There is a lucky contingent of Cincinnati Bengals fans who weren’t subjected to pretty awful football for what seemed like a never-ending stretch of years. This was before the days of DirecTV’s “Sunday Ticket”, when three-win seasons were the norm for The Queen City Tigers, and when head coaches were cycled through like inexpensive suits. It was a time where a seven-win season gave fans hope for the future. The time period was affectionately coined “The Lost Decade”.
For those fans who are on the younger end of the age spectrum, the heartbreak witnessed in the Andy Dalton/Marvin Lewis era pales in comparison to the embarrassment the older members of the fan base experienced from 1991-2002.
Even so, that didn’t mean the Bengals didn’t amass talent during the era. In fact, a number of players could have been (or ended up being) valuable pieces elsewhere.
It’s easy to point to the class of 2001 comprised of Justin Smith, Chad Johnson, Rudi Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh as guys who would be great to have on the roster today, but that’s like shooting fish in a barrel for this post’s purposes. Plus, that particular class really hit its stride when Lewis took over in 2003, so we’ll omit them here.
There are some players who were stuck in the middle of “The Lost Decade”, but when looking at their positions and skill sets, could potentially help this year’s squad as the Bengals attempt to get back to the playoffs. Cincinnati might make a minor move or two in the next couple of months, but with the large part of free agency and the draft behind us, we have a decent picture as to what some of the areas still needing some extra help could be.
Yes, certain star players in the era ended up making the Pro Bowl, but that doesn’t mean they could fully help today’s roster in the way they did in their respective primes of their careers. For instance, Corey Dillon was a great running back, but with Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill on the roster right now, that need isn’t so great.
This one’s for the old-schoolers—let’s have some hypothetical fun.
Peter Warrick, wide receiver: Obviously, this position in the 1990s era would bring about the idea that Darnay Scott and Carl Pickens with this current team would bring about much excitement. However, the current Bengals team has forms of those players with first round speedster John Ross and future Hall of Fame receiver, A.J. Green.
Warrick was a guy who was looked at as a No. 1 outside receiver when he was drafted No. 4 overall in 2000, but with the struggling Bengals, that role never fully materialized. However, when Lewis took over, Warrick had some success working opposite of Johnson and as a punt returner. In today’s NFL, Warrick would have been an insanely effective slot guy with high-end kick return ability.
The Bengals have who seems like an effective slot guy in Tyler Boyd and have a handful of guys on the roster who can return kicks, but Warrick would still be an effective outlet for Andy Dalton in the 2017 offense.
Reinard Wilson, outside linebacker/defensive end: Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the Bengals went back and forth with 3-4 and 4-3 base defenses. When Dick LeBeau was the head coach of the team from 2000-2002, he attempted to create the quality system he put on the field for years in Pittsburgh, but it didn’t work.
The No. 14 overall pick in 1997 ended up being a disappointment for the Bengals, but as a supplemental piece in this current defense, he could have had a major impact. Wilson, though only racking up 24 sacks in 94 games, had a knack for forcing fumbles when getting after the quarterback (seven in his career). Those big-play opportunities on defense would be a big asset in the AFC North, even if his 6’2”, 270-pound frame doesn’t fit their normal physical profile.
Alfred Williams, defensive end: Williams was also known as a disappointment with the Bengals in his four seasons with the club, but he did have seasons of both 10 and 9.5 sacks while with the Bengals in that time. His big stature (6’6”, 260 pounds) fits more of the team’s mold of what they like in their defensive ends, and with Michael Johnson struggling to get into the stat column, a player like Williams in his prime would likely share snaps and be a third down staple.
Bruce Kozerski, offensive lineman: For those who have been fans of the Bengals for some time, Kozerski has to be a favorite. Over 12 years with the Bengals (1984-1995), Kozerski not only saw the highs and lows of the Bengals, but played in NFL games at every position on the line.
Paul Alexander, who was the offensive line coach at the end of Kozerski’s career, loves versatility out of his linemen. After an offseason marked with massive attrition and turnover, a guy like Kozerski, who could play all spots, would be a very valuable resource.
Doug Pelfrey, kicker: The Bengals used a fifth-round pick on Jake Elliott this year, but the kicking situation is still a bit unsettled at the moment. Though he had some significant misses in his seven years with the Bengals, having some veteran steadiness at this point would help after a disastrous kicking situation in 2016.
James Francis, outside linebacker: Another first round player who was part of a defense that had a number of big names added to it through the early part of the 1990s, Francis was a versatile player who did a little bit of everything for Cincinnati. With first round picks spent on defense in Francis, Williams, John Copeland and Dan Wilkinson from 1990-1994, the failures of the team obviously resides in the inefficiencies at quarterback.
Francis had 33 sacks in nine seasons with the Bengals, to go with 11 interceptions and 508 total tackles. The former Baylor Bear would have been a nice piece on the strong side this year, as the team attempts to develop Carl Lawson and other youngsters. Francis was scheme-diverse, and could rush the passer, while also using his massive 6’5”, 255-pound frame to do a number of different duties.
Tony McGee, tight end: Though the Bengals have a Pro Bowl player at the position, Tyler Eifert can’t consistently stay healthy. His offseason recovery from a back procedure seems to be going well, but his missing of 28 games over the past four seasons (including the postseason) brings concern to the position.
Though C.J. Uzomah showed some nice growth last year, McGee would be a great player in the group. He was one of the better tight ends in team history, and one who could both block and catch.
What former “Lost Decade” Bengals players would you like to see on the team’s 2017 roster?