Well, the offseason has been a complete doozy for the Cincinnati Bengals. Folks who were expected to leave this year did indeed move to different teams. However, there's also been a lot of unexpected changes for Cincy, both good and bad. The NFL free agency saw the Bengals shockingly lose some pieces… and then acquire one of the biggest names that hit the market this year.
With the chaos of the NFL free agency period dying down, it's time to reevaluate the Bengals' roster. What is this team's biggest need heading into a critical year for them?
Bengals' offseason recap
Key Signings: LT Orlando Brown Jr, S Nick Scott, LB Germaine Pratt (re-signed)
Key Losses: S Jessie Bates III, S Vonn Bell, RB Samaje Perine, TE Hayden Hurst
The Bengals were expected to lose star safety Jessie Bates III in NFL free agency. Him signing a lucrative deal with a different team (Falcons) was not surprising at all. What many did not expect, though, is the other departing Cincinnati players. Bates' safety duo, Vonn Bell, left for the Panthers. TE Hayden Hurst, who saw his production rise with Cincy, also joined Bell in Carolina. And in a shocking twist, breakout RB Samaje Perine bolted for the Broncos as well.
The Bengals' offseason wasn't completely bad, though. Their major losses was quickly offset when they acquired former All-Pro tackle Orlando Brown Jr. Cincy also was able to re-sign linebacker Germaine Pratt to a team-friendly deal (another slight surprise). They also quickly moved to bolster their depleted secondary, signing former Rams safety (and 2021 Super Bowl winner) Nick Scott.
A Sudden Hole
For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, the Bengals still have a lot of work to do to fix their roster. Defense has been the main talking point all year long, and the first week of NFL free agency didn't help in dispelling that notion: they lost the best parts of their already underwhelming secondary when Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell left.
There's some hope, though, that the Bengals' defense won't tank with these losses. Cincy was already prepared for a potential Bates' departure when they drafted Daxton Hill last season. Hill didn't see the field consistently, but he showed flashed of great play when he was available. They also did quickly turn around and get a veteran (Nick Scott) to pair with Hill in his potential first year as a starter. That's not to say that Cincy should stay put with their current set-up: the Draft and perhaps even a surprise move could help bolster their secondary.
The bigger issue, though, is the Bengals' sudden losses on the offensive side of the ball. A big reason why they were able to sign Orlando Brown Jr is because two of their key players left for greener pastures. Hurst and Perine were underrated pieces for Cincy that came in clutch for them at multiple points last season. Perine, in particular, broke out as a solid run option for the team when Joe Mixon went down with an injury. His stats do not show it, but his insertion into the regular lineup paid dividends for Cincinnati.
Mixon's run-ins with the law (and his poor performance last season) made him a prime candidate to be cut this offseason. The expectation was that the Bengals had Perine as a good fall-back option when Mixon gets cut. That hasn't happened yet, and it's fair to wonder if the Bengals renege on their reported stance after Perine's departure. Regardless of that decision, Cincinnati's running back position needs to be overhauled next year.
The Bengals' rushing attack last year was easily the weakest point of their offense last year. Many people complained that Cincinnati ran a pass-heavy offense way too often last year. That was arguably borne out of necessity: Cincinnati averaged a measly 3.8 yards per attempt last year. Mixon, the starting running back in 2022, could only get 3.9 YPA. Some of the blame is on the poor run-scheming as well, but Mixon's finesse running proved to be a detriment for them last year.
Finding a great running back to replace Perine (and eventually Mixon) is of paramount importance to the Bengals this year. In particular, they need someone with enough speed to threaten opposing defenses on his own. A good example would be what Isaiah Pacheco did for the Chiefs last season: his speed gave Patrick Mahomes a lot of space to work with, as Pacheco was able to get good yardage per run. Having someone in the “Pacheco role” would give Joe Burrow more breathing room to work with on offense.
Do they need to swing for a star running back? Not really, but if they wanted to, they still could. Even after a week, there are still plenty of names floating around as potential options for the team. Maybe someone like Ezekiel Elliott or Leonard Fournette is out of their price range, but JD McKissic is still around. There's also a deep running back pool in the 2023 draft, and Cincy can probably take a great RB in the late first round.