Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor said this week it was too early to tell if the team needs another overhaul or just some tweaks.
Regardless of how the organization attacks the offseason, there is plenty of work to be done as the Bengals seek to turn a 4-11-1 record into a winning campaign in 2021.
The Bengals are keeping Taylor on board for a third year with the expectation he can turn things around after showing some progress in an injury-riddled second season. Taylor will use this important offseason to get off on the right foot.
Here are five things to watch this offseason:
1. Coaching changes
The Bengals don’t normally announce departing assistants, but they’ve already removed a handful off names and bios from the staff list on the team website. They will be looking for replacements over the next several weeks.
Among those gone are offensive line coach Jim Turner, running backs coach Jemal Singleton, wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell, defensive line coach Nick Eason and defensive assistant Gerald Chatman. Singleton left to become the running backs coach at the University of Kentucky.
“When your record is what your record is nothing was ever good enough,” Taylor said Monday.
The Bengals on Saturday announced the hiring of Frank Pollack as offensive line coahc and run game coordinator. Pollack was the team’s offensive line coach in 2018. He spent the last two seasons with the Jets.
All three coordinators are expected to remain with Lou Anarumo and Brian Callahan also getting a third year alongside Taylor and special teams guru/associate head coach Darrin Simmons set to return for a 19th season.
2. Pending free agency
The Bengals have 28 players who are set to become free agents, most of them unrestricted. Among the biggest names on that list are wide receivers A.J. Green and John Ross, cornerbacks William Jackson and Mackensie Alexander, defensive end Carl Lawson, safety Shawn Williams and linebacker Josh Bynes.
Green played on a franchise tag this season and will remain a big storyline until his future is determined, as he was once looking to finish his career with the team that drafted him fourth overall in 2011. Ross is expected to depart after an injury-plagued four seasons and requests for a trade this season, and Jackson wasn’t as consistent as one could have hoped for so it seems likely the team could be satisfied moving on from him.
Lawson made a good case for a new deal after a productive season going from a third-down pass rusher to a starter and leading the team in sacks and pressures. Bynes, the team’s main middle linebacker, served as a much-needed veteran presence among a young position group and said he would like to return to settle “unfinished business.”
Williams still played an important role on special teams despite less playing time on defense, but he’s the team’s second most expensive pending free agent, followed only slightly by Alexander.
Sorting through free agency is the first order of business, Taylor said.
3. Where do new additions come from?
The Bengals were more active in free agency in terms of spending to bring in experienced new players than in past offseasons, but it will be interesting to see the approach this year. In Taylor’s first year, he was forced to rely on the draft to begin his rebuild.
Cincinnati, which has the fifth pick in the 2021 draft, will have an estimated cap space amount of $34.3 million, according to Spotrac.com.
“Yeah, we’ll continue to see where the cap is at and have those conversations moving forward in the next couple weeks,” Taylor said.
The biggest needs in free agency and/or the draft will be on the offensive line, wide receiver, cornerback and defensive tackle. Cincinnati needs better protection in front of Joe Burrow, and it’s possible the Bengals will need to replace Green and Alex Erickson in the wide receiver unit. It wouldn’t be surprising for the team to move on from 32-year-old Geno Atkins, though he remains on contract through 2022, so they will need a replacement to pair with D.J. Reader.
Ideally, the organization will fill some of those needs with free agents, but some early mock drafts predict the Bengals take either Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell or LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase at No. 5.
4. Burrow’s progress
Bengaldom will be anxiously trying to follow along with Joe Burrow’s rehab process this offseason as he tries to work back from Dec. 2 surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee. He suffered the injury 10 days prior in the third quarter of a loss at Washington after he threw a pass and had two defenders collapse on him.
Burrow posted a video of himself walking without crutches Dec. 25 and indicated in his first interview since the injury – appearing on FS1′s “The Herd” with Colin Cowherd on Thursday – that he thinks he will be ready for the start of the 2021 season.
“I think I’ll be ready -- I think I’ll be just fine,” Burrow said when asked about his thoughts on some speculating he might not be ready for the opener.
Burrow was just passing the five-week mark on his recovery from surgery at the time of that interview.
5. Offseason workout program?
Last year, the offseason workout program was shifted to virtual meetings because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is still unknown what this offseason will look like, but the NFLPA recently made a push to abandon offseason workout programs for good, citing a successful 2020 season despite not having organized team activities.
Taylor is hoping the team can meet in person at least for part of the offseason.
“We’ll take every rep we can get every day that we get in there with them,” he said. “We’ll see what information comes out as the next weeks unfold just because the pandemic is still ongoing. Certainly, I love having the players around. I’ll take every minute we get with them face-to-face. That will be a nice change hopefully in the near future having those guys face-to-face and continue to teach that way, and we’ll eat up all the reps we can get on the field. We’ll just see how that plays out.”