Over the summer, the scouting staff here at The Draft Network spent a lot of time putting together team preview guides for all 32 teams in the NFL. In the guide, we touched on where each team was in their franchise life cycle and identified six stages an NFL franchise can be in. The six stages included: directionless, rebuilding, young contender, win now, long-term contender, and team in transition.
The Cincinnati Bengals are at an interesting point in their cycle. Before the season, I had them listed as a rebuilding team, as there was a lot of work to do to get the roster to a point of being competitive and the team was set to start over with franchise quarterback Joe Burrow. The goal now for the Bengals is to move past the rebuilding phase, and into the young contender phase of the life cycle.
In order for the Bengals to become a young contender, they need to address quite a few needs on this roster. First and foremost, the team has to address an offensive line that was one of the worst units in all of football. The team could use some more help on defense, specifically up front as the team ranked last in the NFL in sacks. Adding more talent to help build a solid team around Burrow, who by all accounts is going to be one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, must be a priority for the front office this offseason.
The Bengals have drafted well over the past few seasons, and last year especially was a strong draft for them. It is important that they continue to nail those draft picks, as the team historically doesn’t spend a lot in free agency. However, last offseason they did open up the checkbook a lot more than they have in years past, signing marquee free agents like defensive tackle D.J. Reader and cornerback Trae Waynes—and with the fifth-most available cap space in the NFL heading into the offseason, we could see the Bengals once again be active in free agency.
Here are three offensive free agents the Bengals could look to sign as they build around Burrow.
Joe Thuney, G, New England Patriots
As it stands, the Bengals don’t have any starting-caliber guards on their roster. I could make a very strong argument that the play of their interior linemen was worse than their tackles, and that is saying something. Getting better in the interior is crucial for this team, as the fastest way to get to the quarterback is through the middle of the offensive line. Thuney will be one of the best free agents available and is actually from a town near Cincinnati. Thuney has improved every year he has played in the NFL, and at just 28 years old, he has a ton of very good football ahead of him. Adding Thuney would go a long way in making sure Burrow is standing upright in 2021.
Hunter Henry, TE, Los Angeles Chargers
Cincinnati could certainly use some more help at tight end. After starter C.J. Uzomah went down with a season-ending Achilles injury, the Bengals saw very little production out of the rest of their tight end group. Henry is one of the best overall tight ends in the NFL. He is excellent in the run game as an in-line blocker and is able to work to the second level with ease. As a receiver, he is a smooth athlete, he runs excellent routes, and has very reliable hands. He would be a great addition to this offense and will provide Burrow with another sure-handed option who knows how to get open.
Matt Feiler, OT, Pittsburgh Steelers
We already established that the Bengals need offensive line help and adding Thuney, or a top rookie, won’t solve all the issues. The team needs to improve at multiple spots along this offensive line, and this is why Feiler could make a lot of sense. Feiler played left guard with the Steelers last season, but before that spent most of his career playing right tackle. From watching Feiler, I believe he is better playing tackle, but his versatility to play either inside or outside could be very attractive to Cincinnati. Feiler shouldn’t be that expensive and could provide the Bengals a very solid option at right tackle if the team opts to pass on a tackle at the top of the draft.