As predicted, the offensive line has been one of the most talked about Bengals story lines leading up to the preseason. From the media's perspective, the position group was below average last year and lost its two best players in free agency. They aren't wrong, but the second part of the discussion strays into how the Bengals decided to ignore there offensive line needs before spiraling into obligatory shots at Mike Brown being too cheap to resign veteran players. Okay. Here's where I have to suit up with my orange and black sword and shield and fend off some shoddy analysis fraught with Bengals stereotypes.
Let's start with the first part. The Bengals have a plan and they are executing it. Sure, they would have preferred to sign Andrew Whitworth to one more contract to give Cedric Ogbuehi more time, but let's not pretend signing a 35 year old offensive lineman to a three year contract is a no-brainer.
Transitioning to Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher at OT was always the plan. Analysts have concluded that the two young OT's are busts. They didn't jump in and start on day one so they must be terrible.
Bengals.com writer Geoff Hobson spins a different tale:
Ogbuehi was injured for his first year and a half on the team and missed his first two training camps. He is more comfortable on the left side than the right where they tried to play him last year. He will be fine. Fisher will be fine. Everything is going to be okay.
What's the real answer? Probably somewhere in between. On the right side, most analysts didn't catch Fisher playing well at RT down the stretch last season. I think they're in better shape there than anyone outside of Cincinnati realizes. Even if Fisher stumbles, Eric Winston and Andre Smith are reasonable safety nets.
The left side is a little less settled. Ogbuehi will have more growing pains than Andy Dalton's blind side would care to experience for at least the first half of this year. Reading articles, even the perpetually optimistic Hobson sounds a little nervous about Ogbuehi's performance in camp so far. Reportedly he looked okay early on but as the defense has started to go less vanilla the last few days, the O-line has crumbled headlined by a wide-open freeway to Dalton around the left side of the line. Either Carl Lawson is going to vault from fourth round draft pick to instant all-pro or Ogbuehi is going to struggle out of the gate. Unfortunately, I'm leaning towards the latter. Worse yet, they don't really have a great alternative. More than likely if they have to pull the plug on Ogbuehi, Fisher will slide over to the left side, and Smith/Winston will hold down the right side, but who knows if that will even work. For a position group that thrives on continuity, it is unsettling to hear about O-line coach Paul Alexander shuffling players around constantly the first few days of camp because he's trying to find out his best five guys.
Despite all of that, to conclude that Ogbuehi has already peaked as a professional and there is no hope of development is a little short-sighted. It looks iffy right now, but the jury is still out. If he still hasn't progressed into a more reliable blocker mid way through next season, go ahead start throwing dirt on him. For now, let's wait and see.
Then there's right guard where the consensus is once again predictably annoying.
Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu left last year. Now Whitworth and Zeitler. They don't want to pay the price to compete. They're too cheap.
Enough! It's revisionist history blended with unfair double standards. Somehow teams like Green Bay and New England manage the salary cap brilliantly, but Cincinnati should just resign every player on their roster like New Orleans who routinely gets picked apart for their irresponsible contracts.
That Bill Belichick, he always gets out a year early on a player rather than a year late.
Mike Brown does it and he's a penny pincher.
The Bengals trust their evaluations and they build through the draft. That's their plan and they execute it with precise discipline. When they hit big on a pick they pay up. They routinely let good but not great players walk not because they are cheap but because it's bad strategy to overpay for role players. Instead of handcuffing themselves to short term gambles they cycle through younger players on the roster and have more flexibility to plug holes as they open up
Letting Sanu go was the right move. They targeted Jones and offered him comparable money to Detroit, but Jones wanted a shot at a WR1 role in an offense. Dalton, A.J. Green, Geno Atkins, the Bengals have stepped up to pay their stars. They've given some second contracts to mid-tier players (Giovani Bernard, Shawn Williams, Dre Kirkpatrick) but Zeitler elevated himself above that status. When it came down to adding him to their core talents they decided to save the cap space for players that are harder to replace (Tyler Eifert anyone?). Make no mistake, they'll miss Zeitler this year. They'll try to plug the hole with Trey Hopkins or Smith, but more than likely whoever wins the job will be just a placeholder. This roster isn't set up to contend in 2017. They made a push in 2015, but Andy Dalton got hurt and the whole thing went up in smoke into the Cincinnati air with an Adam Jones sucker punch. Sure, they could have pushed all of their chips to the center of the table and loaded up the roster with a bunch of dead money to make a more serious run, but they realized their defense wasn't good enough and when Jones left the offense didn't quite have enough firepower. Instead of chasing a miracle card on the river they opted to stick with what they're good at: Take a step back, retool through the draft, and push for a wider window of opportunity in the future when they have better cards. Kenny Rogers would be proud.
This roster is primed for 2018-2020. The mistake a lot of people make is analyzing draft picks for impact on the upcoming season.
Oh no! John Ross isn't ready for contact yet! They're counting on him this year!
Some rookies might flash as role players but even the good ones can't be counted on for significant contributions for 2 to 4 years after they are picked. Skill position players, defensive lineman, OT's, they take longer to develop. Guards, LB's, you can find higher level talent in the late day 1 to day 2 range of the draft and they can play at a high level sooner. Cincy added their CB's, WR's, and defensive lineman the last couple of years and they'll be ready when they need them.
No Wait, that's not what they're really doing they're just being cheap.
Because somehow a team that has finished top ten in total player salary spending three of the last four years is cheap (the one year they weren't in the top ten they were 20th, but only $4 million behind the 4th highest spending team).