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The offseason for the Cincinnati Bengals couldn't be any clearer.
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Any action in free agency and around the draft will be centered on building around quarterback Joe Burrow, 2020's top overall draft pick who had a promising rookie year cut short by a knee injury.
Even though the Bengals didn't get to see Burrow in a full season, director of player personnel Duke Tobin said they witnessed enough to make him the cornerstone of the team's progress as free agency approaches.
'I think we've got one of the premier, best young quarterbacks in the game, and we're going to do everything we can to build around him and give him the opportunity to really shine and show what he can do,' Tobin said Monday in his first media availability in nearly a year. 'It's going to start with him.'
In 10 games, Burrow displayed flashes of brilliance, completing 65.3% of his passes for 2,688 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions.
With salary cap flexibility (the exact amount remains to be determined, but it should be around $30 million as of Monday) and the No. 5 overall draft pick, here are three ways Cincinnati can build around its young franchise quarterback.
Make the most of the fifth overall pick
Given their needs after a four-win season, the Bengals should have at least one good option when they are on the clock in April's draft. The most obvious selection is Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell, whom ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has going to Cincinnati in his latest mock draft. Tobin suggested the franchise believes 2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams, who has battled injuries in two seasons, has shown flashes of being a solid left tackle when healthy. If the Bengals select Sewell, they could place him at right tackle, which he played in high school.
But the Bengals should have a couple of good options even if Sewell is off the board. LSU's Ja'Marr Chase could give Burrow a dynamic receiving option on the outside of the formation. Florida tight end Kyle Pitts and Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith are also projected to be top 10 picks. Any of those options should immediately give Burrow and Cincinnati’s offense a boost.
There's also a case for trading down if the right player isn't available. And with several holes across the roster, Cincinnati could use a couple of extra draft picks. Tobin didn't rule out the possibility of swapping the No. 5 overall pick for more picks under the right conditions.
'There's two different things we look at,' Tobin said Monday. 'Are we getting compensation that we want? And are we getting a level of player that we feel good about passing up the current player that we would be selecting? We will go through that process.'
Sign a guard in free agency
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Regardless of what happens at the top of the draft, Cincinnati needs to find a solid offensive guard. The Bengals tried to patch that spot in the middle of the 2020 season by adding former Bills lineman Quinton Spain. He ranked 46th among 70 qualifying players in Pass Block Win Rate as a guard (ESPN metric powered by NFL Next Gen). Michael Jordan, who was benched after Burrow suffered his season-ending knee injury, ranked 65th.
New Cincinnati assistant Frank Pollack will be tasked with making the most of Cincinnati's offensive line. A player such as New England's Joe Thuney could improve the unit immediately.
Tobin said a combination of improved health and added experience should help the offensive line improve. But he conceded that they will look at adding a guard.
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'It's a group that we're focused on,' Tobin said of the offensive line. 'We're always focused on it, but that group in particular will be an important group for us.'
Add a dynamic wide receiver
If the Bengals draft Sewell or opt to trade down at the beginning of the draft, they will still need to find an outside receiver to pair with slot standout Tyler Boyd and second-year player Tee Higgins. After missing all of 2019 with an ankle injury, A.J. Green was unable to find the form that made him a seven-time Pro Bowler and merited a one-year trial on an expensive franchise tag in 2020.
Cincinnati's wide receivers averaged 2.4 yards per separation when targeted, according to NFL Next Gen, which ranked last in the league. On throws of 10 or more air yards, the average separation dropped to 1.9 yards. Only the Indianapolis Colts' receivers were worse.
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Some of that falls on Burrow, who admittedly was lackluster with his deep balls in an otherwise remarkable rookie season. But the Bengals still need at least one more outside receiver to bolster a group led by Higgins and Auden Tate, who is coming off shoulder surgery.
When it comes to overall activity in free agency, Tobin suggested the Bengals will be busy after the normally risk-averse franchise agreed to deals worth well over $150 million last offseason.
'We're going to see what comes our way,' Tobin said Monday. 'We want to attack our team needs through the draft, through free agency, through re-signing our own players, through development of young players that we have. We are certainly not going to sit on our hands.'
For now, the only thing Cincinnati Bengals fans know about the team’s redesigned jerseys is that the iconic striped helmet won’t change.
Everything else seems up for grabs.
In a recent Q&A session over at Bengals.com though, Geoff Hobson might’ve let the smallest of details slip while fielding a question about whether he could reveal any insight about the jerseys:
JAMIE: Thank you very much for taking the time to write and I hope it’s not the last time. The last thing they want me to do is to spoil the surprise, so I probably have more information about the 2022 Paris fall fashions. From what I hear, classic is good.
Classic is indeed very, very good.
In fact, one of the things we hammered home about the new jerseys right after the team announced they were doing them was that we wanted to see things go back to basics and take inspiration from the past.
Again, this is a small, small morsel of potential detail and something to tide fans over until the team actually reveals the redesign. Whether it means more classical numbers and stripe designs on the shoulders or something else is very much up for debate.
Still, something is better than nothing during this quiet portion of the offseason.