Bengals: What to do this offseason, Part I

Here is one man’s opinion of what the Cincinnati Bengals should do this offseason from a player-personnel perspective. They will also undoubtedly usher in a new coaching staff, but we’ll stick to analyzing the players for now. Part I will cover the offense and I’ll be back with Part II which covers the defense.

WIDE RECEIVER

First of all, it’s time for the “diva days” to end at wide receiver. That means saying good-bye to Chad Ochocinco, someone who has provided us all with amusement over the years (and a lot of production on the field). But it’s time to move on. Chad will be 33 soon and doesn’t have many good years left – although he does take relatively good care of his body.

I think it will be difficult for Mike Brown to let go of Chad, but he needs to. It is obvious Terrell Owens won’t be back, either. (The team has already said as much after Owens blasted the organization.) So, it’s time to start fresh at wide receiver and that’s why it’s great Jerome Simpson is getting quality playing time down the stretch this season.

Yes, Jerome Simpson, the player we all wrote off as a bust. The Bengals took him in the second round in 2008 (over DeSean Jackson) and it was looking like a terrible pick until recently. However, Simpson has tremendous athletic ability and does a good job of catching the ball away from his body with his oversized hands. I’m not saying he’s going to be a star in the NFL or even close, but he does deserve a shot to show what he can do as a starter in 2011.

The Bengals also have 2010 third-round pick Jordan Shipley, who is the ideal slot/No. 3 receiver.

But that still leaves a spot open in the starting lineup next to Simpson – preferably a No. 1 wideout. Simpson might be ready to be a starter, but I don’t think he’s ready to be the No. 1 WR on the team.

So, the Bengals could keep Ochocinco around, who is under contract for next season at $6 million. But again, I think it’s time to cut bait with him. And since the Bengals will be selecting either second or third in the 2011 draft, that means they will have the opportunity to take the best WR in the draft, A.J. Green from Georgia.

I’m all for Cincinnati taking the best player available (the BPA theory always works best) but maybe that player is Green. He’s a gamebreaker-type and a 1-2-3 punch of Green, Simpson and Shipley could have the Bengals set at WR for years.

But there are so many other holes on the team and it will be interesting to see what they end up doing in the draft and in free agency.

QUARTERBACK

I don’t see the team giving up on Carson Palmer, especially not after what he showed last Sunday in the 34-20 win over the San Diego Chargers. Palmer isn’t having a great year, but he’s not having a bad one, either. He’s thrown for 3,665 yards (completion percentage of 61) with 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.

If the Bengals had the top overall pick and had the opportunity to take a can’t-miss like Andrew Luck, it might be a different story. However, he will go to the Carolina Panthers (or to a team that trades up and gets him). The last thing the Bengals need is to let Palmer go and then have some scrub starting at the most-important position on the field. Palmer might not be great, but he is no-worse than a mediocre starting NFL quarterback and he’s proven he can take the team to the playoffs when he has a good running game and defense. Put it this way: if he was the starting QB for the Baltimore Ravens, no one would say a negative word about Carson Palmer. (If it sounds like I’m saying Joe Flacco has the easiest job in the NFL for a QB, it’s because I am.)

So, is Palmer the elite, top-five-NFL-QB we all thought he once was? Absolutely not. But it’s also not time to throw him out with the trash. He still has some solid years left at the age of 31.

Looking down the depth chart, I like the idea of cultivating Dan LeFevour as the backup or No. 3 QB, and perhaps drafting a QB in the middle-to-late rounds to fill out the roster (a player that could be Palmer’s eventual replacement if the Bengals get lucky). Hopefully they finally get rid of Jordan Palmer though – he’s not an NFL quarterback. Knowing the Bengals though, it wouldn’t surprise me if they did nothing at the QB position this offseason. There is a very good chance it will be status quo with Carson Palmer as the starter, and Jordan Palmer and LeFevour as the backups.

RUNNING BACK

I’ll keep this short and sweet: I like the status quo here. I look for the team to re-sign Cedric Benson who will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. I also like Bernard Scott as the young backup. I even like Brian Leonard as the third-down back because of his great hands and his ability to make the first man miss and pick up the first down.

With so many other needs, I don’t see the Bengals burning a draft pick on a running back, unless they don’t re-sign Benson.

At fullback, I’m glad they got Chris Pressley back. I think he’s the long-term answer in terms of a battering ram lead blocker.

OFFENSIVE LINE

This is a very important area to address this offseason. With Andre Smith turning into the bust that many of us predicted, the Bengals have a huge hole at right tackle. They also have issues at left guard, and perhaps center and right guard. (Bobbie Williams is very solid at right guard, but 2011 will probably be his last year in a Bengals uniform.) Kyle Cook was looking like a gem last year at center, but seems to have regressed this season. Then again, he seems to have picked it up in the latter-half of the year, so who knows.

The bottom line is that the Bengals need to add at least one or two offensive linemen this offseason and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them use an early draft pick on one (in the second or third round … not in the first, though).

TIGHT END

I still think Cowboys WR Dez Bryant will be a star in the NFL, but there is no questioning the talents of the man the Bengals chose instead, tight end Jermaine Gresham. He has all the tools and will be one of the best players at his position for years to come if he stays healthy. And I like that he’s been productive from day one and didn’t need some B.S. “adjustment” to pro football. You either have it or you don’t, and he has it.

The Bengals really did well in the 2010 draft as I blogged about earlier this month. Getting Gresham, defensive end Carlos Dunlap, Shipley and defensive tackle Geno Atkins all in the same class was quite a coup. Dunlap has racked up eight sacks – making him a candidate for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year – and Atkins is an undersized demon in the middle of the D-line.

More on those guys – and the rest of the defense – in our next installment. We’ll also cover special teams.

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