.
Edge pass rusher may not seem like a huge need, but you can always use another guy who can get after the quarterback.
Likewise, quick receivers who can separate using the inside route tree would give them a dimension they don’t currently have on offense outside of Tyler Boyd.
Many of the Bengals issues last season came down to injuries, but injuries are an excuse. If a team has good depth, they can overcome injuries. That is an issue across the board. Linebacker, defensive back, offensive line, wide receiver: all could use improved depth.
The Bengals have players in starting positions who they can survive, but not thrive with. This becomes an even greater problem when these players get injured. After all, if the starter is just okay, what does that say about the backup?
Just as the Bengals need to improve their starting lineup, they need to improve the quality of their depth players. Injuries happen and at some point, they will need them.