2024 NFL Offseason Primer: Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals

Projected Cap Space: $45 million

Draft Picks: 9

  • 1st (No. 18)
  • 2nd (No. 49)
  • 3rd (No. 80)
  • 4th (No. 116)
  • 5th (No. 148)
  • 5th (No. 175, comp)
  • 6th (No. 196)
  • 7th (No. 235)
  • 7th (No. 252, comp)

Notable Free Agents: 

Top Three Needs

1 – Defensive Tackle

The next two needs on the list will get a lot more air time when the Bengals are discussed this offseason. But I think the looming situation at defensive tackle bears watching for Cincinnati. Reader was an underrated linchpin for the Bengals’ success on defense over the past few years as a space-eating nose tackle who was also disruptive enough in the passing game to free up others to make plays. However, he just finished the final year of the big second contract he signed with the Bengals as a free agent in 2020, and Cincinnati is infamously selective about signing players to third contracts. 

Complicating things even further, Reader suffered a torn quad tendon late last season, which is a serious injury with a lengthy rehab process like a torn ACL or Achilles. While that might curtail his market and make him more affordable for the Bengals to re-sign, it also opens up questions about how effective he’ll be in 2024. 

Fellow Bengals DT B.J. Hill is a potential cap cut this offseason as well. Tupou, Reader’s backup at nose tackle, is on an expiring deal and DT Zachary Carter is more of a three-technique defensive tackle, not a nose. Overall, the Bengals could use an influx of talent, especially young talent, on the interior of their defensive line. 

2 – Right Tackle

It’s not completely out of the question the Bengals are able to re-sign Williams to stay on the right side and keep their offensive line together. But it feels more likely than not the former first-rounder signs elsewhere, as Cincinnati has already dedicated significant cash to LT Orlando Brown Jr. They also booted Williams from the left side to sign Brown last year, so he might find both more money and a more desirable role with another team. 

There’s not necessarily a clear-cut replacement for Williams already on the roster, as D’Ante Smith is still developing as a backup swing tackle and former second-rounder Jackson Carman has shown little NFL aptitude. So the Bengals will likely have to go outside to fix the pending hole at right tackle. There are a few veterans who would be cheaper alternatives to Williams who could make sense, along with a deep draft class for offensive tackle. Cincinnati will have options in every round to fill this spot. 

3 – Wide Receiver

This is understandably the top topic in Cincinnati with both Higgins and Boyd on expiring contracts, likely meaning the end of one of the NFL’s best receiver trios over the past few seasons. However, the franchise tag makes it likely the Bengals keep Higgins for at least one more year alongside WR Ja’Marr Chase, lessening the immediate need for receiver help even if there’s still a strong chance Boyd is headed elsewhere. 

The Bengals have some time before receiver becomes a blaring need but there’s a good chance they try to be proactive here. It remains an open question whether they can sign Higgins to a long-term deal and it could both strengthen their negotiating position and provide insurance against Higgins’ departure if they add another promising prospect in the draft. 

Boyd could still be back, especially if he’s willing to take a discount, but history says the Bengals will likely let him walk and he’ll sign a solid deal with another team. That opens up a role for a rookie potentially but the Bengals also grabbed WR Charlie Jones in the fourth round last year to groom as a direct replacement for Boyd in the slot. With Higgins back on the tag and Jones stepping up for Boyd, it’s conceivable the Bengals stick with what they have at receiver this offseason if the right value doesn’t present itself. There are plenty of other needs along the offensive line, in the secondary and even at running back that they could address. 

It’s possible the Bengals also go after a pass-catcher, just not a receiver. Tight end has been a major weakness over the past few years, and the Bengals could have a chance at drafting an interesting prospect at that position in the first few rounds if Georgia’s Brock Bowers slips a bit. 

One Big Question

Can the Bengals stretch their window one more year?

It seemed like the Bengals had a golden shot to compete for a Super Bowl this past season with the best offensive line of QB Joe Burrow‘s tenure, an imposing receiver trio and a stifling defense that was one of the few units to have consistent success against the Chiefs and QB Patrick Mahomes the prior two seasons. It was also one of the last years of Burrow’s rookie contract before his market-setting extension kicked in, giving the Bengals one more chance to try and win a ring with a stacked roster. 

Instead, injuries kneecapped the season. Burrow pulled his calf in training camp and it was a long journey to get back. He didn’t start to look like himself until a few weeks into the season and Cincinnati started 1-3. They rallied to get to 5-3 and looked like a team that was starting to find itself and become dangerous. Then Burrow went down again, this time for the whole season with a wrist injury. 

That proved to be too big a hole to dig out of, even if backup QB Jake Browning blew away the minimal expectations people had. Browning went from zero career pass attempts as a former UDFA to completing over 70 percent of his throws and moonlighting as an above-average starter for stretches. Cincinnati went 4-3 down the stretch with Browning but that wasn’t enough to make the playoffs in a crowded AFC. 

This year, attrition has started to eat away at the Bengals. Key veterans who have played huge roles the past few seasons will exit, guys like Boyd, Reader, Awuzie and even coaches like former OC Brian Callahan who’s now the head coach for the Titans. There are real questions about the long-term future of others like Higgins. The Bengals will face more and more pressure to hit on their draft picks and free agent signings without the margin for error afforded by having Burrow on a rookie contract. 

But there are still enough pieces in place to make the Bengals a dangerous team. Burrow is still the only quarterback in the AFC who has shown he can go toe-to-toe with the Chiefs and come out on top, and the Bengals have plenty of talent to match up with Kansas City. There’s a lot of continuity on the coaching staff between HC Zac Taylor and DC Lou Anarumo which should help with the transition at some spots on the roster. 

The competition in the AFC is fierce, but the Bengals feel like they could be as potent a team as any heading into 2024. 

Looking for the latest NFL Insider News & Rumors?

Be sure to follow NFL Trade Rumors on TWITTER and FACEBOOK for breaking NFL News and Rumors for all 32 teams!

Leave a Reply