You might find this shocking, but the Cincinnati Bengals aren't in a position to contend for the Super Bowl. At least not based on how their offseason has unfolded.
Franchise quarterback Carson Palmer played the "trade me or I retire" card in the spring, but because of the lockout he's still Bengals property. For what it's worth, team owner Mike Brown has said repeatedly that he will not trade Palmer, but he also spent a second-round pick on TCU quarterback Andy Dalton. So either Brown is bluffing about trading Palmer or does not think Palmer is bluffing on his retirement threat.
Meanwhile Brown did get rid of long-time offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, replacing him with Arena League veteran coach Jay Gruden, brother of former NFL head coach Jon Gruden. He'll bring the West Coast offense to Cincinnati and pair it with Marvin Lewis' defense.
Running back Cedric Benson is sweeter on the Bengals than Palmer, but he's also looking for a new contract as a free agent. His best chance to shine is if he stays with Cincy and picks up Gruden's offense. The receiving corps is a mess, however. Terrell Owens isn't expected to re-sign and had surgery for a torn ACL in April. Chad Ochocinco has spent more time doing stunts than working with teammates. Jerome Simpson has put in work this offseason with other Bengals but watched the team select A.J. Green, a receiver out of Georgia, with a first-round pick.
Meanwhile, no upgrades were made to the Bengals' offensive line, pass rush or safety spots. It's going to be a challenging season in the Queen City.
|Player||Draft Day value|
Impact rookie ... Andy Dalton, QB
If Palmer isn't starting for the Bengals as many people suspect, Dalton should slide right into the starting job. He was impressive in college, sporting a 66.2 completion percentage while running the spread offense and leading the Horned Frogs to a glut of wins. He's a smart player with a good arm, and between that and his accuracy it's believed that he can run the Bengals' offense pretty quickly. Four quarterbacks went in the first round of the NFL draft, but Dalton's skills combined with his opportunity to start right away could make him the most productive rookie passer for Fantasy owners to consider. His receiving corps, though young and unproven, does have a lot of potential.
Keeper-league target ... Jermaine Gresham, TE
There are lots of interesting sleeper tight ends out there, but Gresham is one that should be on the long-term owner's radar. He's got the size you want in a tight end, along with nice big hands. He'll play a lot for Cincinnati again in 2011, and the West Coast offense should suit him well. Gruden said some tough words about him this offseason, but even Gruden will tell you that a man of that size and ability is worth the time and effort to improve. If we're talking about getting a guy to stash on a roster for a year or two and watch develop, Gresham's a pretty good selection.
Bust ... Chad Ochocinco, WR
We suspect that Ocho won't return to Cincinnati as his salary is too big for his dwindling production and he has no-showed player-only workouts over the spring and summer. Plus, the Bengals just drafted A.J. Green and saw Jerome Simpson develop toward the end of the year. The most likely landing spot for Ochocinco is Oakland, where he'll reunite with former position coach Hue Jackson (now the Raiders' head coach) and give the receiving corps some much needed leadership and a good set of hands. Can he still play in the NFL? Sure, but the days of him being a 1,000-yard receiver with more than seven scores are pretty much past him. He seems more interested in off-the-field pursuits than anything else. If you do draft him, expect him to fill in as a one-week replacement during the season. He's a late-round pick.
If Dalton does end up as the Bengals' starting quarterback, he'll luck out with a nice slate. Ditto for Cedric Benson. Save for the divisional brouhahas against the Steelers and Ravens, there's not too much to fear. They do play the Steelers twice and the Ravens once over a four week span (Weeks 10-13), but the rest of the schedule is really not bad. They start off the year with a favorable run and end the season with Baltimore at home, saving a bad matchup for owners that don't play into Week 17.
Training camp topics
Not only is Cincinnati's roster in flux, but those offensive players who stick with the team will have to learn Gruden's West Coast offense quickly. Remember, Gruden hasn't had much offseason contact with these players because of the labor situation, so growing pains are to be expected, and they could potentially get ugly if multiple rookies begin the season as starters.
The new coaching staff could also be a problem for receivers Jerome Simpson, Jordan Shipley and Andre Caldwell. Not that the coaches are going to be tough on them, but because it's a new offense to learn and they could take a little time to get accustomed. Simpson is the most interesting name on the list after he ended 2010 with 18 catches for 247 yards and three touchdowns against the Chargers and Ravens in Weeks 16 and 17. He's got the tools to be a big-time receiver for the Bengals, but he's at the same starting point as Green and all the other receivers on the roster.
The Bengals don't have a new defensive playbook to learn or scheme to master, but they do have to find a way to retain cornerback Johnathan Joseph. The stellar cornerback is set for free agency this offseason and would open up a pretty big hole in the Bengal defense if he left. The defense is already shaky at safety and might potentially get rocked by speedy slot receivers and tight ends regularly, so they don't need to lose Joseph on top of that.
And if all the problems for the Bengals weren't enough, they don't have a kicker locked on the roster. Mike Nugent is coming off of a knee injury and Clint Stitser is ... well, Clint Stitser. He missed two extra points last year.
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