2013 Team Needs: Cincinnati Bengals
After years of futility, Cincinnati Bengals fans are rightly celebrating reaching the playoffs two years in a row. And despite losing to the Houston Texans in the Wild Card round, also for the second year in a row, there are plenty of positives to take from 2012.
That being said, when you’re in a division with the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, and the normally dominant Pittsburgh Steelers, you don’t have time to sit back and congratulate yourself on a job well done.
The Bengals still have plenty of needs, on both sides of the ball, and at some point they may need to ask themselves if Andy Dalton is the kind of quarterback who can lead them to a Super Bowl, or if he’s actually holding them back from that goal.
You can find a list of their own free agents here, but first let’s take a look at the Bengals’ biggest needs this offseason.
While they found themselves a solid player in undrafted free agent Vontaze Burfict, the Bengals still have plenty of questions at linebacker as they head into 2013. Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga is a free agent, and his play in the past two seasons makes it unlikely that the team will, or should, bring him back. Instead, it makes more sense to try Burfict inside and bring in help at outside linebacker.
Outside linebackers Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard are also free agents, and with Lawson struggling and Howard missing all but the first week of the season through injury, there is no guarantee the Bengals will bring them back either. That potentially leaves two starting spots open at outside linebacker and, with money to spend, it makes sense for the Bengals to look for someone who can provide an upgrade at the position.
Free Agent Fix: Leroy Hill
Bengals sign player with off the field trouble — it’s a familiar headline. This could be a scenario where Leroy Hill’s off field troubles help the Bengals however, and allow them to upgrade the position while leaving their large amount of cap room relatively untouched. Off the field issues aside, Hill has been solid since entering the league, finishing each season since we began grading in 2008 with an overall positive grade.
He saw his role in Seattle diminish as the season wore on, seeing just 315 snaps in Weeks 4 to 17 after seeing 198 in the first three games of the year. Still, he remained solid against the run, with 15 of his 21 solo tackles resulting in a defensive stop, which earned him a Run Stop Percentage of 7.4% from his 203 snaps as a run defender. With that all in mind, he fits the bill in Cincinnati for more than just his off field activities.
While they signed starting running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis last offseason, the Bengals still have a need at the position this year. Green-Ellis put up the numbers they had hoped for, rushing for 1,094 yards and six touchdowns, but he didn’t make many people miss. With just 23 missed tackles forced from 300 touches on offense, and averaging 2.07 yards after contact per carry, his Elusive Rating of 15.9 was the third-worst mark amongst all running backs in the 2012 regular season.
Brian Leonard, the team’s third-down back, is a free agent himself and with Green-Ellis’ inability to break off big runs, it’s clear they need to find someone who can add a bit of explosiveness to the position and, despite the impressive flashes we saw from Cedric Peerman, we just didn’t see enough of him to justify the Bengals not taking a look at the free agent market.
Free Agent Fix: Mike Goodson
Part of a crowded backfield in Oakland last year, Mike Goodson is the kind of player who could come in and upgrade the backup running position, and provide a few big plays throughout the year. With two talented running backs ahead of him in Carolina at the start of his career, opportunities were hard to come by. However, taking advantage of his chance when he got it, due to Darren McFadden’s injury after being traded to Oakland, Goodson should have caught the attention of a few teams with his play.
As a receiver he saw just 16 passes thrown his way, however, thanks to two big plays against Miami and Atlanta, he finished the year with 195 yards receiving and five missed tackles forced while adding another 221 yards on the ground. That in itself might not seem impressive, but when you realize he did it on just 35 carries, and forced eight missed tackles on those 35 carries, his production stands out a little more. Those 13 missed tackles from his 41 offensive touches, to go along with an average of 4.89 Yards After Contact per carry, gave him an Elusive Rating of 124.5, the second-most of any running back with at least 40 offensive touches.
While Dalton has lead the Bengals to the playoffs in both of his first two seasons, his play has still made it fair to question whether or not he is the guy to carry them for the future. His overall grade from the past two seasons combined works out at -15.0, and while he has had some impressive performances, they have been far outweighed by bad ones.
Adding to the need at quarterback is that backup Bruce Gradkowski is a free agent and, while he may not be the worst quarterback around, he’s not exactly someone who you are going to trust to run your offense and expect him to carry you to the playoffs in the event of an injury. It makes sense for the Bengals to take this opportunity to upgrade their backup quarterback and, if they’re doing so, what’s the harm in bringing in a guy who could at least push Dalton a little while they figure out if he is the long term answer at the position.
Free Agent Fix: Tarvaris Jackson
After spending the past two seasons in Seattle and Buffalo, with no snaps at all during 2012 for the Bills, Tarvaris Jackson finds himself back on the market again this offseason. While his previous performances won’t command a starting gig from the word go, he has played well enough in the past that it’s not unreasonable to think he could be a solid backup and someone who could potentially upgrade a team like the Bengals.
His big arm would fit with the team’s top receiver, A.J. Green, as Jackson completed 50% of his passes on the left side of the field and 20 yards or more downfield in Seattle in 2011. The quarterback situation in Cincinnati isn’t critical enough that they are looking for someone to start over Dalton right now, but a team as talented as this can’t be held back by their QB forever and, at some point, they need to see if they can find someone else out there.
Follow Gordon on Twitter: @PFF_Gordon