2011 was a season that surprised many by the Cincinnati Bengals. After the drama of Carson Palmer retiring and Chad Ocho Cinco being himself next to Terrell Owens, they seem to have found their replacements in Andy Dalton (-12.2) and A.J. Green (-2.2). Defensively, there is a lot to smile about in Cincinnati with Geno Atkins (+34.8) and Carlos Dunlap (+29.1) both having excellent seasons. They’re in a tough division with perennial contenders Baltimore and Pittsburgh but they are a team that look capable of challenging them.
While 2011 was a success, it set the bar for where the Bengals need to go this season and beyond. A playoff berth was good enough for 2011, with a rookie quarterback and wide receiver combo, but that won’t be considered good enough this year. So where can the Bengals improve their roster? Who would be an ideal fit in Cincinnati? Let’s take a look at their free agency needs and try to determine where they can go.
Primary Need: Running Back
It’s a virtual certainty that Cedric Benson (+3.5) has played his last game in Cincinnati. That makes it seem likely that we’ll see some sort of a backfield by committee approach in Cincinnati. Both Brian Leonard (+6.9) and Bernard Scott (-2.6) will see their roles increased and while both have proven to be adequate, there’s still a need for a solid running back to add to the mix.
Michael Bush (-1.1) would make a lot of sense for the Bengals version of the West Coast offense. A solid all round back, he has the highest yards per catch for running backs with at least 40 targets with 10.9 yards. He finally got his chance to be the lead back in Oakland this past season.While he only averaged 3.8 yards per carry throughout the year, he did have some really strong performances. He showed that he may never be a lead back, but his skill set could be perfect to add into the mix in Cincinnati.
Secondary Need: Wide Receiver
Rookie A.J. Green was a joy to watch for the Bengals in his first season in the league. Averaging 15.8 yards per catch, Green dropped just five passes from 123 targets on his way to one of the best seasons a rookie receiver has had. You would expect him to improve even more this season but the Bengals lack a viable second option opposite him. Jerome Simpson (-12.2) won’t be back and neither Andre Caldwell (-11.4) nor Andrew Hawkins (+6.8) look ready for a full-time starting role. The right fit would be a pair of safe hands to give Dalton a solid option in short to intermediate areas.
After an injury plagued 2010, Jerricho Cotchery (+6.2) struggled to make an impact early for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Then, as the season wore on, he got more of an opportunity to make plays and didn’t disappoint. That small role may have been fine as a comeback from injury, but Cotchery is good enough to start in the NFL. With strong hands, minus that 2010 season where he played hurt, we have recorded just eight drops from him between 2008 and 2011. In Cincinnati, he would be a safe target for Dalton to aim for and would likely see a fair amount of one-on-one coverages as teams focus on Green.
Tertiary Need: Right Guard
Bobbie Williams (+1.9) was the only Bengals’ right guard to receive a positive grade from PFF this season. He likely won’t be back in Cincinnati which leaves Mike McGlynn (-9.1) and Clint Boling (-6.8) to compete for the spot. Bolling started the season last year but even before his injury he struggled. The Bengals will surely give him another chance to show he can be a capable starter here. It wouldn’t hurt to bring in some cover if Bolling doesn’t show improvement however.
After missing the entire 2011 season through injury, Geoff Schwartz (+12.3 in 2010) will struggle to generate high demand this offseason. His value goes beyond just the right guard spot however, as he has also shown the ability to cover at right tackle. That position may not be a need in Cincinnati with Andre Smith (+0.2) finally starting to show some of his first round ability. Having Schwartz on the roster though would give the Bengals a solid backup at both spots. Coming off an injury, he could be a bargain for whichever team signs him, and Cincinnati make a lot of sense.