After a disappointing 2016 season in which the Cincinnati Bengals finished just 6-9-1, the team’s powers-that-be decided that a re-assessment of the roster was in order. Speed, youth, athleticism and competition were needed elements to get back to the postseason.
The Bengals lived up to their end of the bargain, for the most part, adding some of the most explosive players in this year’s draft, while relying on past draft classes and limited outside free agency acquisitions to potentially replace many spots that showed immense age last year. The team also dropped Rey Maualuga and let Domata Peko walk, reinforcing their interest in getting younger and more athletic.
On the surface, it’s an interesting change of philosophy for head coach Marvin Lewis. While he has always used the draft as a major tentpole to building his roster, he has also shown the somewhat-frustrating tendency to rely on perceived lesser-talented veterans over high-ceiling rookies. With the influx of new rookies during the past two offseasons, the team has made it known that the youngsters are going to largely replace the veteran attrition they’ve experienced.
However, as the 2017 rookie class appears to include many players who will have prominent roles early on, will the unpopular stance of relying on veterans be a wise decision in the midst of a major roster transition? Whether it’s keeping long-tenured veterans who have outlasted their welcome in some fans’ eyes, or even allowing them to start over with some exciting younger options, it might make some sense, even though some eyes will roll.
The risks with this year’s class:
Whether it’s the injury concerns with John Ross and Carl Lawson, or the potential ticking time bomb that is Joe Mixon, the Bengals need some veteran steadiness in the locker room.
Star receiver A.J. Green believes the team has the leadership glue to keep guys like Mixon on the right path, but with Adam Jones running into trouble this offseason, players who could have been thought of as on-the-bubble after the draft might need to stick around. Since the Bengals allowed veterans to walk during the past two seasons, there could be a need for reliable veterans who can stick around. You don’t think the Bengals are going to completely change their philosophy on handing out playing time early on for the youngsters, do you?
Scheme-familiarity and possible mentoring:
This has been the reasoning behind guys like Robert Geathers, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and others sticking with the club beyond fans’ welcoming, but, like it or not, from a coaching standpoint it makes sense. Of course, the caveat this year is that the Bengals need to find a solid balance of getting their young guys out there to provide the explosiveness and productivity they have shown in college, while still having veterans out there making plays.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s a fine line to walk for the Bengals’ coaching staff. If the team still wants to rely on guys like Brandon LaFell and Michael Johnson early in the year and they are putting up pedestrian stats, people will get frustrated as to why more exciting talent would be riding the pine.
Still, the Bengals appear to once again be looking to fit certain round pegs into square holes as Lawson seems to be making a transition to a 4-3 outside linebacker. Sixth-round pick Brandon Wilson is listed at safety, even though he played cornerback in college. He also served as a running back, too, and could get some looks on offense.
You don’t want to limit the potential of high-ceiling players in the early stages of their careers, but you also don’t want to throw a bunch of newbies to the wolves as you’re coming off of a six-win season.
Paying good money to veterans who aren’t showing up on the stat sheet isn’t ideal, but there is value in having locker room mentors. It’s probably why guys like Johnson, LaFell and Cedric Peerman will all be Bengals in 2017.
The past two seasons have been marked by major transition. While hopes are high this offseason after welcoming a promising draft class, we did see major deficiencies last year because of attrition. More of that occurred this offseason, especially in regards to the offensive line. Guys like defensive tackle Andrew Billings, right tackle Jake Fisher, left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and many of the rookies will all look to get significant playing time in 2017 and the Bengals’ success could hinge on how they play.
One school of thought is this transition to more youth, speed and athleticism is what will be key to a rebound this year (and, if you’re asking this writer, it most definitely is the case). However, hanging on to some veterans this year will ease the transition that’s currently taking place and could help speed up of development of younger players.
It might be an unpopular opinion among fans, but it also could prove to be a necessary evil this season.