I am not exactly happy with the path that the Bengals seem to be following in the start of free agency. Yes, that path was as predictable as a hangover after a bender. But just because I could call it doesn’t mean I like it.
I suspect I am not alone.
Following his complete fiasco of a press conference in the opening days of 2011, I was nearly dumbfounded by the prudent, even shrewd, moves coming out of Mike Brown’s front office. The draft was a big success, netting two franchise players. Except for losing JJoe, who seemed to have decided to leave no matter what, the hyper-compressed free agency period was also a success. And then, of course, the season itself was surprisingly successful, turning a widely-predicted 2-14 finish into a playoff appearance.
The accompanying change in the fan base was huge. People like me went from cursing Mike Brown’s name in January to curiosity again in April, to paying attention again in August, to scouring the internet for info in September, to being fully back on board in early November.
And that is why there is danger ahead. How the Bengals handle the next couple of months will have a major impact on a very strained, very tenuous relationship between owner and fan. With last season’s successes, I now have raised expectations. Will Mike Brown make the needed moves to deliver on those expectations?
Danger #1: They are close. This team finally seems to have made it through its 20-year rebuilding program. It doesn’t need a major overhaul. A few tweaks, a couple of upgrades and the Bengals ought to be one of the top 5 AFC teams. Perhaps better than that.
A great season in 2012 is within reach. I want it! We’ve waited a long time for it. We deserve it.
Danger #2: Cap space. Unsurprisingly, the Bengals lead the league in cash available under the cap. They can afford anybody that they choose. I don’t want them to spend on a spending spree and the cap money just to spend it. I don’t want them to end up overspent in a few years, like the Steelers are. But investing in a few more great players to match up with Dalton, Green, Atkins and Dunlap are pivotal.
There is a simple axiom in play here: great teams have great players. The Bengals have a few, but they need a few more. And they aren’t going to find enough of them digging through the free agency bargain bin.
The Bengals are at the edge of the red zone right now. A few smart plays in free agency and the draft will net a touchdown with the fans. They don’t have to get the TD in free agency alone, but they have to advance the ball by landing 2-3 names that don’t make me think “Who’s he?” when the press release goes out.
If the Bengals fumble the ball here, however, they run the risk of undoing all of the good will that they have generated with fans over the past year. Michael Bush is a good start. Ben Grubbs would be a better start. But I expect to be wowwed more than once.
Read the warning signs, Mike! Danger is ahead if you screw this up, in the form of more empty seats.