It's been 10 days now. So understanding that there is nothing more expensive in life than free advice, let me offer nine things the Bengals should do in this offseason. In no particular order...
1. Re-sign Andrew Whitworth. OK, he's not young and, yes, the Bengals took a couple of tackles early in the 2015 draft. But, have you seen anything from Cedric Ogbuehi or Jake Fisher that has you convinced either could play, effectively, on a regular basis? Whitworth will be 35 when the next season begins. But in 2016, he graded out as the third-best left tackle in the NFL. He'll probably be looking at a two-year, $20 million deal. Ask yourself this: would you rather see the Bengals not pay Whitworth and have him show up twice a year against the Bengals playing for the Steelers?
2. Franchise Tag Dre Kirkpatrick. This will cost the Bengals in the vicinity of $15 million for the 2017 season. It would be more prudent to sign him to a longer deal. But is Kirkpatrick the best cornerback on the Bengals by default, or talent? Remember: the Bengals have taken a cornerback with a first round pick in two of the last four seasons. They have no idea whether or not William Jackson III can play at the NFL level effectively. They think he can. But they don't know. Darqueze Dennard has been a disappointment, since the Bengals took him in the first round of the 2014 draft. And unless Adam Jones is completely exonerated from the charges filed against him 10 days ago, he'll be facing a stiff suspension from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for violating the NFL's Code Of Conduct Policy. And that's assuming the Bengals elect to keep Jones. By tagging Kirkpatrick, the Bengals buy another season to determine whether or not Kirkpatrick is worth a big contract, while also evaluating Dennard and Jackson III in greater roles.
3. Sign Tyler Eifert to a longterm contract. This is one of those swallow hard and "do it" things. Eifert is brittle, but when healthy, very good. The problem is, Eifert hasn't been healthy, missing significant playing time for the third consecutive season. Eifert has now missed 26 of the last 48 games. What will it cost the Bengals? Well, leaving Rob Gronkowski out of the equation (not fair to compare any NFL tight end to him) Travis Kelce got a five year $46.842 million deal from the Chiefs. More than $20 million of that deal is guaranteed. The contract that Jason Witten has with the Cowboys expires after next season. But, when he signed it, it was for five years, $37 million with more than $19.5 guaranteed. My best guess is Eifert, who's contract is up after next season, will be looking at a contract in excess of $20 million guaranteed with total money (important to the salary cap) in excess of $50 million. But as intricate as Eifert is to the Bengals offense, they really don't have much choice. They have to sign him.
4. Trade A.J. McCarron. The "Dalton Haters" are going to scream at this one. But McCarron is a luxury the Bengals can't afford. McCarron, on the open market, will be the second most coveted quarterback behind the Patriots' Jimmy Garoppolo. The Bears, Jets, Bills and 49ers are all teams who are shopping for new quarterbacks. Some teams with aging quarterbacks, like the Cardinals and Chargers, should be shopping too. The Bengals aren't going to get a first round draft pick for McCarron. In the NFL, he is largely untested and the Bengals took him in round 5 in 2014. That means, of course, every team in the 2014 draft, including the Bengals, passed on McCarron four times, despite McCarron quarterbacking Alabama to a National Title. Realistically, the Bengals could expect multiple draft picks in return for McCarron, one perhaps as high as a second round pick. They are "all in" on Dalton. They should move on and take other players with those picks who can have an immediate impact and upgrade. McCarron deserves a chance to play, somewhere, if not here.
5. Determine who the left and right tackles are. Right now, no one seems to know. An again veteran who will probably not be on the 2017 version of the Bengals, Eric Winston, played the most effectively at right tackle. Jake Fisher played better late in the season. Cedric Ogbuehi did not, and wound up getting sent to left tackle, where it's believed he'll be more suited. But going back to the Whitworth issue: is anyone, anywhere comfortable starting two untested tackles in 2017? Me neither.
6. Find a new running back. Or just find a running back. Jeremy Hill wilted down the stretch. Gio Bernard was hurt on Nov. 20 and missed the rest of the season. He'll be coming off major knee reconstructive surgery this summer. And while the stats would tell you the Bengals were about a middle of the pack team rushing this past season, in reality they were not. A statistical average of a season and being able to run the ball when you have to run it, are two different things. Bengals offenses have been at their best when they had a running back who could pound the ball between tackles. It's imperative to have that kind of player in the AFC North. Bernard is a multi-faceted player. Lately, though, he seems to be lost in the Bengals offense. He just signed a new contract last winter. He's not going anywhere. So the question becomes, is Hill the featured running back? I don't think that's as clear cut a "yes" as some might have you believe.
7. Draft a place kicker. Yes, draft one. If a top level kicker is available when the Bengals pick in the fourth round, they should draft him. I'll give you a name: Zane Gonzalez. The Arizona State kicker won the Lou Groza Award this past season. He made all but two of his 25 field goal attempts. And from 50 or more yards out, Gonzalez was seven of nine. He missed one extra point, none after the first game of the season. Now, think of what this past Bengals season would have been like if they had beaten the Bills, Houston, Washington, all winnable games where field goals and/or extra points were missed. Would the Bengals have made the playoffs? No. But 9-7 would have had you thinking better about 2017 than 6-9-1
8. Draft and edge rusher. Draft a defensive end or a linebacker who can effectively rush the passer. Carlos Dunlap wanted to break the NFL's sack record this season. He would have needed 23 sacks this season to get the record. He wound up with eight. Not all of that was Dunlap's fault. In fact, very little of it was. It was more a case of not effectively rushing the opposing quarterback. Geno Atkins wound up with nine sacks. But after that, the next largest sack total belonged to Will Clarke, who had four. As a team, the Bengals wound up with 33 sacks, just about two a game. That was tied for 19th in the league. The difference between the Bengals at 19th and the Vikings, ranked at 5th is only eight sacks. Not only because of sacks certainly, but Minnesota had the third ranked defense in the entire NFL. There is a connection.
9. Hire a head coach in waiting. Who is the heir apparent to Marvin Lewis? For as much "heat" as Lewis takes in Cincinnati, look around the NFL. If Vance Joseph is hired as a head coach, which seems a lock, Lewis will have groomed five coaches for their first head coach jobs. But Lewis' time as Bengals coach will eventually come to an end. Who then takes over? Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther would be the logical choice of those currently on the Bengals staff. Is he the best option, anywhere? If the Bengals are committed to keeping all of their current assistant coaches, and they appear to be, why not target an available assistant or former head coach and hire him? At the very least, it gives you an option, internally, when Lewis moves on. You can give this assistant a title of "Assistant Head Coach." Sure they already have that title on Paul Alexander. Who says a team can only have one of them? It's prudent business.
To be honest, the Bengals aren't as bad as they played last season. With Tyler Eifert missing eight games, Gio Bernard and A.J. Green missing the final six games and Vontaze Burfict suspended for the first three games, the Bengals didn't have their full team for most of the season. Allowing both Mohammad Sanu and Marvin Jones to leave last offseason was a mistake. And sticking with Mike Nugent for as long as the Bengals did was just a bad business move. A lot of fans don't want to hear all of that. They think it's nothing but a bunch of excuses. It's not. It's reality. But a lot of the decisions the Bengals have to make are critical to turning things around before next September. These nine wouldn't be a bad place to start.