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It’s a little earlier than I usually like to delve back into football in the offseason, but with the bulk of free agency over, the hope of the offseason had already turned to worry for this Bengals fan. I thought I’d write a little bit about this rather than trying to cover all the signings and moves that have just taken place, and hopefully reflect some thoughts on the wider situation.

There are many ways to build a roster in the NFL, and the Cincinnati Bengals are very much a team who believe in draft and develop rather than spending wildly in free agency. This is an approach that I very much agree with, but it is worth taking note that the New York Giants spent a lot in free agency last year and significantly improved their defence. I think the trick is to make sure you get the right kind of players at the right kind of price, which sounds pretty trite, but given that there are thirty-two teams competing for the same players (theoretically) then as the saying goes, it only takes one a*#?hole, to drive up the price.

Still, the focus for the Bengals was always going to be resigning their free-agents, and this is where things got interesting for the Bengals and their fans. One of the problems the team had last season was protecting Andy Dalton, particularly as Cedric Ogbuehi seemed to struggle at right tackle. With two offensive line starters up for free agency, this would seem like a resigning priority along with cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. However, the only player out of these three priority players who did resign with the Bengals was Kirkpatrick. I was not entirely surprised that right guard Kevin Zeitler was signed elsewhere as Bengals.com editor Geoff Hobson had been writing about the philosophy of Bengals being not to invest heavily at the guard position, and with the Cleveland Browns having a huge amount of cap space, they could simply offer much more money than the Bengals were prepared to pay. I was hopeful that stalwart left tackle Andrew Whitworth would play another season, but at thirty-five years old the LA Rams were prepared to give Whitworth a multi-year deal that was too rich for the Bengals to compete with.

And like that, the best two players on the offensive season last season are no longer Bengals and the commentary has not been good about this. I am worried, but there is at least a working plan behind these moves that I am not sure have been explored enough in the media. Although, I could have easily missed the discussion.

No one would want to lose their long term left tackle when there have been few signs of regression in his play, and Kevin Zeitler was one of the best right guards in the league going into a second contract. Nor is the upheaval in the offensive line helpful when this is the position group that most relies on continuity on the team.

However, one of the strengths of the New England Patriots, and something that Bill Belichick is often praised for is the team’s ability to let go players at the right time, and they would rather let a player go too early than a year too late. It is not exactly fair to compare Marivn Lewis to one of the greatest coaches in the game, and nor does Lewis have the control of personnel that Belichick has, but I can at least see the plan the Bengals have in place.

Two years ago the Bengals drafted two tackles in the first two rounds, and this was clearly the start of their succession plan. Last offseason the Bengals did not resign Andre Smith and Ogbuehi was set to start at right tackle after missing most of his rookie season recovering from the knee injury he had when drafted. I don’t think it is controversial to say that this did not go well, and now he will be starting at left tackle in place of one of the best tackles in the league. However, he spent the majority of his time in college playing left tackle, and whilst his struggles with the bull rush will not simply disappear, it seems too often that people think you can just swap linemen between the right and left sides of the line. These days there are more quality pass rushers coming from the left side of the defence, and so your right tackle needs to be able to hold up in pass protection. I’m not sure how different your right and left tackle need to be as this depends greatly on scheme, opponent, and philosophy, but I do worry about the assumption that you can move linemen around and so I’m hoping that Ogbuehi does better in what could be his more natural position.

The problem is that we can’t know until the live games start. The Bengals have resigned Andre Simth, but the talk is that he will be replacing Zeitler at right guard, which is another change in position although at least it will be a right handed stance.

Apart from the resigning of receiver Brandon LaFell and running back Cedric Peerman, the only other big moves the Bengals made was to sign twenty-six year old middle linebacker Kevin Minter from the Arizona Cardinals and released long term starter Rey Maualuga. This looks to be a like a straight replacement, but also signals a shift in philosophy away from the fierce hitting Maualuga who was excellent against the run, but in the modern NFL was nearly limited to a two down player thanks to the spread formations and passing attacks that now dominate the league. I am sorry to see Maualuga to go, but this is a move that makes a lot of sense to me, and whilst not a splashy move, by releasing both the thirty year old Maualuga and the thirty-five year old Kevin Dansby the Bengals have got a lot younger at a position that is increasing having to be able to cover in the open.

It is usually when a team gets outside of their plan that they get into trouble. I’m sure those in the front office would argue that they have execute several important moves, but there has been a lot of talent leave the team in recent years. In fairness, a large percentage were older players, and the Bengals would have liked to keep one of the two receivers they lost last year. The offensive line worries me thought, and will do until they prove themselves on the field no matter how many positive offseason pieces I read on player training. I am not panicking however, and with the draft coming up and the Bengals having elven picks thanks to the formula that grants compensatory picks to a team for lost free agents, I can see how they can build for next season. There is a lot on the line for Marvin Lewis, but if feels like I have been writing that a lot over the last few years, but there can only be so many failures to win a playoff game before something changes. There is no guarantee that would bring success, and Mike Brown is fairly famously loyal and not willing to waste money, either to cut players or fired coaches, but even his patience can only stretch so far.

For now, there’s the nerves and hope of the offseason, so back to other things to keep me distracted. I’ll write again around draft time.

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