top of page

Bengals Top Offseason Needs

You can rationalize it however you want, but the Bengals had a disappointing season in 2023.  A 9 - 8 record is fine for the Washington Commanders or the Chicago Bears, but for a team that went to a Super Bowl and an AFC Championship Game in back-to-back seasons and employs the only active quarterback in the NFL to defeat Patrick Mahomes in a playoff game?  Doesn’t quite cut it.

Okay yeah, Burrow was himself for, like, eleven total quarters over the course of the season.  A revamped secondary struggled with youthful inconsistency and unfortunate injuries.  The run defense, once a major source of strength, became an unmitigated weakness.  The offensive line, after so much investment, still fell short of expectations.  These aren’t even excuses as much as they’re legitimate reasons the Bengals fell short.

But still, the goal is the goal, right?  It’s always the Super Bowl.  A winning record and a valiant second-half effort may have dulled the sting, but no team with Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins should be finishing fourth in any division (with that said, the 2023 AFC North is arguably the best division in NFL history, so maybe some concessions are warranted).  The Bengals don’t have the luxury of Burrow on a rookie contract anymore – the tightrope act that is building around a game-changing, but extremely expensive passer only gets harder over time, which makes 2023 feel like even more of a lost season.

The important thing is this: if the Bengals are going to win the Super Bowl, they need Joe upright.  Otherwise, 9 - 8 is the ceiling.  But if they can keep him upright…well, we’ve already seen what Joe Cool can do, and it’s glorious.

So, if the Bengals need to keep Joe upright, that makes keeping him upright is their biggest need, right?  But the tricky part is, there’s no one way to do that.  Consider this past season: you can’t even definitively say the Bengals could have done anything to prevent Burrow’s injuries.  His calf strain was a no-contact injury during an offseason drill, and his wrist injury was a throwing injury so…who’s fault is that, exactly?

There are, however, a few places the Bengals could look to improve to make Burrow’s life a little easier.  The offensive line, especially with Jonah Williams a pending free agent, needs attention, and with Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins both potentially out the door as well, the receiver group will similarly need to be addressed.  Both of these positions will directly affect Burrow’s future performance – for Bengals general manager Duke Tobin, these are priorities 1A and 1B.

On the other side of the ball, you could realistically say every spot is an area of need given their play in 2023, but a spot that needs to be zeroed in on is the defensive line, the interior in particular.  Injuries had their role here too, with stud nose tackle D.J. Reader lost for the year with a quad injury, but other key players saw drop offs in their production.  After giving the linebackers (2019 & 2020 drafts) and secondary (2022 & 2023 drafts) lots of love, it’s the turn of the big boys on defense.

A spot that deserves special mention is the tight ends, because it was such an abomination for the Bengals this past year.  Free agent signing Irv Smith Jr. got a lot of hype, but he was an abject disaster from day one.  Drew Sample continues to be what he’s always been: a good blocking tight end who cannot get more than nine yards on a reception to save his life.  Tanner Hudson made the most of his limited opportunities and probably deserves an expanded role if he is re-signed, but while he showed off sure hands and a knack for finding space in the middle of the field, his butt was on the ground at the very first sign of contact.

Brock Bowers, the tight end prodigy out of Georgia, will be on every Bengals fan’s wish list come April, but he might be nothing more than a pipe dream at this point.  He might be slightly undersized for the position, but he runs like an unholy combination of George Kittle and Derrick Henry and has the sure hands that everyone loves in their tight ends.  The Bengals could consider trading up, especially if they can somehow include a franchise-tagged Tee Higgins in the deal and avoid losing too many draft picks, but this is a long-shot.  If the Bengals look to add a tight end in free agency or the draft, don’t expect it to be early or flashy.

Running back is another position that you’ll probably hear mentioned as a big need for the Bengals, but I’m not sure that’s true.  Running back isn’t a high priority for NFL teams these days, and investing anything more than a late-round pick or cheap free-agent flier on a back is a waste for this Bengals team.  Yes, Joe Mixon wasn’t special, but he also wasn’t terrible.  If he’s willing to come back on a cheap deal, great.  Rookie Chase Brown flashed in limited opportunities and deserves an expanded role.  The Bengals might have a “need” at running back, but it’s not crazy to think their solution is just giving Brown more carries.  

The same goes for their secondary and – to an extent – maybe their receivers too.  The secondary was a mess with miscommunications, bad angles and untimely penalties, but with young players like D.J. Turner, Jordan Battle and Dax Hill getting ample playing time, not to mention the growth of second-year cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt, the Bengals may be in good shape.  And while the Bengals rookie receiver didn’t have nearly the exposure their defensive rookies did, both Charlie Jones and Andrei Iosivas showed enough to suggest that at least they’re on the right track.  Losing Tee Higgins would certainly be a blow no matter what, but Jones and Iosivas could replace some of that production in short order.

Here’s something to keep in mind, though – the Bengals were a field goal away from another trip to the Super Bowl in 2022, and if it wasn't for Burrow’s multiple injuries, they could have been in play for another in 2023’s wide-open AFC.  The Bengals don’t actually have that many needs – just one big one: keep Joe upright.  If the Bengals know a way to do it and it doesn't involve anything I mentioned previously, fine.  Do that.  Do whatever it takes to keep #9 standing tall and strong, whether that’s beefing up the O-line and cultivating a run-first identity, keeping Higgins and flooding the field with even more receiving talent, or going all-in on a young, fast, stifling defense.  No one knows which is the perfect path, but only the Bengals can make that decision. And they're running out of time – and Joe Burrow seasons – to mess this up.

17 views0 comments


bottom of page