The Cincinnati Bengals currently have the worst record in football and that’s exactly how Bengals’ fans should hope the season finishes. At the end of the road, the reward of receiving the first-overall pick in the 2020 draft means receiving LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, which should make Who Dey Nation very excited.
Burrow has exceptional accuracy to all levels of the field, field vision, football IQ, the ability to handle pressure, athleticism and intangibles. The season he has put together at LSU is arguably the greatest year an SEC quarterback has ever had. He’s met every moment and proven to be the difference-maker for the undefeated Tigers. He’s an Ohio native and he is perfect for Zac Taylor’s offense. And when you consider the Nebraska ties for both Burrow and Taylor, it’s truly an ideal marriage.
Entering the offseason, Cincinnati has the resources in terms of available cap space and draft capital at its disposal to make significant strides to improve the talent on the roster. Here’s what they should do.
Fire Lou Anarumo
Rarely do head coaches or coordinators deserve to be one-and-done but Anarumo’s unit has performed at a level that warrants the idea. The search to settle on Anarumo as the guy to lead Zac Taylor’s defense was exhausting. After the Bengals’ passed on Jack Del Rio, Florida’s Todd Grantham turned down the gig and the Bengals failed to secure an interview with Ohio State’s Jeff Hafley.
We have seen other young offensive-minded head coaches land gigs and each of them secured an established defensive mind to coordinate the defense. Sean McVay hired Wade Phillips. Matt LeFleur retained Mike Pettine. Kliff Kingsbury has Vance Joseph. And while Anarumo may be in his early 50s, his experience coordinating NFL defense is lacking.
Outside of a stint in 2015 as the interim defensive coordinator for the Dolphins, Anarumo’s experience comes as a defensive backs coach with the Giants (2018), Dolphins (2012-17), Purdue (20014-11), Marshall (2001-03) and Harvard (1995-2000).
As detailed yesterday, the Bengals defense has been among the worst in the NFL and did nothing to lift a struggling offense.
It was gashed in the run game, yielded big plays in the passing game, couldn’t get to the quarterback and didn’t create takeaways. The Bengals are among the bottom five in each of the following categories:
- Sacks (21)
- Yards Per Passing Attempt Allowed (8.4)
- Yards Per Rushing Attempt Allowed (4.9)
- Takeaways (12)
There is enough defensive talent on the Bengals’ rosters to reasonably expect better from this unit. The worst thing a team can do is cling to mistakes and Anarumo is proving to be an underperforming coach. It’s time for Taylor to try again to find the right lead man for his defense.
Three Contracts to Renew
With a projected $64 million in salary-cap space, Cincinnati does have several of its own free agents to consider for extensions. These three will need to come back.
The A.J. Green situation has been a weird one to follow. Rostered for the entire season, Green never got healthy enough to play in a game. Green is on the wrong side of 30 and has missed 29 out of a possible 64 games since 2016 due to injury. With that said, Green’s production once healthy and what he can mean to a rookie quarterback is reason enough to keep him in Cincinnati.
A first-round pick in 2014, Darqueze Dennard hasn’t emerged into a lockdown corner but he is versatile, experienced and more than serviceable. While the Bengals shouldn’t break the bank (don’t worry, Mike Brown would never), being careful to not create more holes by letting Dennard walk would be wise.
Cincinnati has surrendered the most rushing yards in the NFL, so, on the one hand, it may appear odd to suggest re-signing Andrew Billings who literally exists on the roster to stuff the run. With that said, Billings is an ascending player who has played well in each of the last two seasons serving his role as an interior gap plugger. Poor linebacker play and a lack of depth have attributed more to the Bengals’ issues defending the run. A fourth-round pick in 2016, Billings has earned an extension.
One to let go: Andy Dalton
Andy Dalton helped the Bengals achieve uncommon success, but his run in Cincinnati should be over. The team has clearly peaked with him as the starter and he can be released after the season for a cap savings of $17.7 million while accumulating no dead cap space. Those savings will be helpful for the construction of the roster moving forward and Dalton may get a legitimate chance to compete to be another team’s starter.
Three Key Free Agents
The Bengals are typically quite passive when it comes to the free-agent market but the cap space is available for Cincinnati to add talent to a roster in need of it. The Bengals would be wise to consider these three additions.
Jack Conklin (TDN Analyst Ben Solak)
The Bengals offensive line needs major upgrades, especially at right tackle. The 25-year-old Jack Conklin has been an above-average starter since the Titans made him the eighth overall pick in the 2016 draft and would represent a massive improvement for Cincinnati. He is an athletic blocker that would fit well with the concepts of Taylor’s offense.
Beau Allen (TDN Analyst Kyle Crabbs)
The Bengals have to do a better job winning the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and Beau Allen is one of the more stout run defenders in the league. Whether Andrew Billings is extended or not, Allen would help beef up the interior defensive line and help fix the problematic run defense.
Cory Littleton (TDN Analyst Joe Marino)
An undrafted free agent in 2016, Cory Littleton has developed over the last four seasons into one of the better off-ball linebackers in the NFL. He is a sure tackler that has been excellent in coverage while showcasing impressive processing skills. Taylor is familiar with Littleton from his time in Los Angeles and he would go a long way in shoring up the second level of the Bengals’ defense that figures to be overhauled this offseason.
Draft Joe Burrow
Chase Young is a rare talent that is deserving of the first-overall pick, but he isn’t a quarterback. Burrow is a quarterback, also deserving of the top pick and this shouldn’t be a difficult decision for the Bengals.