While most football fans are focused on Sunday’s Super Bowl 50 between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos, others are looking beyond the biggest sporting event in the country to the 2016 NFL off-season. The 30 teams that aren’t competing for the Vince Lombardi trophy this year are trying to figure out what moves they can make to improve their chances in the future. Everyone from the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals to the Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns will try to fill in the holes that left them out of Sunday’s big game.
Although they certainly wouldn’t mind playing in Houston next February for Super Bowl 51, the Cincinnati Bengals — and the entire Who Dey nation — would consider it a huge victory (literally and psychologically) to simply win a single NFL Playoff game. This year, as if the Gods of Football simply wouldn’t allow a Bengals post-season win, an almost certain victory was wasted after a fumble and two unnecessary penalties.
As Marvin Lewis and the Cincinnati Bengals move forward, there are some needs that they need to fill. Below are five needs that the Bengals should try to fill during the off-season, and which NFL free agents might be the best fit.
Considering the fact that they’ve lead their team to five straight playoff berths while competing in arguably the toughest division in the NFL, it’s hard to overestimate the value that Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have brought to the Cincinnati offense. While Green will always draw pass coverage and Dalton is more than a fairly reliable quarterback, another dangerous target for the Red Rifle could establish Cincinnati as one of the most elite passing threats in the league.
As Jason Garcia of Fox Sports commented, Bengals free agent Brandon Tate is absolutely expendable. His kick return numbers were nothing to brag about, and he only played nine downs as a receiver in 2015. At the same time, both Mohammed Sanu and Marvin Jones are free agents as well. Of the two, Cincinnati will obviously be more interested in Marvin Jones.
But if you’re losing both Sanu and Tate, the Bengals could use that money to go after Chicago’s free agent receiver Alshon Jeffery. Sanu made more in 2015 that Jeffery did by himself, so signing Jeffery may be easier and financially beneficial over resigning Sanu and Tate. Plus, it would mean Dalton now has two All-Pro receivers, with Jones and Eifert as additional options.
The Bengals have some needs for their passing defense as well. As Stripe Hype noted, cornerbacks Leon Hall and Adam “Pacman” Jones are no spring chickens. And after Pacman displayed a lack of self-control that ultimately cost the Bengals their first playoff victory in almost three decades, Cincinnati may not be all that interested in bringing him back.
Cincy Jungle suggests Cincinnati take a serious look at both Josh Norman and Morris Claiborne of the Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys respectively. The addition of either pass defender would stand to result in a serious improvement for Cincy’s ability to shut down their opponents’ passing game.
Bengals aficionados from both Cincy Jungle and Stripe Hype agree that something needs to be done to beef up the Bengals’ linebacker squad. While it may not be the most urgent, immediate need for Cincinnati, it definitely will be if they don’t address the issue soon. Guys like Ray Maualuga and A.J. Hawk can’t be expected to contribute much longer, but even with Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict suiting up, some additional help could prove to be a wise investment.
Von Miller talking about the ball he intercepted vs the PATS
— Football Life (@FB1SLIFE) February 1, 2016
Arguably the most valuable free agent this year, Denver’s Von Miller could be just the piece that the Bengals need to have one of the most elite linebacker lineups in the league. Sean Weatherspoon — currently of the Arizona Cardinals — was only signed for one year. If Cincinnati goes after Miller but can’t afford him, Weatherspoon might be their next best free agent option.
Cincinnati could use some new big men on both sides of the line in 2016. While their offensive line was impressive in 2015, they’re facing a lot of the same issues as they did at linebacker with many players nearing the end of their contract and/or career. Those players include Eric Winston and Andrew Whitworth. Fox Sports believes that the Bengals would be better off if offensive tackle Andre Smith were let go as well.
On the defensive side, Pat Sims becomes a free agent, and Domata Peko will begin his eleventh year in the NFL. Cincinnati needs some additional bodies alongside Michael Johnson and Geno Atkins.
To add some depth to their O-Line, the Bengals wouldn’t have to look any further than their own division. Baltimore Ravens guard Kelechi Osemele is a free agent, as is Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz. The bonus to signing either of these two is the satisfaction of knowing you’ve made things slightly more difficult for your division rivals.
At the same time, the Bengals could pursue defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who will be a free agent. A few other defensive tackle free agents worth a look include Damon Harrison of the New York Jets and Ian Williams of the 49ers. Defensive end from the Broncos, Malik Jackson, could also prove to be a very smart signing.
While all of these needs and potential options could result in an even stronger Bengals team than we’ve seen over the last few years, none of the players are instant game-changers. When you’re team is ready for a big change, you need to sign someone big. While Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard were serious annoyances for opposing defenses, how much would it change what the Bengals bring to the table every Sunday if they had one of the top running backs in the game today? Not only would Matt Forte force the Bengals’ opponents to pay more attention to the running game, it would provide yet another skilled set of hands for Dalton to pass to.
With a Top 10 quarterback and one of the most elite receivers in the game, adding a running back with the skills of Matt Forte could be the x-factor that Cincinnati has been looking for all these years.
The NFL’s “Legal Tampering” period begin March 12. The NFL 2016 League Year and Unrestricted Free Agency begins three days later.
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