With the NFL universe on pause, now seems like a good time to continue our big-picture look into how each organization did during the player-acquisition period of the offseason. Bill Barnwell ESPN Staff Writer ran through all 32 teams and rank the work they did.
To measure how each team performed, Barnwell compared their roster, cap situation and future draft capital at the beginning of the offseason to what they have in mid-May. The most important thing a team can do is add talent, so those that made significant inroads in improving their roster will rank highly, while those that saw key people leave without replacements won't. I also considered how each attacked their specific needs, how well they read the market and handled the financial side of their deals, and what they did to create future draft picks.
Devwah Whaley’s Cincinnati Bengals are ranked 12th by Barnwell.
What went right: The Bengals added a guy coming off arguably the best season in college football history at the most important position in sports. Quarterback Joe Burrow is a great start for Cincinnati, which followed in the draft by adding Tee Higgins at the top of Round 2. With the organization retaining star wideout A.J. Green via the franchise tag, Burrow should quietly have one of the league's most exciting wideout corps to target in 2020.
Everyone knew the Bengals were taking Burrow. What was really surprising about the offseason, though, was their foray into unrestricted free agency. In an attempt to fix a defense that ranked 30th in DVOA a season ago, they signed defensive tackle D.J. Reader from the Texans, cornerbacks Mackensie Alexander and Trae Waynes from the Vikings and safety Vonn Bell from the Saints. I'm pretty sure they spent more on defensive free agents this offseason than they did during Marvin Lewis' entire tenure running the team.
What went wrong: Well, some of those deals weren't very good. The three-year, $42 million deal for Waynes stood out as a dramatic contract for a player who was often frustrating in Minnesota. Reader's market grew after an impressive 2019 season, but the Texans were actually slightly better rushing the passer over the past three years with him on the sideline. On a four-year, $53 million deal, Cincinnati is paying Reader to be both a run-plugger and someone who can disrupt the pocket. Last season was the only time Reader knocked down opposing quarterbacks more than six times.
And while Burrow has plenty of wide receivers, the Bengals didn't really add much to help along the offensive line. Jonah Williams, a first-round pick last year, will return after missing all of his rookie season, but the only other lineman the organization added was Xavier Su'a-Filo, who was a mess in Houston before spending the past two years as an injury replacement for the Cowboys. Burrow is a promising prospect, but if he doesn't get protection, it won't be any use.
What they could have done differently: The Waynes deal looked aggressive at the time and arguably looks worse now, given that the cornerback market was relatively mild. I'm not sure there were a lot of teams rushing to give Waynes $14 million per season, and if they were, I would have preferred to let them take that risk.
Given the slim likelihood of any team trading anything meaningful for Andy Dalton when they knew Burrow was on the way, the Bengals probably would have been better off just cutting Dalton back in March. I'm guessing they knew Dalton was going on the chopping block and didn't figure the Red Rifle's salary into their offseason budgeting, but they could have been a landing point for one of the other backups on the market. Now, they only have Ryan Finley and Jacob Dolegala behind Burrow.