If the Cincinnati Bengals are going to continue their recent run of success in the next three seasons, they will have to accomplish a number of things.
It's a monumental task to pick just one.
So much of the Bengals' immediate future hinges on what happens at the quarterback position, either later this offseason or during or after this coming regular season. For now, Andy Dalton remains the starting quarterback, even while the team tries to negotiate a contract extension with him and his agent. Little ground has been covered in the talks. It is becoming apparent that the more time passes without a new deal the more Dalton may be content playing out the 2014 season and trying to do enough to earn a second-contract salary that competes with the league's elite passers.
Let's pretend Dalton is still a Bengal over the next two or three seasons.
If he is, the Bengals' biggest key to success will be to keep a bevy of playmakers around him. As we saw countless times last season -- and should see in 2014 -- Dalton's receivers and running backs are good enough to routinely bail the offense out of challenging circumstances. Running back Giovani Bernard will be looking for a new contract after next season and should get it if he continues to showcase the type of agility and speed that made him such a weapon as a rookie in 2013. Having the bigger Jeremy Hill paired with Bernard will help give the offense balance not only in the running game but also in the short passing game. Receivers A.J. Green and Marvin Jones also need to be around to catch passes. Green should still be in a Bengals uniform in two years if not three.
If Dalton is no longer a Bengal in the next two or three seasons, Cincinnati must continue building a top-10 defense that can play alongside AJ McCarron. The 2014 draft pick is currently the apparent heir at quarterback and would start if Dalton is gone next offseason. Much like the defense helped carry Dalton through his first two years in Cincinnati, the unit would have to do the same for McCarron.