The Bengals should have made a move at the trade deadline. They could regret this later. Granted, I don’t think they will regret it. But they could.
The Bengals haven’t traditionally made deadline deals. Their in-season trade history is…scant. That’s being generous. They’ve made two in-season trades since 2011, and both were to ship off malcontents (Carlos Dunlap and Carson Palmer). Fan expectations were, understandably, muted.
The Bengals stood pat despite having fillable needs at tight end, pass rusher and interior defensive line. But look around the league – trades are being made. Impact players are available. Yes, the AFC seemed not to notice that the deadline had passed (which is inexplicable to me, given the incredibly bunched standings), but the NFC certainly loaded up for the stretch run.
The Eagles acquired two-time All-Pro safety Kevin Byard. Sure, the 30-year-old is not having a throwback season, but he’s a valuable addition for a decimated secondary – and all it cost them was a re-tread safety and a fifth- and sixth-round pick. That’s a pittance for a player of that caliber.
The 49ers, meanwhile, acquired former 2020 #2 pick Chase Young. Of course, Young has failed to live up to his pre-draft hype, but if there was ever a scenario where he might live up to his mega-potential, it’s San Francisco. Opposite last year’s Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) Nick Bosa, Young will have plenty of opportunities to abuse one-on-one opportunities with tackles – and all it cost the Niners was a measly compensatory 3rd-round pick.
Even further back, on October 6, the Niners also traded for defensive end Randy Gregory for a sixth-round pick. That’s two viable pass rushers the Niners had added in since the start of the season – and they have the reigning DPOY. The Niners are hitting their bye week on a three-game skid, but when they emerge, they will have used nearly all available means to prevent that streak from reaching four.
Even the Chicago Bears, who wouldn’t normally fit the “buyer” description, got in on the deadline action, acquiring defensive end Montez Sweat. It’s a curious move for the impotent Bears, especially considering the second-round pick they parted with will be quite juicy come draft time. But talentless teams need talent and sometimes, you just gotta do whatever it takes. After all, it’s not like good pass rushers grow on trees.
The Bengals, coincidentally, should know this. Since Zac Taylor took over in 2019, the Bengals have not developed one consistent pass rusher. Here’s the list:
Khalid Kareem – 2020 5th-Round pick
Joseph Ossai – 2021 3rd-Round pick
Cameron Sample – 2021-4th Round pick
Wyatt Hubert – 2021 7th-Round pick
Jeffrey Gunter – 2022 7th-Round pick
Myles Murphy – 2023 1st-Round pick
Stud pass rusher Trey Hendrickson? Signed from the Saints in 2021. Local legend Sam Hubbard? He was actually part of Marvin Lewis’ final draft class in 2018. Even starting defensive tackles D.J. Reader and B.J. Hill were both acquired outside of the organization.
And boy, isn’t B.J. Hill an interesting name? The hero of the 2021 AFC Championship Game was acquired in ‘21 via trade, though it was a couple weeks before the start of the season. Maybe it didn’t happen “in-season” exactly, but it certainly paid dividends down the line. Heck, it’s still paying dividends more than two years later.
What did B.J. Hill cost? Backup center Billy Price. Price is currently on the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad. You’re telling me the Bengals couldn’t part with Trey Hill or a sixth-rounder to acquire a pass rusher like Gregory? What about a tight end, a position that’s been a singularity of shit all year?
It’s definitely not the Bengals style. But so what? Trading for B.J. Hill wasn’t the Bengals’ style, and that’s been a runaway success. The Bengals track record of drafting defensive linemen has been lousy – especially in comparison to acquiring players outside of the organization. Making a Chicago-Bears-like gamble on a pass rusher like Sweat – even if it means surrendering a second- or first-round pick – might make the difference between winning and losing in the AFC Championship Game.
That said, the Bengals do have enough to win it all. The bulk of the team that nearly knocked off the LA Rams in Super Bowl LVI remains intact, with a significantly improved offensive line to boot. As currently constructed, the Bengals have all they need to win it all. But how about a little insurance?
Hendrickson is off to the best start of his career, and is making a dark-horse run at 2023 DPOY, but he’s dealing with an ankle injury. It’s not slowing him down right now, but if it worsens – or he gets an injury that keeps him out long-term – the Bengals’ pass rush will suffer. No one can replace Hendrickson, or anyone on their perpetually underrated defensive line, but if someone was out there who could soften the blow – over even provide one key pressure – it’s worth a late-round pick or two.
It’s too late now. The Bengals will go to battle for the rest of the season with the roster as is. It’s a roster good enough to win it all, but it’s also a roster giving Irv Smith some serious run at tight end. Counting on him to catch a 3rd or *gulp* 4th down pass in Arrowhead Stadium in January is a terrifying proposition. And even though Mahomes and the Chiefs offense has looked more pedestrian by the day, wouldn’t you like an extra pass rusher or two just to make their life a little harder? The Bengals can get the job done regardless, but it would be nice if the Bengals didn’t leave things to chance.