The Bengals have promising young talent all over the roster. Last year’s number one overall pick Joe Burrow was the highlight of Cincinnati until the second overall pick, Chase Young, tore up Burrow’s knee in week 11. All eyes are on Burrow’s recovery progress now. The Bengals spent a significant amount of their cap space last offseason, but still, have $35 million to fix the rest of their offense and protect Joe Burrow. This Bengals offseason will be crucial to the development of their franchise quarterback.
Roster Needs: OT, IOL, WR, CB, EDGE
Joe Burrow needs protection. That should be done no matter what through the Bengals offseason. Whether it be done through free agency, the draft, or a combination of the two, Cincinnati cannot have their young quarterback getting hit at such a high rate. The porous offensive line gave up the 5th most sacks and a sack rate on 7.6% of pass attempts. Standout left tackle, Jonah Williams, from Alabama has impressed when healthy. Xavier Su’a-Filo also has injury concerns but is a quality guard. Other than those two, the offensive line needs to be revamped.
The Bengals should be praying that stud tackle prospect Penei Sewell may fall to them at the 5th overall pick, but Cincinnati should not count on it. Considering the significant amount of cap space Cincinnati has, free agency should yield a quality tackle. Trent Williams has been defying father time the past couple of years, consistently displaying why he is considered one of the best tackles in the NFL. Another vet like Russell Okung would make a huge difference as a well-touted pass blocker to give Burrow time in the pocket. Both tackles would cost up to $20 million but are an investment Cincy needs.
To fix the interior of the line, Quinton Spain, Alex Redmond, and Michael Jordan have all been underwhelming and a new face would pay dividends for this offense. Joe Thuney from New England defines consistency at the guard position. In his five-year career, Thuney has failed to miss a game and has been excellent in protection. The 28-year-old guard excels at pass blocking and would be an immediate difference-maker.
The impending free agency of AJ Green and John Ross means the Bengals would be wise to give Burrow a third playmaker on the outside. Tyler Boyd is one of the premier slot receivers, and Tee Higgins shows great promise as a future star on the outside. However, outside of those two are Auden Tate who cannot separate much at all. If Penei Sewell does not fall to the Bengals in the draft, they may have their pick of a Devonta Smith or Ja’Marr Chase. The two studs will make an immediate impact in the NFL and would accelerate Burrow’s growth as an NFL quarterback.
Cincy may opt to address the need in free agency instead where Will Fuller may fill that outside role perfectly. A speedster who can make a difference that John Ross never has would be a logical addition for the Bengals. Cincinnati lacks outside speed amongst all their playmakers and a player like Fuller could take the top off defenses and open up the field for the rest of the receivers.
The free-agent addition of Vonn Bell last season and the progression of Jessie Bates created a strong defensive secondary. Cornerbacks William Jackson and Darius Phillips were surprisingly effective as well. Jackson will test free agency and the Bengals lack the depth to replace him. Mackenzie Alexander has developed into a premier slot corner, likely earning him a new contract to keep him in Cincy.
As to confronting the issues on the outside, Shaquill Griffin will not be the most sought-after cornerback free agent, but he is a solid answer for Cincinnati. The young Seahawk displayed great coverage skills during his sophomore season recording 13 pass breakups. A poor 2020 season can be attributed to a hamstring injury. Griffin is a high upside, cheaper option for a young Bengals defense that should be spending most of their caps space elsewhere.
Addressing the edge position is monumental to success for Cincinnati’s future. The defense simply could not get to the quarterback last season. After shipping off Carlos Dunlap to Seattle, no one could fill Dunlap’s role. The Bengals ended the season last in sacks, totaling a mere 17. The league average sack total was 40 last season, double of what the Bengals produced. Current edge rusher Carl Lawson has been great but will hit free agency. Given his inconsistent play in terms of getting pressure, his future in Cincinnatti is uncertain.
On the other side of the line, Sam Hubbard has not been able to get anything going. If the Bengals do not sign Trent Williams or Okung to a massive contract, they should pour their money into an elite edge rusher. One such as Shaquil Barrett from Tampa would become the face of the Bengals front seven. The 3-4 edge rusher would make a seamless transition to Cincy, fitting the scheme and need. In a 20 sack 2019 campaign, Barrett shows great technique and fluidity at the position. He can beat his man in a variety of ways with multiple moves at his disposal. A player of Barrett’s caliber could instantly turn this defense around.
The combination of offensive-minded coach, Zac Taylor and budding star Joe Burrow is promising to the fans of Cincinnati. Burrow has expressed his confidence in the head coach. Together, they can form a team that can contend with the likes of their division rivals in the AFC North.