We all have ideas to make the Bengals better this offseason. Those include upgrading the offensive line, drafting a potential franchise quarterback and adding speed at linebacker.
I'm on board with all of those ideas. In fact, I want the Bengals to do something much simpler than that. I want them to have an open mind this offseason.
In the past they've been narrow-minded in free agency. They have never truly considered looking at or drafting a quarterback to compete with or replace Andy Dalton. They've stuck with veterans that most teams would've released. The philosophy that led to five-straight playoff appearances from 2011-2015 was simple: draft, develop and retain their best players.
That strategy has failed them in recent seasons. The Bengals have lost some of their best players in free agency including Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler. Marvin Jones, Andre Smith and Mohamed Sanu also left in free agency.
Failures in the draft have also contributed to their decline over the past two seasons. The Bengals prepared for Whitworth and Smith's departure when they drafted Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher in the first two rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft. Neither player has worked out.
The Bengals still haven't found a replacement for Jones either. They've drafted four wide receivers, including John Ross and Tyler Boyd since Jones signed with Detroit. Both have dealt with injuries in three combined seasons.
It's time for the Bengals to alter their offseason mindset. Instead of focusing solely on the draft, they need to emulate strategies from the teams that have had success this season.
Philadelphia didn't shy away from free agency last offseason. They signed Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery. The Eagles also traded up in the draft to select quarterback Carson Wentz. They had a quarterback similar to Dalton (Sam Bradford) when they did so. Jacksonville added multiple free agents over the past few years including A.J. Bouye, Malik Jackson, Barry Church and Calais Campbell. The Vikings signed Riley Reiff, Mike Remmers, Datone Jones, Case Keenum and Latavius Murray last offseason.
Free agency isn't this big, scary thing that only bad organizations use to make a splash. The great organizations use it as a tool to improve their team. Imagine if the Bengals address their offensive line in the draft, but also signed one or two proven linemen. The Vikings did that last offseason and their one win away from the Super Bowl.
I want the Bengals to keep an open mind in free agency, but I also want them to be open minded in the draft. They need to take a long, hard look at the quarterbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft. How many will be franchise quarterbacks? No one knows the answer. I do know that there isn't a person in Philadelphia that is angry at the Eagles for trading up for Wentz.
If the Bengals find a quarterback that has more potential than Dalton, then they need to draft him. They haven't seriously considered drafting a quarterback early at any point during the Dalton era. I'm not saying they have to draft one, but they need to remain open to the idea during the evaluation process.
The Bengals need to be un-Bengal-like this offseason. Instead of being stubborn, they need to turn over every rock, look in every direction and do everything they can to improve the roster.
Ignoring free agency, not looking at quarterback prospects and relying on the draft to improve the roster is the wrong approach. Fans can only hope that Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis realize changes have to be made.
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