You don’t need a crystal ball or deck of Tarot cards to know what the future of free agency holds for the Cincinnati Bengals, or what position first-year offensive coordinator Ken Zampese is focusing on at the NFL Scouting Combine this week.
Wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu will hit the open market March 9, and the likelihood of the Bengals retaining both players is remote. Losing both is a real possibility.
But when it comes to replacing them in the draft, Zampese said the team won’t be looking for clones.
“There’s not always a guy that looks just like Marv or just like Mo,” he said. “So you find the one that you say, ‘Oh gosh, I can do something with this guy. He can do this for us.’ Each guy’s so exciting. They bring so many unique talents, every one of these guys down here. It’s just which ones hit you right.”
As for a specific skill set, Zampese said there’s just one.
“We need a guy that can win, and that comes in a lot of different shapes and forms,” he said. “As we go through this month of March and into early April, we’ll find out who those guys are for us and where they’re valued on the board, round-wise, and we’ll go about picking them when we need them.”
Brandon Tate also is a free agent, which means the only receivers with NFL experience the Bengals are assured to have under contract in a couple of weeks are A.J. Green and then a pair of guys with a combined six NFL catches in James Wright and Mario Alford.
And given that this year’s crop of available receivers is not especially deep, the Bengals may not have the luxury of waiting to find a later-round gem as they did with Sanu (third round) and Jones (fifth).
“You slot them by round and where you think their value is for you, and sometimes that’s different than what the outside perception is,” Zampese said. “We haven’t quite got to that spot yet. That’s kind of determined after we get to see them and meet them.
Wright was a seventh-round pick in 2014, Alford a seventh-rounder. Wright was showing signs of emerging in the second half of his rookie season before a knee injury.
Zampese said he hasn’t had extensive talks with the trainers to see where Wright is in his recovery, but he made it clear Wright is in the plans.
“He’s a big part of what we’re going to do,” Zampese said. “That guy can run forever, he’s tough as nails and he says nothing. He just goes and works, and I love him for that.”
Two other players who have Zampese excited for his first season as a coordinator are quarterback Andy Dalton and left tackle Andrew Whitworth.
Even though the Bengals drafted a pair of tackles in the first two rounds last year, Zampese said he doesn’t see Whitworth, who will be entering his 11th season, making the switch to the other side of the line.
“Whit is a Pro Bowl left tackle. That’s what he is,” Zampese said. “We are not in a hurry to talk about his future. His future is active and over there on the left. That’s his future.”
Zampese, who was instrumental in Dalton’s improvement before a fractured thumb ended his 2015 season in December, said it didn’t hit him until after the wild-card loss to Pittsburgh how disappointing it was that Dalton didn’t get a chance to punctuate the best year of his career with a long-awaited playoff win.
“He’ll come back,” Zampese said. “He’ll use it as fuel. There’ll be a burning desire to show more when he gets in that situation again and be the guy that actually plays in the playoff game, wins the playoff game, and all those good things. He’ll be completely healed by the time we get on the field. The expectations will be whatever they were if he didn’t hurt his hand.”