The Cincinnati Bengals surpassed all expectations this season. Being a team highlighted by a second year quarterback, rookie wide receiver, and an underachieving head coach, it was fair to assume the Bengals were still a couple years away from competing for a title.
Despite projections, Cincinnati made it all the way to Super Bowl LVI, losing in heartbreaking fashion 23-20 in the final minutes. However, Cincinnati enters the 2022 offseason with the third largest cap space in the entire NFL.
To return back to the Super Bowl, the team will have to upgrade at certain key positions. The AFC is home to powerhouses such as the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills, and to belong in that tier of AFC teams, the Bengals will have to bring reinforcements to the roster.
Terron Armstead, offensive tackle
There is not a need more obvious for the Cincinnati Bengals than offensive line. After letting an NFL record seven sacks in the Super Bowl, the team needs to completely revamp a position group that fell apart in the playoffs.
Tackle Terron Armstead is the best available lineman in the free agency this upcoming offseason, and for good reason. His size and technique is something that cannot be taught, and has been a pillar for the New Orleans Saints offense for the past half-decade.
Putting Armstead at left tackle can allow the Bengals to move young Jonah Williams inside to the guard position, where he has had much more success on the pro level. While one player will not transform the offense, acquiring Armstead can go a long way in protecting Joe Burrow for years to come.
Carlton Davis, cornerback
Besides the offensive line, another glaring weakness of the Bengals team was cornerback. Eli Apple cannot be a reliable player, and breakout cornerback Chidobe Awuzie mainly operates out of the slot.
Carlton Davis would be a relatively cheap signing while still being a big upgrade compared to Cincinnati’s current outside cornerbacks. He thrives in zone coverage with the speed and size to keep up with most receivers in the league.
Cornerbacks J.C. Jackson and Stephon Gilmore are other defensive backs the team should keep their eyes on, but Davis demands a much cheaper contract than those two. Even if the Bengals spend big money on their offensive line, Davis can easily be acquired without breaking the bank.
Ryan Jensen, center
In order to transform the offensive line that was a major problem this past season, Cincinnati will have to acquire multiple players. While Armstead should help things on the edge, an interior lineman is still necessary.
Aaron Donald’s dominance inside heavily factored the end outcome of the Super Bowl, so adding someone that can better handle him would be integral. Ryan Jensen has proven to not only that he is a great center, but a leader on and off the field.
Jensen would be an upgrade in size, strength, and skill compared to current center Trey Hopkins. With the addition of Jensen, Burrow would be able to stand upright more often, and running back Joe Mixon would benefit from more open running lanes as well.
Bonus: Re-sign Jessie Bates
Of all the players the Bengals could potentially lose in free agency, safety Jessie Bates is the one they most desperately need to re-sign. He is an elite safety in the NFL, and made an impact on the Bengals defense all playoffs.
Re-signing him will not be cheap, however it is justified. Most recently, Bates recorded an interception against quarterback Matthew Stafford in the Super Bowl. His contributions were also noted in the AFC championship game where he prevented any large plays from the normally explosive Chiefs offense in the second half.
Regardless where Bates plays next season, he will continue to be a ballhawk and high IQ player. While it is always important to bring in new players every free agency, sometimes retaining one proves to be just as valuable.