As the draft and free agency approaches, I know a lot of our attention will be focused on positions like running back, defensive back, and the interior offensive line, and for good reason. These are the most glaring holes to fill, and with two first round picks in the draft these are the positions most likely to receive help through picks 17 and 21.
That being said, I don’t like the fact that the need at wide receiver is becoming such an afterthought. As important as those other needs are, marginalizing the number 2 wide receiver is dangerous and foolish. There is an obvious and perilous lack of playmakers after A.J. Green. As impressive as Green and Andy Dalton were as rookies, imagine what they could have accomplished with a more dependable target at the other flanker spot.
I do not wish to diminish the efforts of Jerome Simpson, but while he was good for some breathtaking moments in 2011, he simply wasn’t consistent enough. His flip over the Cardinals and his 80-yard dash against the Broncos were memorable, but there were many games in which you couldn’t even tell he was on the field. His route running was inadequate, his body control underwhelming, and he was an unreliable target with far too many drops.
Fellow 2008 pick Andre Caldwell was similarly inconsistent, and proved once again that he is nothing more than a capable slot receiver. Caldwell, like Simpson, is an unrestricted free agent.
Slot receiver is an area the team has well-addressed even without Caldwell. They have Jordan Shipley returning, as well as Andrew Hawkins and Ryan Whalen. All three are good, young options in the slot. Shipley is reliable if injury-prone, Hawkins has game-breaking speed and quickness though small, and Whalen needs experience. However, any of them could play a significant part in Jay Gruden’s game plans in 2012.
To relieve A.J. Green of double-and-triple coverages, and to give Dalton other options, the Bengals must secure a reliable outside threat in free agency and the draft (both). Not just for the reasons mentioned above, but also in the catastrophic case of injury to Green.
This team needs to bring in some veteran help, despite the recent denials of Marvin Lewis and WR coach James Urban. Both note options already on the roster, like Brandon Tate who they claim “never had time” to acclimate to the offense (I suppose because practicing 15-yard kick returns is so taxing), and young potential phenom Armon Binns, who apparently wowed coaches during time on the practice squad.
I don’t deny an interest in these options. Tate did catch 24 passes from Tom Brady in 2010, and Binns was at one point a first round pick in many eyes before suffering injuries in college. I certainly like the thought of these players exceeding my expectations and bursting onto the offensive scene next year, but I’m not betting my mortgage payment on it. Neither should Mike Brown.
There are several options available in the free agent market, including Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham, Colts crusader Pierre Garcon, and Saints Robert Meachem and Marques Colston, not to mention bigger names with less desirable attitudes like Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe, and DeSean Jackson. There are also up-and-comers like Stevie Johnson and Laurent Robinson, and guys that never quite lived up to the hype like Roy Williams, Braylon Edwards, and Ted Ginn Jr. There’s also older guys who’ve performed in the past like Reggie Wayne, Plaxico Burress, and old friend T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Plus a veritable cast of thousands of other options.
Some will be too pricey for Mikey’s wallet, and others are too cancerous to truly consider on this young and impressionable locker room. Nonetheless, with so many available and with so much cap space, the team would be foolish not to get a good one.
I know the Bengals have a bad history with free agent WR’s, but they shouldn’t neglect this need. Pick the guys the coaching staff likes the most and pursue them. Sign one.
In the draft, pick one in the first 4 rounds, and perhaps another in the seventh. There should be 4 new WR’s brought to camp (not including undrafted free agents).
I recognize the giddy excitement of having seen Andy Dalton and A.J. Green make the Bengal offense relevant again. I also concur completely with the desire to rebuild the tractors up front, and bring in a running back that can carry the load not named Cedric Benson. However, this is a passing league, and for the Bengals to win they will need to pass effectively, despite the will and the hope of Marvin Lewis.
Therefore, more help at wide-out is imperitive.
Green will not be sneaking up on anyone this year. Neither will TE Jermaine Gresham. They need another threat on the outside to draw attention and create the chance that this team can beat 2-deep coverages even without a sustainable running game. It’s not conceding the running game won’t get fixed, it’s just preparing for all eventualities, and that’s the job of a good GM.