Here are four words no football fan wants to hear (or read): “Welcome to the offseason.”
On the one hand, it’s nice for every every team that didn’t win the Super Bowl to get a chance to hit the rest button.
Then again… there won’t be another NFL game for about six months.
To navigate that period of time, here’s a rundown of the key points on the league calendar with some notes about how the Bengals can use them to beat the early odds and become competitors again.
Teams can designate “franchise” and “transition” players.
The best of the Bengals’ free-agents-to-be is probably punter Kevin Huber. He could get tagged or sign a long-term contract.
None of the Bengals’ other pending unrestricted free agents look like high-priority players, though some could have some value if retained — especially at the right price. That group includes Tyler Eifert, Andre Smith, Chris Smith and maybe Russell Bodine.
Feb. 27-March 5
The NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
This is a chance for all of the teams in the league to get a closer look at some of the best prospects coming out of college.
The Bengals will no doubt be looking for linemen, preferably a couple who can help sooner than later on the offense. They could also use a play-making safety, another linebacker and probably a pass-catching tight end. Plus, can any team ever have enough pass rushers? (Nope)
Deadline to tag players (see above).
The backup quarterback is set to be a restricted free agent, but he could be declared an unrestricted free agent if an arbitrator declares he accrued enough service time during his first year out of college.
Teams can negotiate with free agents but not sign them yet.
Marvin Lewis said in his first press conference after it was announced he will be back as head coach the team could try to figure out where the draft class is lacking and be more aggressive in finding free agents who can fill needs. (That was something they failed to do in regards to the offensive line last year.)
Among the free agents who could fit needs for the Bengals are offensive linemen Andrew Norwell, a Cincinnati native who played at Ohio State, and Nate Solder.
There’s also an intriguing group of defensive backs including Lamarcus Joyner, Morgan Burnett, Kenny Vaccaro and Eric Reid.
Perhaps Ezekiel Ansah, a pass rusher who is familiar with new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin?
League year begins, meaning trades are allowed and free agents can sign.
Teams that did not hire new head coaches may begin offseason workouts.
Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets.
Deadline for teams to exercise right of first refusal to restricted free agents.
NFL draft in Arlington, Texas
The Bengals have the 12th pick in the first round. They should have a great opportunity to pick a talented offensive lineman or a playmaker on defense, and the glut of quarterbacks potentially going in the top 10 might help them get just the guy they want.