New Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor will be tasked with turning around a team that’s gone stale, but he will inherit a roster with some promising pieces.
Taylor, the former quarterbacks coach for the Los Angeles Rams, was named Monday as the new head coach of the Bengals. He was introduced Tuesday at Paul Brown Stadium.
Cincinnati was one of the youngest teams in the NFL at the start of the 2018 season, and injuries forced several inexperienced players into bigger roles than expected. The Bengals struggled over the last 10 games, losing eight of them; however, Taylor gets a group that is much more battle-tested for his first season in 2019.
Here is a look at the roster Taylor will have to work with, including those expected to return and those who could move on as unrestricted free agents:
Andy Dalton has two more years left on his contract, but his season-ending thumb injury in Week 12 and subsequent struggles of backup Jeff Driskel, shows the need for finding a quarterback in the draft. Taylor, a former quarterback, may want to start developing his own guy anyway. Tom Savage, who signed to be Driskel’s backup, never played a snap and will likely move on as a free agent.
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The team’s 2017 second-round draft pick, Joe Mixon, is coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season despite limitations playing in an offense that struggled with penalties and often was forced to pass more often than offensive coordinator Bill Lazor wanted. He expressed concern on Twitter when it was reported that offensive line coach Frank Pollack would not return, as Pollack had an impact on his improvement from his rookie season, but Taylor is the son-in-law of arguably the best line coach in the league in Bill Callahan and if he is an option, that could mean even better things for Mixon. Giovani Bernard also is set to return, but the Bengals never established a third back and that could be a focus for Taylor moving forward.
Tyler Boyd’s impressive third season came to an end with an MCL sprain suffered in Week 14, but he told Alex Marvez on Sirius XM-NFL this week that he has two more weeks of rehab left and expects to bounce back in 2019. He topped the 1,000-yard receiving mark in his final game and established himself as one of the top No. 2 wideouts in the league while playing alongside A.J. Green. Green’s season was cut short by a toe injury that ultimately required surgery and expects to be back to finish the final year of his contract in 2019. Alex Erickson signed a new deal this season, and none of the other receivers are free agents this year. Perhaps Taylor can get more out of 2017 first-round pick John Ross, who had seven touchdowns but only 21 receptions in his first real season on the field.
Two of the team’s biggest draft busts become free agents as 2015 first-round pick Cedric Ogbuehi and second-rounder Jake Fisher were in the final year of their contracts in 2018 and didn’t do anything to prove they deserve another shot. The team elected to sign Andre Smith when Fisher went on injured reserve, rather than rely on Ogbuehi, and Smith likely is done as a Bengal as well. Bobby Hart came in on a one-year deal this season and wasn’t much of an improvement, so Cincinnati likely is looking for another tackle in the draft or through free agency. Starting right guard Alex Redmond is an exclusive restricted free agent, but the left side of the line remains intact with Cordy Glenn and Clint Boling still on contracts, and center Billy Price will be looking for an improved second season.
Michael Johnson is the only notable defensive lineman heading into free agency, as the Bengals gave Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap to new big-money contracts in the middle of the season. Ryan Glasgow and Carl Lawson both will be coming off ACL surgery, but defensive end Sam Hubbard proved capable as a rookie who saw increased playing time because of their injuries. Hubbard could be pushing for even more time in 2019.
Preston Brown didn’t get to finish out his first and potentially only season with his hometown team because of ankle and knee injuries, but should be healthy as he heads into free agency. Veteran and long-time Bengals backup linebacker Vinny Rey also is an unrestricted free agent and unsure what the future has in store for him. The only other player in this position group that made an impact this season was Nick Vigil, and he’s set to return. Cincinnati likely regrets signing Vontaze Burfict to a new deal last year, as he was ineffective and ended his season with a pair of concussions. Perhaps Taylor will be the one to convince the team to cut ties with the troubled linebacker.
The only free agent in the bunch is Darqueze Dennard, who has shown steady improvement as a nickel corner. Many were hoping he would get a new deal last year and it didn’t happen. Taylor has two young defensive backs to rely on with safety Jessie Bates coming off a solid rookie campaign and 2016 first-round draft pick William Jackson considered one of the top cornerbacks in the league, despite a slow start to the 2018 season. Veteran cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick struggled but is on contract through 2021, and safety Shawn Williams signed a four-year deal in 2016.
The Bengals gave kicker Randy Bullock a two-year extension in the middle of the season, so he returns along with punter Kevin Huber, who signed a three-year deal last March.