The award for quietest offseason goes to (insert drumroll here) The Cincinnati Bengals! After 5 weeks last season, the Bengals looked like Super Bowl contenders, sitting at 4-1 despite facing tough opposition (their 1st 2 wins came from the Colts and Ravens, both playoff teams) with 3 of their 1st 4 games coming on the road. After 17 weeks, they were a dumpster fire, holding only 2 more wins from their last 11 games and missing the playoffs entirely. The season wasn’t without its merits, but their previously stalwart defence ranked in the bottom 14 in every single statistic; as low as 32nd in several, including both YPD (yards per drive) and YPG (yards per game). Their offence showed flashes of greatness, A.J. Green was as good as ever and Joe Mixon stayed healthy enough to play in 14 games, putting up 1168 yards and 8 TDs. This team clearly has the potential to succeed, given a good offseason. But was it good enough?
Only one part of this rather bland spring and summer really hurt the Bengals. The hole left by Vontaze Burfict is big, but not as big as one might think. Far removed from his sole Pro-Bowl (and Second-Team All-Pro) season, Burfict hasn’t been the player he once was for few years now, averaging career-lows in all major stat lines throughout his 7 games played. They also lost out on defensive end Michael Johnson (still a free agent), who’s 44.5 career sacks will be missed, though he hadn’t had a productive season, getting only 1 half of a sack. The only other notable man missing from their 2018 roster is tight end Tyler Kroft, who left for an opportunity to start in Buffalo. These offseason losses left the Bengals looking different, but not necessarily worse.
The thing about having a bad year on defence is that it shows a team what they need to fix in order to grow the following year. That was the case for the Bengals, letting go of unproductive veterans in favour of both some more versatile or, at the very least, lively youth and more successful veterans. Shoring up the offensive line with former Buffalo Bills standout John Miller at guard was an expected move, but not an unwelcome one. Even more welcome was the help brought in for the secondary in cornerback B.W. Webb, who’s expected to provide some depth in a unit that allowed a league-high in passing yards. Along with the returning Darqueze Dennard, Webb looks to lock down the nickel and provide relief in the run game to a unit that also allowed the 29th most rushing yards this past season. Linebacker Preston Brown is also returning to lock down the opposition, alongside a new signing at defensive tackle: Kerry Wynn. The Bengals brought back their top 2 tight ends in C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Eifert, which locks down the Red Rifle’s safety valves for a few more seasons, and drafted a 3rd TE in the 2nd round (Drew Sample) to provide future security to a position of strength. Their offensive line work didn’t end with Miller, as they picked up Jonah Williams at tackle with the 11th overall pick to anchor their offensive unit and keep their QB safe.
The Bengals were generally unexciting this offseason, making headway on some fronts but losing on others. It goes without saying that a team missing the playoffs needs to work harder in the offseason than Cincinnati did but, based off their 4-1 start last season, the Bengals might be in better shape than previously thought. Returning to that form after a disappointing stretch to close out the year might be tough, but it’s not out of the question for a team with a reputation for making the playoffs. The real contest for the Bengals resides in the competitiveness of their division.
The Bengals face a near-insurmountable climb in their division, with 3 playoff-worthy competitors in the Steelers, Ravens, and Browns. With 6 guaranteed slug-fests this season amongst their division rivals, and several other serious contenders scattered through their schedule (the Rams, Patriots, and Seahawks, to name a few), the Bengals have the tied-27th toughest schedule this coming season: all this bodes well for a quick rebuild. Their defence doesn’t turn around fast enough to stymie oppositions passing games and the run games of the rest of the league will still steamroll this unit. A mildly improved offence isn’t enough to counter opponents averaging 2.5 points per drive again (better than only the Oakland Raiders, which is a sad comparison at best), and unless things magically gel in their front 7, the defence isn’t ready for what lies ahead. Their floor is 3-13, and their ceiling is 9-7. This just isn’t your year, Bengals fans.