The 2020 offseason marked an extremely important change in the Cincinnati Bengals franchise. Of course, drafting Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins in the first two rounds of that spring’s draft was pivotal in the direction of the franchise.
However, that spring also marked a change in the team’s free agency philosophy. They started making splashes outside of their own walls and in the draft for talent, grabbing names like D.J. Reader in that year.
They also grabbed cornerback Trae Waynes, though that was one of the rare outside misses the team has made in the past four offseasons. Waynes was highly-talented, but injuries derailed the second chapter of his NFL career, forcing the team to rely on someone they hadn’t envisioned as starting help.
A year later, Cincinnati tapped the help of Eli Apple, who fit the longtime mold of what the team looked for in outside free agency. A former high pick that hadn’t performed up to standards signed to a minimal deal and a team confident they could mine the college potential seen from teams years ago.
And, as has been the case with many other instances in the past, Apple responded to another chance, especially with Waynes sidelined. He gave the Bengals two solid seasons in 2021-2022, helping a solid defense with a number of big plays and sound performances.
Cincinnati has seemingly moved on from Apple this year, opting to sign a very slightly younger and another former high pick in Sidney Jones. The parallel between where Jones’ career currently sits and where Apple’s was in the spring of 2021 is uncanny.
Why he could break out this year
Reason one resides in the team’s past track record of success with “reclamation projects”. Be it from talented players with legal issues, those who failed to fulfill high pick potential, or both, Cincinnati has a number of renaissance success stories.
It’s hard to pin down what it is that the Bengals provide to allow this inherent path of success, but names like Tank Johnson, Cedric Benson, Chris Henry, Adam Jones, Apple and many others fit this narrative.
Now, make no mistake: Jones hasn’t had the legal issues of some others. But, he’s a former second-round pick with a talented skill set at a position group in which one of, if not the most talented NFL defensive coordinators specializes.
It appears as if Chidobe Awuzie is on track for a nice recovery this year, but, like Apple, Jones could be “on call” if there is a setback there. However, a nice depth piece at cornerback isn’t bad in this day and age in the NFL.
Cincinnati lost Apple, Tre Flowers, Jessie Bates, and Vonn Bell in the secondary this offseason. When you’re the Bengals and regularly face a multitude of AFC teams with a plethora of receiving weapons, having as many able coverage man bodies is a plus.
Quite simply, why Jones could break out is in a very similar way as that of Apple. Using the tutelage of Anarumo could bring about a career renaissance for Jones.
What he needs to prove this year
Jones needs to both embrace and grasp the defensive system. He’s got talent, but he’ll need to play with confidence—especially if he’s studied what the Bengals have done on defense the past couple of years.
On the flip side, Jones will need to be put in positions wherein he can succeed. Flowers was a prime example of success in this vein, as he fizzled out as a boundary corner with Seattle, but a niche inside role suited him well.
If Jones can come in and be a reliable CB4, that’s a win for the Bengals. And, if they need a few weeks of spot starting as Awuzie continues to recover (PUP?), then he’ll need to be up to the task.
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