A 12-4 regular season finish was overshadowed by a key injury to quarterback Andy Dalton and astonishing exit from the playoffs. The Cincinnati Bengals ended up being their own worst enemy after personal foul penalties cost them a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Wild Card Game, and they will be without Vontaze Burfict for the first three games of the 2016-17 season after he was suspended for his hit on Steelers’ wide receiver Antonio Brown in that game. As the Bengals head into the offseason, they have the ability to spend some money and get better in several key areas. But will they finally get the monkey off their back in the postseason next season?
Strengths and Weaknesses
Quarterback, front seven, tight end
Quarterback: Andy Dalton had one of his best seasons in 2015, but a thumb injury prevented him from finishing the season and helping the Bengals finally win a postseason game under Marvin Lewis. He posted a career-high 66.1 completion percentage, threw for 3,250 yards, 25 touchdowns and a career-low seven interceptions. Dalton was a big reason the Bengals won the AFC North this year as well, and he should be ready to repeat his performance in 2016. If Cincinnati is able to re-sign Marvin Jones or pick up a wide receiver like Alshon Jeffery, the offense could put up enormous numbers.
Front Seven: Defense wins championships and the Bengals have a solid defensive front seven to build around, especially with Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap who combined for 24.5 sacks in 2015. Burfict, Vincent Rey and Rey Mauluga are a linebacking trio that hits hard and leaves bruises, but there is a chance that the Bengals draft a linebacker at some point to help out.
Tight End: Tyler Eifert had a career year for the Bengals and was a major threat inside the red zone in 2015. He finished with 52 receptions for 615 yards and 13 touchdowns on his way to the Pro Bowl. Eifert suffered an injury to his left foot during the Pro Bowl though, and left with it in a walking boot. The injury wasn’t a break, so Eifert should continue to build a rapport with Dalton this offseason.
Secondary, running back, wide reciever
Secondary: The Bengals could have to overhaul their entire secondary if they aren’t able to re-sign safeties Reggie Nelson and George Iloka and cornerbacks Leon Hall and Pacman Jones. All of these players would be big losses for a decent Bengals’ secondary, but expect them to at least lock up Nelson with the franchise tag.
Running Back: This position was once a strong point for the Bengals, but Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard might not be enough to take pressure off of Dalton in the near future. They combined for 13 rushing touchdowns in 2015, but neither of them was able to eclipse 1,000 yards this season. With some decent running back talent heading to the draft, this is another area that they could address through that avenue if they don’t go after someone like Matt Forte in free agency.
Wide Receiver: A.J. Green is still with the team but Jones is planning on testing free agency, and he was the second leading receiver for the Bengals in 2015. He is another option for the team’s franchise tag, but most likely won’t get that designation with the need to lock up at least one member of the secondary with it. Green needs help and the Bengals could end up taking a player like TCU‘s Josh Doctson or Ole Miss‘ wideout Laquon Treadwell in the draft. But how good would a receiving duo of Green and Jeffery be for this team?
Players to re-sign:
DB Leon Hall
DB Pacman Jones
S Reggie Nelson
S George Iloka
WR Marvin Jones
LB Vincent Rey
T Eric Winston
2016 FREE AGENT TARGETS ($33.9 million projected cap space)
WR Alshon Jeffery
RB Matt Forte
WR Travis Benjamin
2016 NFL DRAFT FIRST ROUND TARGETS (No. 24 pick)
WR Braxton Miller (Ohio State)
WR Corey Coleman (Baylor)
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