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Tuesday Trenches: The time is now

The Bengals Super Bowl window is more like an open double car garage door. The time to spend big is now.

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NFL: Combine Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals are primed and ready to win a Super Bowl. They lost Super Bowl LVI by three points and the very next year they lost the AFC Championship game by a field goal to the Chiefs, who went on to win the Super Bowl themselves. Their current Super Bowl window isn’t a window at all; it’s a two-car garage door, and it’s all the way up.

Every offseason since Zac Taylor was hired by the Bengals to be their head coach in February of 2019, and especially since the Bengals had quarterback Joe Burrow on the roster, they haven’t shied away from spending money on free agents. They signed D.J. Reader, Vonn Bell, B.J. Hill, Larry Ogunjobi, Chidobe Awuzie, Mike Hilton, Trey Hendrickson, Alex Cappa, La’el Collins, Ted Karras and others. What they haven’t done, though, is spend a dollar over the NFL’s salary cap.

The Bengals have spent more money than usual, sure, but they’ve never taken the initiative to go “all in.” The time for that is now.

Here are a few points that back up my point of view, and none that can oppose it. I’m writing this article after all, so I’m right!

  • The 2023 NFL cap is set at $224.8 million, and the Bengals have the sixth most space, according to PFF, with just over $33 million to spend. They are working on an extension with star quarterback Joe Burrow, and hopefully with wide receiver Tee Higgins as well as linebacker Logan Wilson and others. They also have a few of their own that are about to hit free agency that most fans would like to see them retain, like fellow linebacker Germaine Pratt.
  • Duke Tobin said the Bengals are going to spend to the cap this season, which should be music to everyone’s ears. Normally, there is a cost to winning the Super Bowl. The teams, who have won the Super Bowl over the last few seasons, have paid that price. The Chiefs are $8.5 million in the hole, the Rams are $15.8 million over, and the Buccaneers are a whopping $58 million over the cap heading into the upcoming season. The Bengals maybe don’t need to get to the point where they have to cut everyone but core players, but it would be ideal to finally see the color red next to their name.
  • While good teams draft well and stress retaining their players over signing outside free agents, great teams fill their needs in free agency, which gives them the ability to select the best player available when they’re on the clock in the draft. Historically, the Bengals have pigeon-holed themselves into selecting a player from just a couple of position groups, allowing the teams behind them to draft better athletes who can be difference makers. The best possible scenario for the Bengals is to be looking at every available player with the exception of quarterback and maybe wide receiver when they are selecting at No. 28 in late April.
  • It’s unclear as to whether or not right tackle Collins will be available for the beginning of the season. Left tackle Jonah Williams struggled in 2022, allowing the most sacks of any offensive tackle in the NFL through the regular and postseason with 13. Considering this year’s rookie class is deep at the tackle position, it would make sense to find a new tackle in the first or second round of the draft, but it would be better to sign a free-agent tackle so they can just draft the best player available early, regardless of the position. What if they can get an elite pass rusher they’d have to pass on if they were drafting for need?

Here are a few more points on free agency vs the draft:

  • Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. How many Ki-Jana Carters or Andre Smiths are in this draft class or in the next few? There are so many you could fill an entire volume of encyclopedias about it. Sure, there were free agents that signed for big money and then did nothing, but it’s not as common as rookies struggling to adjust to the game at the professional level.
  • This isn’t some new concept. The Bengals selected Dax Hill in the first round of the 2022 draft. Hill did next to nothing to help the Bengals make a second consecutive deep playoff run, but he’ll probably be starting in lieu of Jessie Bates, who is likely to leave the team in free agency this spring. Hill was considered to be a steal at No. 31, and even though he wasn’t vital to their on-field success his rookie year, it doesn’t mean that he won’t be moving forward.
  • This draft class is almost designed with the Bengals in mind, even if they are drafting the best play available. This class is deep at tight end, cornerback and offensive tackle, three positions the Bengals could go after at No. 28.
  • If they were to sign an offensive tackle, cornerback and tight end in free agency, what’s the harm of still drafting a stud at one of those positions? Having more talent at any key position than they can legally field at the same time isn’t a bad thing. Guys can rotate, keeping players fresh for longer, and doubling up can give the Bengals options to trade some players for extra picks.
  • The Bengals aren’t rebuilding. They aren’t trying to get to the playoffs and they’re not trying to win their first playoff game in over 30 years. That time has come and gone. They’re trying to win the Super Bowl, and there are realistically only a couple of teams standing in their way, but the only team that can really hold them back is themselves. With the right players brought in via free agency and then the draft, in that order, they can do it.

The idea of drafting athletes over players from particular positions is a luxury only teams built as the Bengals can afford. While other teams scramble to fill the holes on their roster in hopes of getting to the playoffs, the Bengals will hopefully just be able to select the best player on the board in hopes that player, combined with the ones they retained and the ones signed as free agents, push them over the hump and bring the Lombardi Trophy to Cincinnati for the first time in NFL history.

Who Dey!