What thoughts went through your mind when Marvin Lewis said that "changes" were coming to the Bengals this offseason? As he spoke with reporters at both the Senior Bowl and Scouting Combine, he reiterated the "status quo" wasn't good enough and almost sent pleas to fans to get ready for an exciting offseason.
Well, almost a month into the new NFL calendar year and the consensus opinion seems to be a collective "meh", complete with shrugged shoulders. Just a couple of outside additions, a few re-signings and it seems as if things are relatively set until the draft. Did this team vastly improve itself during the kickoff of the 2015 season? Debates surely abound.
There's an axiom that exists in humanity that people can't or won't change, no matter how hard they want to. Human beings are creatures of habit and love their personal comfort zones, whatever might in exist in each, and it's what creates the diametric feelings of both love and annoyance with people. Very few public figures exemplify the the ornery, slow-to-change type of personality than Bengals owner Mike Brown.
That's what made us all reluctant when Lewis said that it was Brown "leading the charge for change". Really? The guy who has stuck to his guns so ardently that it has hindered his own franchise? Most forget, however, that Brown has, well, adapted in recent years, eschewing supposed power and decision-making to his daughter, Duke Tobin and Lewis.
When we look over what has transpired so far, we've seen hints of refreshing change splattered among numerous traces of Bengals modus operandi. Let's take a look:
Same Ol', Same Ol':
A.J. Hawk Signing: Cincinnati needed help at linebacker this offseason, no doubt. Hawk brings leadership and veteran experience to the group, but is coming off of one of his worst seasons as a pro. The former Buckeye could come in and contribute in some fashion, but it seems more like a Richmond Webb/Sam Adams/James Harrison kind of deal. What do I mean by that? A once high-profile player on the downside of their career given a team-friendly deal.
Getting The Band Back Together: Michael Johnson, Pat Sims and Brandon Ghee. It doesn't really express "change" by the franchise, does it? The latter two will be fighting for spots, with Sims the more likely to make an impact, though all three can help. Overall, they are good moves that open up the draft, but it still showed the conservative, play-it-safe mentality that has plagued this team during the spring months.
Hanging The Hats On Compensatory Picks: Every once in a while, Mike Brown makes a maneuver that outsmarts even the wisest of NFL front office sages. The Johnson signing hit the trifecta: solidify the defensive line, open up the draft and still get a high compensatory pick for losing him just a year ago. Only the Sims signing was that of a player who wasn't cut or released before the onset of free agency, and his minimum deal shouldn't equate much into the compensatory formula for 2016.
A Focus On Keeping Their Own: While it's frustrating that the Bengals keep rolling over money with the perceived excuse of "saving money for a rainy day", it's actually one of the main pieces that has been keeping them in the playoff hunt annually. Next offseason will be critical, but they've been masterful at getting big deals done a year before core players' contracts expired. It's why players like Taylor Mays leave instead of starters like Clint Boling. Sure, the Rey Maualuga contract details reek of a poorly constructed deal, but ever since he's been here, the defense has been one of the best in the league.
Mike Brown's Voting Tendencies: At the owner's meetings, Brown was the only owner to vote against the lifting of blackouts in the league. His explanation makes sense overall, but it just gives off a very Bengals-esque vibe when the old guy is in the vast minority. I envision the rest of the room groaning and rolling their eyes, as we all did in grade school when the "brown nose" told the teacher that they forgot to give the class homework.
Marv's Insistence On Sitting Rookies: There are some rookies that the ol' ball coach trusts and others that he makes wait and watch the pros. A.J. Green and Andy Dalton started out of absolute necessity, but guys like Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard and Jeremy Hill all took a back seat. It could be argued that this tactic has hurt the team in certain instances, yet Lewis recently said that he expects this year's first round to also ride the pine.
Well, That's Refreshing:
A Quasi-Indoor Facility: The Bengals' weight room has undergone a massive transformation, which includes a semblance of an indoor facility. It isn't big enough for full drills and the like, but late in the year when the weather is poor and a light walkthrough needs to be conducted, this could be used. It's also a great sales tool in free agency. The new facilities are about 600 square feet (almost 67 square yards), according to Darian Daily, Head Sports Field Manager at Paul Brown Stadium
Players Want To Play And Stay In Cincy: Towards the end of last season, we started hearing rumblings of Johnson and Anthony Collins seeing that the grass wasn't greener outside of the Queen City. Johnson was heavily courted by Mike Zimmer and the Vikings, a team perceived to be on the rise, yet Johnson signed here. Sims also wanted to be back and Ghee called it "home" on his social media accounts. Other key players have stayed in Cincy over the past few seasons and it shows that they like the culture and winning air in Cincinnati. For every Johnathan Joseph, Collins and Johnson, there is a Vontaze Burfict, Geno Atkins, Boling, Reggie Nelson and Johnson once again. It's a stark contrast to the pre-Lewis Bengals era.
Making Moves In Free Agency And Opening Up The Draft: The free agency period for the Bengals thus far shouldn't give fans images of February ticker tape parades, but they have shored up some troubled areas on the roster. Getting additional help at linebacker, defensive end and corner helps to open up the draft for more potential offensive weapons earlier. The Bengals have four picks in the first three rounds of the draft and it wouldn't be surprising if three of those four consisted of an offensive lineman, a wide receiver and a tight end, given the moves they've made so far.
Marvin Lewis In A "Prove-It Year"?: Brown was non-committal to a contract extension for Lewis going forward in 2015. Lewis is in the final year of his contract and Brown might be waiting to see how the Bengals fare again this season before giving Lewis another extension. It seems like both men like the situation in Cincinnati, but everyone is getting apathetic with the constant one-and-dones in the playoffs.