Cincinnati Bengals' Top Remaining Offseason Priorities
It's been a rather quiet offseason for the Cincinnati Bengals—that's pretty much par for the course.
The Bengals aren't known to be big spenders in free agency, and that sentiment rang true once again in 2014.
Cincinnati did lose some key players to free agency, mainly Michael Johnson, Anthony Collins and Andrew Hawkins. The team also decided to finally release center Kyle Cook after multiple seasons of lackluster play.
The Bengals have some work to do before the 2014 season gets underway if they are to make a fourth consecutive run into the postseason.
Let's take a look at their biggest priorities at this point in the year.
Extend Vontaze Burfict
Vontaze Burfict has quickly become one of the league's most dominant linebackers. In a dramatic turnaround, he went from a college prospect chock full of red flags to a long-term starter on Cincinnati's defense.
According to Spotrac.com, Burfict is entering the last year of his rookie deal worth a total of just over $1.4 million.
It's time to pay the man.
He is set to become a restricted free agent in 2015; however, the Bengals need to lock him up early for two reasons.
First, they cannot get involved in a bidding war. Other teams will certainly covet the opportunity of gaining his services, and the Bengals may have to spend more in the future if they wait on a new deal.
Second, Burfict should put up ridiculous numbers once again in 2014. If that's the case, his price tag goes up and Cincinnati is once again shelling out more money than it would have if it had chosen to extend him during this offseason instead.
It's time to break out the pocketbook, Mike Brown.
Bring in a Starting-Caliber Center
This is an easy one.
After releasing Cook, the Bengals don't have much of an option at the center position at the moment.
Trevor Robinson would get the start if the season began right now. Robinson may be a slight upgrade over Cook; however, he's been rather inconsistent in the past and the Bengals need better.
Andy Dalton struggles with pressure up the middle and acquiring a center who can fend off the interior pass rush of AFC North defenses is a must.
There aren't many plentiful options in free agency right now, and it's safe to say that the Bengals won't be looking to bring one in via trade. They'll have to look to the draft in the early rounds.
Marcus Martin of USC, Weston Richburg of Colorado State and Travis Swanson of Arkansas are the best prospects in this year's draft. Cincinnati must look into grabbing one of these players in the second or third round of the 2014 NFL draft.
Pay A.J. Green
It's still unfathomable that the Bengals haven't worked out a deal with their best offensive player yet.
Green has been lighting it up for three years now, and he's certainly proven himself worthy of a big-money deal.
Unfortunately, it appears as though the Bengals will wait on striking a deal with the receiver. During an interview with Paul Dehner Jr. of Cincinnati.com, Mike Brown spoke of his intentions:
A.J. has one difference, you can tender him (with the transition tag – $10.176 million for a WR in 2014). That takes a big chunk of money. He'd probably get it anyway. It keeps him on the reservation. He's not going to be leaving. He's going to be here for not one more year but two more years. Even though we haven't tendered him yet our intention is to do that and put ourselves in position to turn to others such as Dalton, and we would like to turn to a couple more as well. We would like to get something long term, but at least we know with A.J. we have two years. With some of the others we have one year.
So, it appears as though the transition tag is on the horizon for Green. He'll make big money once this happens, which makes the decision a strange one.
If the Bengals are willing to pay Green over $10 million for one year, why not strike up a back-loaded, long-term contract with him beforehand. This will allow the team to continue signing other players in the meantime.
This team has plenty of cap space and must start using it in an intelligent fashion.
Draft a Quarterback
This isn't saying that Andy Dalton will be going away any time soon. It's simply stating that Dalton needs some added motivation.
He's been stellar at times during the regular season, but he can't seem to get over the postseason hump. That's concerning for a team that has one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the NFL.
Looking into the middle rounds of the draft, quarterbacks that should be available are A.J. McCarron, Zach Mettenberger, Aaron Murray, David Fales and Connor Shaw.
These quarterbacks would provide some great competition during training camp and hopefully light a fire under Dalton.
Initially, a rookie quarterback would serve as a second-or-third-string option with the potential to move up the ranks once accustomed to play at the NFL level.
The Bengals must do something to increase the effectiveness of Dalton, and this option has not yet been explored by the team. It's time to draft a quarterback.
Cornerback Youth Injection
Cincinnati's had some great cornerback play over the past several seasons; however, it's time for a much-needed youth injection in that department.
Terence Newman will be turning 36 by the beginning of the regular season. He may not have much left in the tank.
Adam Jones is getting up there in age as well. He turns 31 in September, and while he is still a very serviceable corner, age catches up with players at this position in a hurry.
Leon Hall is still 29; however, injuries continue to plague the cornerback. Hall hasn't played a full 16-game season since 2010 and played in a career-low five games last season.
Dre Kirkpatrick is the youngest corner in the mix here. He's just 24 and has a long career ahead of him. Kirkpatrick has shown glimpses of why the Bengals selected him in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft, but he is still highly unproven to this point.
The 2014 NFL draft features plenty of stud cornerbacks. Darqueze Dennard, Justin Gilbert, Jason Verrett, Kyle Fuller and Bradley Roby could all be potential first-round selections.
It would be wise of the Bengals to strongly consider selecting one of these players with the 24th-overall selection.