It’s almost the end of the 2019-2020 NFL season and the Bengals are slated to be one of the worst teams in football. As a result I’d like to show you what I’d do if I was GM of the club.
Once the season ends and free agency opens, I’d prioritise offering free agents either training camp deals or longer term contracts, depending on their value. For instance, I would extend AJ Green for a couple more years, as he is still a Pro Bowl level player and is a franchise stalwart, so he would bring a strong presence to the locker room and provide a go-to option for the quarterbacks we choose by the end of training camp. I think seven million dollars a year, fully guaranteed, would be enough to bring him back.
I would also re-sign Clayton Fejedelem for a couple more years, as he’s been a bright spot in a below average secondary, as well as Darqueze Dennard at corner for another year. I’d also give Tyler Eifert at tight end another year to try to stay healthy, giving him one year and $3 million.
As far as I can tell (having watched Bengals games and using PFF’s evaluations) I believe the Bengals have the following players to keep in their core, as well as they guys I’d re-signed: Jessie Bates at safety, William Jackson at corner, Carl Lawson on the edge, Geno Atkins on the interior, Cordy Glenn as an offensive tackle, Billy Price at center, Tyler Boyd and Alex Erickson at receiver, CJ Uzomah at tight end, Andy Dalton and Ryan Finley at quarterback, and Joe Mixon and Gio Bernard at running back. Every other player on the roster by my estimation is not a huge difference maker. This gives an idea of who to invest in in free agency.
The only player who is still contracted beyond this season that I didn’t mention that has a burdensome contract is Dre Kirkpatrick. He is owed another $11 million in 2020-2021 but I believe he is not worth that. The cap hit for trading him is only $2 million, so I believe it’s worth trading him to free up more money in free agency and a roster spot.
Who might want him? The Philadelphia Eagles spring to mind as a team with a fairly weak secondary. Having scouted him in the 2018 draft, I believe Joe Ostman can be a potential Pro-Bowler as an edge defender or linebacker, so I’d target him in a trade. The Eagles might be so keen to get cornerback help that they’d even give up a 2020 draft pick to get Kirkpatrick, and Ostman might be expendable on the edge as they already have Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat there. So I’d trade Kirkpatrick to the Eagles for Ostman and a 2020 fifth round pick.
Every other Bengals player who I believe isn’t worth building around can be decided upon later. Besides, they might put tremendous work in during the offseason and turn up to training camp much improved. Potential trades and cuts can be made after training camp anyway. Making training camp as competitive as possible will only improve the team.
I’d now offer the following players training camp deals, as they are mostly unproven in the league, but based on their college tape, I believe they can be big-time NFL contributors, and can be signed to longer term deals if they make the team. They are: Taylor Cornelius, Luke Falk, Tanner Mangum and Jordan Ta’amu at quarterback; LJ Scott, Alex Collins and CJ Anderson at running back; Donald Parham and Keenen Brown at tight end; Winston Dimel at fullback; Johnnie Dixon and Simmie Cobbs at receiver; Cameron Fleming and Mitch Hyatt at offensive tackle; Garrett Brumfield, Terrone Prescod and Alex Bars at guard; Justin Falcinelli and Nick Linder at center; Kamari Cotton-Moya and Derrick Kindred at safety; Tarvarus McFadden, Derrick Baitty and EJ Gaines at cornerback; Malik Jefferson, Khalil Hodge, Jeff Allison and Deshaun Davis at linebacker; CeCe Jefferson, Wyatt Ray, Kony Ealy and Nick Perry at edge defender; and Trenton Thompson, Malik McDowell and Terry Beckner Jr at defensive tackle. Unfortunately I haven’t analysed enough kickers, punters or long snappers to determine who to sign to the team, but maybe the special teams coach can handle that :P.
As for players who are too highly valued league-wide to sign to just training camp deals, I’d sign: LeSean McCoy to one year and $3 mil per year; Tre Madden, the fullback, at two years and $2 mil per year; Antonio Brown at two years and $3 mil per year; Jack Conklin at offensive tackle for 2 years and $5 mil per year; Zach Banner for one year and $3 mil per year; Eric Berry at safety for one year and $3 mil for the year; and Mike Daniels (or Marcell Dareus, or Gerald McCoy) for one year and $3 mil for the year. I’m confident all of those guys would make the team as strong veterans, so investing that amount of money is worth it.
Now for the draft. My two favourite players in the draft, as I talk about here, are Tee Higgins and Ross Blacklock. To secure Higgins, I would want to trade the likely first overall pick we’d get no further back than 6th – so let’s assume we trade back to 6th and get a mid first, mid second and mid fourth back for that pick. Take Higgins 6th, and take Blacklock in the middle of the first.
With the remaining picks, including the Eagles pick from the Ostman trade, I’d take: Lorenzo Burns at corner; David Dowell at safety; Isaiah Wilson at offensive tackle (if he declares); linebacker Shaq Quarterman; center Jake Hanson; Jaquan Bailey at defensive end; and Terrell Burgess at safety. Obviously those players might not declare for the draft or be unavailable when I’m selecting, or I might scout better players between now and the draft, but at this stage I think those guys are the best players at positions of need that can be obtained based on their draft stock. I also don’t expect the offensive tackle Colton McKivitz to be drafted based on big boards around the internet, so I’d sign him and a bunch of others to training camp deals as undrafted free agents.
Anything can happen in training camp – players can underperform relative to expectation, injuries can occur, or players can showcase so much improvement and ability that they beat out more highly touted players. But as the training camp roster currently stands, and considering we can only take 53 players into the season, I’d expect the following players at each position to make the team:
QB: Cornelius, Falk, Finley
HB: Scott, McCoy, Mixon, Bernard, Rodney Anderson
TE: Donald Parham, CJ Uzomah, Tre Madden, Keenen Brown
WR: Antonio Brown, Higgins, Green, Boyd, Tate
T: Wilson, Glenn, Conklin
G: Prescod, Brumfield, McKivitz
C: Price, Hanson, Linder
FS: Berry, Burgess, Fejedelem
SS: Dowell, Bates
CB: McFadden, Burns, Jackson, Baitty, Dennard
ILB: Jefferson, Hodge, Ostman, Quarterman, Hubbard
Edge: Ealy, Lawson, Dunlap, Bailey
DT: Blacklock, Atkins, Trent Thompson, Mike Daniels
K: Bullock, a second kicker/punter in case of injury.
Of the players that miss out, I believe Andy Dalton, Drew Sample, Jonah Williams, Michael Jordan and John Ross have trade value. Since the Bucs might need a QB, I’d trade Dalton and Sample to the Bucs for OJ Howard and a 2021 3rd round pick, and trade Jordan, Williams and Ross to the Seahawks for a 2021 third round pick, as they’re in need of offensive linemen. Everyone else, including John Miller and Bobby Hart’s hefty contracts, as well as Keenen Brown to make room for Howard, would be cut. Sorry guys!
The guys that made the team without contracts for the season could then be extended for up to four years depending on their value. Since the team started with $63 million in cap space during free agency and trade Kirkpatrick and Dalton’s $30 mil or so in contracts, we would still be well under the cap after doing so.