Ladies and gentlemen, the sixth seal has been broken. The end is near. Those goofy 2012 theories are in fact, correct. Armageddon is upon us.
Call it, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Cincy Style.” Either that, or Marvin Lewis and Katie Blackburn have finally staged their long-planned coup of Bengal headquarters. After over 20 years of stubborn adherence to outdated football dogma, there can be no other explanation for the last 5 days.
That is unless Mike Brown is in cryogenic freeze, or maybe he’s tied up in the basement like Sloth from The Goonies.
No matter what the explanation, whether it’s a zombie apocalypse or Mayan predictions, I’ll gladly take it. The world may end on December 21st, but the ride there should be fun.
If the rest of the offseason is as compelling as the last week or so, I might actually get a little psyched. Let’s review the activity to date:
The Bengals came into the offseason with nearly 60 million in available cap space. This was enough to lead the league—or at least be top 3—per reports. This enviable position, as opposed to teams like Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and others who had no room at all, was the result of some shrewd maneuvering last offseason. Cincinnati had been successful in signing several well-regarded veterans to short “prove it” type deals, while also unloading the oppressive contracts of QB Carson Palmer and WR Chad Ochocinco in trades. They were then able to find young replacements through perhaps the most successful 2 rounds in team history, bringing in A.J. Green and Andy Dalton. Considering how well these two performed last year, and with the first year of a rookie salary structure, the team made out like bandits.
But how would they spend that money?
While Geoff Hobson posted his yearly articles about the “real” salary cap figures in an effort to temper fan expectations, we hoped we would see the team spend wisely but aggressively to fill out the roster and improve the team.
At first, it seemed business as usual as we watched DE Frostee Rucker go to Cleveland, DE/DT Jonathan Fanene leave for New England, and then OG Nate Livings join the Cowboys. No one seemed to sweat these losses too much. After all, Livings was the only starter and he was not exactly Mr. Popularity in fan circles. What was perhaps most troubling was the lack of aggressiveness in courting a number 2 WR (all of whom apparently signed with Washington) or in getting after the available running backs.
After the first four days I got downright frustrated. I lost my patience. As a Bengals fan, this is hard to do. Nonetheless, I was finally rewarded with news that the team replaced Livings with Travelle Wharton, a slightly older but generally better alternative at left guard. Wharton adds beef to the running game, and should team with Andrew Whitworth to produce a solid left side in 2012.
Next, the team announced the signing of CB Jason Allen from the Texans. Allen, a former first-round pick had his best year in 2011, snagging 4 interceptions. He was immediately seen as insurance for the cornerback positions, where starter Leon Hall is coming off an Achilles injury, and an upgrade over nickel corners Adam Jones and Kelly Jennings. Some even speculated he could be a swing player, helping out a free safety if they were to lose starter Reggie Nelson.
Nelson, the top free safety in the free agent class, was expected to depart for Miami to reunite with Kevin Coyle. However, after weighing offers from the Jets and (presumably) the Dolphins, Nelson chose instead to come back to the Queen City, solidifying the secondary further.
The defensive backfield would get one more lift during the week, however, as Adam Jones also chose to return on a one-year deal. Jones spent 2011 getting back into the swing of football after neck and hamstring injuries, and will look to show off his first-round talent in 2012 both as a nickel back and punt returner.
Head spinning yet?
Then the Bengals added the running back everyone knew they needed in Patriot BenJarvus Green-Ellis. BJGE gives the team a reliable and humble influence in the huddle. The “Law Firm” has never fumbled in his entire NFL career, and excels in short-yardage and goal-to-go situations, two things Cedric Benson struggled with. Sure, many of us were expecting Michael Bush in stripes, but the BJGE signing gives Jay Gruden’s offense more flexibility as a 3-down back, and allows the team to pursue their back-by-committee approach by adding another horse in the draft.
Next, the team was able to convince OT Anthony Collins to return to the club. Again, many fans assumed he’d be gone—lured away by the promise of a starting job he so clearly deserves. With no aggressive suitors for his services, Collins will be back as a valuable cover-driver at both tackle positions along the offensive line.
The team also announced the signing of DE Derrick Harvey, the guy expected to be drafted in 2008 before he was scooped up by Jacksonville. While Harvey never provided the Jags with the type of pass rush prowess they expected, he should do well in Cincinnati’s rotation, along with another former first-rounder in DE Jamaal Anderson, formerly of the Falcons and Colts. Anderson, much like Harvey, hasn’t produced the sacks he was expected to coming out of college, but nevertheless he should find some success as a replacement to Jonathan Fanene. Like Fanene, Anderson can play end or tackle, and is stout against the run. Plus, he’s younger with less of an injury history.
Then late last night news came out that the Bengals convinced another of their young players, Pat Sims, to return. Sims had a promising 2011 cut short by an ankle injury, and the middle of the Bengal defense suffered after he went down. His return to that Bengal rotation is absolutely huge, and was another unexpectedly pleasing signing.
There are still some moves that may be left to be made in free agency. The team could pursue bringing LB Manny Lawson and DE Donald Lee, as well as exploring another WR or DE/LB.
Taken in total, however, these moves have been absolutely huge.
At best, they constitute a clear improvement at every position. At worst, one might say it was nothing more than a wash. I tend to believe the former.
All this, and the Bengals still have the draft ahead of them. A draft in which they’ll have 4 picks in the first 85 selections, and 8 picks in the first 6 rounds. Not to mention two recently-hired full time scouts added to the personnel department.
What’s next? The indoor practice facility?
There is no doubt that it’s been an exciting spring so far. Whatever has possessed the fine folks at One Paul Brown Stadium, I hope it continues.