Cincinnati has a wide receiver problem.
Within a 24-hour period last week, initiated by the celebration of another league year, the Bengals helplessly watched wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu sign big-money deals with (I guess) the possibility of increased opportunities. According to reports, both signed five-year deals respectively, with Jones pulling in $40 million (with $20 million guaranteed) from the Detroit Lions while Sanu was rewarded with a $32.5 million deal ($14 million guaranteed) by the Atlanta Falcons.
With Sanu, the Bengals lose a serviceable slot receiver with an accurate throwing arm power forward's mentality to box out defenders. Jones, the big money threat opposite of A.J. Green, scored 10 touchdowns in 2013 (including a four-score performance against the New York Jets), leaving Cincinnati with 15 scores in three seasons played. These departures will hurt in the short-term, but like most mid-tier starters in the NFL, they are replaceable.
Where does that leave Cincinnati's wide receiver roster?
Allow me to express myself through Gloria Gaynor (or the totally awesome Cake remake):
At first, I was afraid, I was petrified,
Kept thinking I could never live with Sanu and Jones by our side...
If you worried about A.J. Green, a five-time all-star and two-time second-team all-pro, receiving significant attention from opposing defenses, this won't help. Tyler Eifert, growing into one of the league's elite tight ends, will alleviate the pressure (provided those pesky durability concerns are flashed away). Regardless, Cincinnati's wide receiver roster is A.J. Green... and then there's everyone else.
Will this remain during training camp?
Of course not.
Now that the initial stages of free agency have calmed down, the league's focus is diverting to second-tier players; veteran free agents waiting to sign deals, hoping to ride their lonely horse into the sunset. Names like Andre Johnson, Marques Colston, Roddy White, Greg Jennings are popular; yet while they carry significant name recognition, when you say these names out loud, don't you feel you're reciting the script for Unforgiven?
How will Cincinnati react to veterans with significant name recognition? It hasn't benefited them before, with Laveranues Coles and Terrell Owens fresh on my mind. Will veteran receivers help Cincinnati? Will the Bengals remove themselves from applying (and thus being dictated by) too much history? Obviously that's only answerable by the principles on Cincinnati's depleted offense. If the Bengals wanted to keep familiarity for quarterback Andy Dalton, they've failed as the sixth-year quarterback faces another offensive coordinator; not that it's their fault, when Jones wants to be a No. 1 receiving with earlier reports claiming that there was "virtually no chance" Sanu returns.
Then there's the draft.
ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. lists three wide receivers in his latest mock draft; Ole Miss Laquon Treadwell to Los Angeles at No. 15, Notre Dame's Will Fuller to the Texans at No. 22 and TCU's Josh Doctson to the Vikings at No. 23. Todd McShay sends Doctson to Cincinnati at No. 24, the second wide receiver he used during his mock draft. Despite prognosticators generally viewing the wide receiver class as mediocre this year, most accounts consider Treadwell, Fuller, Doctson and Corey Coleman as the top four-prospects at receiver. However, even the NFL.com draft page views these four as possible NFL starters without much all-star quality.
Obviously, there's pre-draft guesswork but the striking similarity of a consensus is difficult to ignore. CBS Sports, who theorizes that Doctson, Fuller and Coleman will be available when Cincinnati picks No. 24, only lists two solid first rounders. Making matters worse is that the overall class of free agent receivers was weak this year, causing a likelihood that receivers will go higher than what they're valued at. This poses a problem for the Bengals, who pride themselves on maximizing value with their coveted draft picks.
Then you have projects like Braxton Miller, who began his career at Ohio State as a quarterback and transitioned to wide receiver, eliminating himself from a vicious quarterback competition while preparing for a career beyond college.
"He's going to go by at least the third round because of his speed and athleticism," one NFC executive told NFL.com. "He's got some traits that will get him drafted early and a team will worry about coaching him up after they get him in."
Bengals wide receiver coach James Urban joined the annual pilgrimage of Bengals coaches at Ohio State's Pro Day last Friday, which included Michael Thomas, who could develop into a good player; however, Cincinnati's wide receiver roster could be too thin for a project like Thomas.
Cincinnati will visit schools throughout the country, attending dozens of Pro Days, to compile a "board" of prospects that they like; a board they will ridiculously be loyal to. They will visit players, host others in Cincinnati, applying crafty due-diligence to scout as many prospects as possible; not only to scout prospects that they're interested in, but to file reports on all players for possible signings in the future or scouting reports if these players play against the Bengals.
The Bengals have a problem, but it's manageable, correctable and perhaps there's room for improvement.