The Cincinnati Bengals have spent the 2022 NFL Offseason doing whatever they could to ensure that they be the last team standing in the AFC for the second season straight. After an improbable run to the Super Bowl last season, the Bengals have worked on shoring up their biggest weaknesses, whether it be through free agency, the 2022 NFL Draft, or the trade market, in hopes of proving that their deep postseason run last season was no fluke.
For the most part, it’s been a successful offseason for the Bengals. They have shored up their offensive line, which was pretty atrocious for most of the 2021 season, and also reinforced a defense that went on a hot run at the perfect time last season.
As a result, it would be wise to expect the Bengals to be one of the top teams out of the AFC for the second straight season. But there were a couple of moves that Cincinnati made this offseason that were quite confusing, and could end up putting a damper on all the good moves the front office made this offseason. Lets take a look at two such moves and see how they could impact Cincy’s season.
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Cincinnati Bengals worst offseason moves
2. Releasing Trey Hopkins
Trey Hopkins was part of the offensive line that allowed young quarterback Joe Burrow to get mauled for most of the season. It wasn’t outlandish to think that the team could move on from him this offseason considering his high cap hit, and the Bengals released him shortly after re-working their offensive line with free agent signings Alex Cappa, Ted Karras, and La’el Collins.
Considering the fact that releasing Hopkins saved Cincy close to $6 million in cap space, it wasn’t the worst move ever. But letting go of one of your best offensive lineman from the 2021 season in return for nothing felt a bit foolish. Despite the struggles of Cincy’s o-line, Hopkins put together his best individual season in 2021 as the team’s starting center. They probably could have tried to restructure his contract, or find a trade partner that would have allowed them to pick up a draft pick while also saving cap space.
It’s not as if the replacements for Hopkins are much better than he was last season either. Cappa is a solid guard, but he’s not directly replacing Hopkins. Collins hasn’t been able to stay on the field for long stretches of his career, leading to his release with the Dallas Cowboys. Karras has been solid as a utility lineman throughout his career, but whether he can hold up as a starter throughout a full season remains to be seen.
Hopkins is still a free agent, so he could still techinically be brought back on a cheaper deal, but the Bengals are going to have to hope their o-line holds up better than it did last season. If not, they could be in some serious trouble in 2022.
1. Not extending Jessie Bates
Heading into the offseason, it was pretty clear the Bengals were going to franchise tag their star safety Jessie Bates. This would buy them time to try to reach an extension with Bates after he helped lead Cincy to the Super Bowl, while preventing other teams from signing him, so it was a win-win.
The problem is that the Bengals never were able to reach an extension with Bates. The front office has struggled to grapple with the fact that they are going to have to dish out some money if they want to keep all of their star players in town, and they neglected to give Bates a new deal in the process.
As a result, Cincinnati cannot negotiate a new deal with Bates until next offseason, and Bates will be forced to play the 2022 season on the franchise tag. Bates has yet to sign the tag yet, and could ultimately hold out as a result of not getting a new deal. That would pretty much be a worst case scenario for the Bengals.
Getting an extension done with Bates this offseason was crucial not only because it locked up arguably your best defensive player, but because it would allow the front office to focus on upcoming extensions for guys like Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tee Higgins. But they have to worry about all of that, on top of Bates and his potential hold out.
Locking up star players is a key part of offseason work in the NFL, and the Bengals failure to get something done with Bates here is killer. They now have drama they have to deal with heading into training camp, and they will have to revisit this situation again once the season ends. Cincinnati had a good offseason, but their failure to extend Jessie Bates is easily their worst move of the offseason.