The Cincinnati Bengals took a big step back in 2016. They came off of a 12-4 season to finish 6-9-1. The tie being against the Washington Redskins in the team’s first trip to London. In the 2017 draft they picked a fast wide received in John Ross, a good running back with a bad history in Joe Mixon, and a power rushing defensive end named Jordan Willis. They also signed five players to one-year contracts, four of them 30 years old or older. In truth, they really didn’t do much of anything to improve themselves over the previous year, relying on the draft picks to make the team better. They went into 2017 assuming 2016 was the fluke and they could get back to the highs of 2015.
Well, of their first three pics of the draft, Joe Mixon turned out to be the deal, carrying the ball 178 times for 626 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also caught 30 passes for 287 yards, making him a great second round pick. Jordan Willis had an uninspiring rookie season, making 25 total touchdowns and 1 sack. But the real downer has to be first round pick John Ross, who carried the ball once for 12 yards and fumbled, his only official carry of the season. He was inactive or on injured reserve for all but two games in 2017. He was sixth on the wide receiver depth chart coming out of the preseason. 4th round pick, wide receiver Josh Malone had a better season hauling in 6 catches for 63 yards and a touchdown. The team lost their first three games of the season then went 7-6 the rest of the way to finish half a game better than the previous season. Woot! Progress!
In a somewhat surprising move, the Bengals decided to keep head coach Marvin Lewis for a 16th season, attributing the decision to a desire for continuity. At some point a team and coach just need to go different directions, and that may be the case here, but the Bengals aren’t ready to make that call. They did let defensive coordinator Paul Guenther go when his contract expired, bringing in Teryl Austin, the former DC in Detroit. But the biggest news may be that A.J. McCarron has won his grievance against the team and will be an unrestricted free agent when the 2018 season starts. McCarron has backed up Andy Dalton for the last few years at quarterback and had played well when called upon. Now the team not only doesn’t get any compensation for the player, but they have to find a new backup, likely having to spend a draft pick in a year where many teams are expected to go after quarterbacks. The Bengals will likely have to reach on talent or spend an early pick on a backup when they have needs on both sides of the line of scrimmage.