The Cincinnati Bengals had a very polarizing offseason. Many expected Cincinnati to invest heavily into their offensive line and protect Joe Burrow coming off an ACL injury last season. They also made a couple head scratching moves beyond that, but one Analyst thinks they had one of the worst offseasons this year.
Bill Barnwell of ESPN ranked the Bengals’ 2021 offseason 24th in the NFL. Barnwell is a very respected analyst for his NFL takes, and he brings up some very fair arguments. The first thing he notes is how the Ja’Marr Chase pick can help Burrow as much as drafting a top offensive lineman.
Chase also helps protect Burrow. Giving him a receiver he trusts on 50/50 balls will help the former first overall pick get the ball out more quickly. Expect Burrow to have the option to throw hot to Chase throughout the season.
It is refreshing to see someone finally on the Bengals’ side here. It has become very tiring to see takes from national writers remarking that Cincinnati doesn’t care about Burrow’s health since they took Chase instead of Penei Sewell. Chase will help open things up better for a wide receiving group that really needed someone to make the safeties not creep up towards the box every play.
It seems the the biggest issues Barnwell has comes from two main issues. The first is letting Carl Lawson walk while brining in Trey Hendrickson.
The decision to move on from Carl Lawson for Trey Hendrickson seems curious, given that Hendrickson had only one significant season with the Saints. Even that 2020 campaign has red flags attached, suggesting Hendrickson won’t be able to keep up his newfound sack totals in Cincinnati.
Hendrickson’s production will have a very impact on how this offseason is viewed past this season. Was 2020 just a flash in the pan for him. or can he build off of that in Cincinnati? The answers there will determine how the defense fairs for a few seasons. It is hard to fault Barnwell’s criticism here. They had a guy like Lawson who seemed willing to return. His sack totals weren’t high, but he was disruptive. Health may have been the biggest concern after Lawson had missed several extended periods of time over his time with the Bengals, but he was clearly one of the premiere pass rushers in the NFL.
Barnwell’s second issue was the amount of offensive linemen brought in that are ideally going to compete for starting jobs.
You could also argue that the Bengals didn’t do enough for Burrow up front. Reiff is a solid pass-protector on the right side, but it’s still unclear whether Jonah Williams will actually end up as a franchise left tackle. Cincinnati re-signed Quinton Spain after the former Bills lineman joined the team in November, but the only other notable addition the organization made was second-round pick Jackson Carman, who ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. had as his 13th-ranked tackle. The Bengals are expected to move Carman to guard, but they don’t have a spectacular recent track record at developing linemen at their college positions, let alone new ones.
The change from Bobby Hart to Riley Reiff at right tackle should be a significant boost to this offensive line, but the idea that the Bengals did enough to call this offensive line done is a pretty big stretch. They added some nice potential pieces late in the draft with Trey Hill and D’Ante Swift. However, it seems like the Bengals are relying an awful lot on offensive line coach Frank Pollack to turn this group around after Jim Turner dove a sinking ship straight to the bottom of the sea floor. Cincinnati could’ve added a few more reliable veterans to come in and compete, and I think more people would’ve felt better about this offseason.
So that begs the question, with all of those concerns considered, did the Bengals have a bad offseason? It is obviously a very subjective question, and the better teams usually get the benefit of the doubt here. You could easily make the case that this offseason was more of a middle of the road type season than a bad one. Adding in an extension for safety Jessie Bates (who Barnwell notes as one of the most underrated players in the league) could go a long way in getting that rank up.
All that really matters is how these moves play out over the next few years. If Hendrickson and Chase elevate this team then this offseason could look a lot better when we look back on it.