In order for us to develop informed opinions about who the Bengals ought to pursue in free agency in March and in the draft in April, we need to look through each position and evaluate its performance in 2011. Since the Bengals have the cash and the good foundation that ought to allow them to bring in a top free agent (or two) and a few solid backups for depth, let’s take a position-by-position look at where it makes sense to invest in free agents and what to leave to the draft.
The natural place to start is at quarterback.
Andy Dalton: 16 games. 300/516 (58.1%) for 3,398 yds and 20 TDs. 24 sacks, 13 INTs and 4 fumbles (2 lost).
Andy had about as good of a rookie season as we could have hoped (and was no doubt far better than we expected). His 3,398 yds are good for 5th by a rookie QB behind Cam Newton (4051), Peyton Manning (3739), Sam Bradford (3512), and Matt Ryan (3440). That is not bad company. Also, you can see how pass-friendly the league has become, with 4 of the 5 occurring in the last 4 years.
In case you were curious, Ben Roethlisberger notched 2621 yds in his rookie season of 2004 (-777 yds), and Joe Flacco put up 2971 yds as a rookie in 2008 (-427 yds).
Andy ranked 16th among all QBs this year, just north of the imaginary dotted line between the good QBs and the mediocre/bad QBs. At over 2000 yds behind league-leader Drew Brees (Boiler Up!), there is definitely room for him to improve going into 2012. The addition of another potent receiving option, the return of Jordan Shipley, the
theft of plays from NE’s use of Wes Welker development of plays for Andrew Hawkins, and/or an upgrade at RB should aid in his development.
Technique is one thing, but Andy brought a truckload of intangibles that need no more than fine tuning: poise, presence, command, unflappability. Perhaps that is why FootballOutsiders.com ranks him #12 in the league and 12.4% over average, putting him above Flacco, Newton and plenty of other QB veterans. There is no doubt he is the starter for the foreseeable future.
Bruce Gradkowski: 2 games. 8/18 (44.4%) for 109 yds and 1 TD. 1 sack, 1 INT.
The Bengals chose to carry only 2 QBs in 2011, not the standard 3. I supported that decision. But it does carry a risk. If both QBs go down (which happened to more than one team this year), the team could be in serious trouble when they are forced to bring in a guy with no exposure to the system.
I am satisfied with having Gradkowski as the backup to Dalton. He is serviceable (a nice way of saying mediocre). With one year left, I would not be surprised if the Bengals re-sign him after next season.
If the right guy is available in the 4th or 5th round, the Bengals could draft a guy to be learn the system and replace BG as the backup in 2013. He would have to be the right guy though. Someone who fit Andy’s style and is a high character guy. (Would you call that a smart move, or a waste of a draft pick?)
Ken Zampese: QB Coach
Returning no QBs from last season, and with no offseason to acclimate his rookie QB to the NFL, Zampese did an admirable job with Dalton this year. If Jay Gruden is actually offered an head coaching gig and leaves (something I am on record as doubting will happen), I would fully expect Zampese’s name to be mentioned as a candidate to replace him.
This is not the most controversial of starting points, but it is the right place to start. I doubt anyone is looking to replace Dalton. Do you make any moves at backup? Would you cut Gradkowski and bring in a different vet? Would you draft a QB this year?
Sound off, WhoDeyFans!