The Bengals head into an offseason where it feels like they can close the gap on where they currently stand and contention. Sure, the AFC North is the toughest division in the NFL, but with Joe Burrow all things are possible on the football field. Here are five moves they can make around him to put him, and the Bengals as a whole, in the best position to make the leap to the ranks of the winning teams.
- Get Geno Atkins’, Bobby Hart’s, and BJ Finney’s salaries off the books. Per overthecap.com, the Bengals could save a little over $18 million in cap space, putting them at just over $50 million. Neither Bobby Hart, nor BJ Finney amounted to an improvement on the offensive line and the two of them, together, would net the Bengals just over $9 million in cap savings. Geno Atkins, meanwhile, is past his prime an could benefit with a change of scenery for his personal career and for the Bengals organization. Expanding the cap space to almost $51 million would free the Bengals up to really pursue to top offensive lineman free agents like…
- Sign Trent Williams. Yes, he is the highest rated o-lineman on the free agents list which may make it difficult to convince him to come to Cincinnati over a potential bevy of suitors, but adding him would be a huge step toward better protecting Joe Burrow. Williams garnered a 91.9 overall grade from Pro Football Focus last year, making him the top-rated tackle. That is 21.9 better than the Bengals best rated o-lineman, Jonah Williams. They should sign Trent Williams and keep him at his natural left tackle spot while moving Jonah Williams to right tackle thus shoring up the bookends of the o-line. Trent Williams made just under $13 million last year as has not shown signs of decline leading me to believe he’ll get roughly the same contract on the free agent market. The Bengals may have to overpay to get him to Paul Brown, so I could see them getting him at $20 million a year.
- Keep Carl Lawson. The Bengals main pass rushing threat is a must re-sign for the men in stripes this offseason. He earned a 84.9 pass rushing grade from Pro Football Focus while no one else on the defensive line eclipsed a grade of 62.9, which went to the oft-injured Mike Daniels. The Bengals could build a decent pass rush with him and with some deft drafting, which would have a trickle down effect on the rest of the defense. The Bengals pass rush, overall, was terrible in 2020. To lose the one bright spot would be to commit to a complete pass rush rebuild. If the Bengals balk at paying Lawson his projected $13 million-plus per year, they could look to Shaq Barrett who is becoming a free agent after the Buccaneers are finished with the Super Bowl. Barrett will be more expensive, though.
- Sign Matt Feiler. The former guard/tackle for the Steelers should only cost somewhere between $5-7 million a year and has been remarkably consistent. Per Pro Football Focus, he has never graded lower than 65 which is better than any interior lineman graded for the Bengals in 2020. He allowed just two sacks in 548 passing plays while earning a 69.6 pass blocking grade. His cost makes him easier to package with Trent Williams than, say, a Joe Thuney or Brandon Scherff, and you can sign him to a multi-year deal knowing h won’t be 30 for another two years.
- Draft either DeVonta Smith or Ja’Marr Chase at No. 5. Supposing one, or both, of the receivers fall to the Bengals in the first round they should absolutely use their top selection on one of them. I’m even saying this if Penei Sewell falls to them. The Bengals will be better suited building their o-line through free agency and with mid-round draft picks. Adding a Smith or a Chase to the playmakers solidifies the talent and the youth while also adding to the cost-effective years of control the Bengals would have. Higgins and Smith/Chase would be with the Bengals for a handful of years on rookie contracts. Boyd and Mixon still have multiple years left on their deals. With Joe Burrow also on his rookie contract, this would allow the finances to be focused on veteran o-line help and defense.