With several key players entering free agency this offseason, the Cincinnati Bengals have had to make many tough decisions over the last few months. As a result, the 2016 season will be a big year for a Bengals team that has made the playoffs in each of the last five seasons, but has yet to win a playoff game.
For the 2015 Bengals, they can only reminisce on coming oh-so-close to the elusive playoff win the franchise has been searching for since 1990.
After an extremely successful regular season that saw the Bengals compete for the top spot in the AFC just about all season, they finished the year with a 12-4 record and entered the playoffs as the AFC’s No.3 seed. Unfortunately the Bengals would go on to lose their Wild Card matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers in dramatic fashion.
Now although everyone in Cincinnati felt the pain of losing in the playoffs, there were still many positives the Bengals can take from the 2015 season.
The most important of those positives was the play of Andy Dalton before he got injured late in the year. In the thirteen games he played, he managed to throw 25 touchdowns to just 7 interceptions and his 3,250 passing yards nearly matched his 2014 total in three fewer games. So ultimately, it looks like he may have taken a big step forward last season.
But enough about 2015. After a long offseason, training camp is right around the corner and the Bengals are sure to have one of the most interesting camps in the NFL. So let’s get to it.
Offseason additions and subtractions
Additions: WR Brandon LaFell, LB Karlos Dansby
Unfortunately the Bengals had to re-sign a lot of players this offseason, so there was not much money left to spend on free agency; although they usually aren’t big spenders in free agency anyways, so it’s not really different from their usual route.
For the additions they did get, both Dansby and LaFell should provide some great depth, but it’s unlikely that either of them will make a huge difference to this very talented team. Dansby will certainly help them while Vontaze Burfict serves his suspension to start the year, but after that he’ll likely be a depth player.
Subtractions: WR Marvin Jones, WR Mohamed Sanu, OT Andre Smith, SS Reggie Nelson
As a result of all the free agents, the Bengals took some serious hits to their team this offseason. They lost the 2015 interceptions leader in Nelson to the Oakland Raiders and two of their top three receivers left town. Ultimately the selection of WR Tyler Boyd and the addition of LaFell should ease the transition, but it will still take some adjusting.
Pivotal roster battles
CB: Darqueze Dennard vs. William Jackson III
With the status of Leon Hall still unknown, the Bengals will have a very interesting battle for one of the starting positions in their nickel defense. And it will be a battle of former first-round draft picks.
After being selected with the 24th pick in the 2014 draft, Dennard has so far been a disappointment in Cincinnati. Honestly it’s a big reason why the Bengals took Jackson with the 24th in this year’s draft.
Ultimately this battle may decide Dennard’s fate in Cincinnati though. They expect him to win this battle and if he doesn’t, he could get regulated to the bench as his has in the past two seasons.
WR: Mario Alford vs. Cody Core vs. James Wright vs. Brandon Tate
At receiver, the Bengals will likely have A.J. Green, LaFell, and Boyd as their top three receivers, but beyond that they will be looking for someone to step up in training camp.
Ultimately Alford and Tate have the most experience and seem to be the most likely candidates for it, but training camp could change everything for all four of these guys. One of them is going to be the Bengals’ fourth receiver and at least one of them will likely be released.
Tight End Depth
One of the areas the Bengals will be looking at with extra importance this training camp will be tight end depth. With it looking more and more like Tyler Eifert will miss the beginning of the season, the Bengals will need several people to step up to fill the void. So they will certainly be looking for some extra tight end depth this training camp, which means there will be an opportunity for the taking.
Breakout stars/Potential cuts
Breakout stars: WR Tyler Boyd, RB Jeremy Hill
After a costly fumble in the Bengal’s playoff lose last season, I expect Hill to come out with vengeance this year. We’ve seen the talent before from him, but he has yet to put together a full season at the star level. In 2016, he will.
And as I wrote in the past, the selection of Boyd in the second round gives the Bengals a dynamic playmaker and one of the best receivers in this year’s draft class. He’ll have a big opportunity this season as teams will focus their attention on A.J. Green and he will have a lot of open space as a result. Honestly, it wouldn’t be a big surprise if his name comes up for Offensive Rookie of the Year by season’s end.
Potential Cuts: WR Brandon Tate
Tate seemed to be the perfect back-end receiver for the Bengals, as he gave them added value as a return man, but a two-catch season in 2015 have everyone second-guessing Tate’s position with the Bengals. If he doesn’t have a strong showing in training camp, they may decide to save themselves around a million bucks by releasing the seven-year veteran.