The Cincinnati Bengals have a lot of work to do before the 2019 season if they want to get back to the playoffs. A new coaching staff is a start, but discussions on the future of several of their star players will be at the forefront of things as free agency approaches.
Here are some of the moves the Bengals need to make before the new season kicks off:
Find a long-term solution for the offensive line
The Bengals invited some controversy on themselves when they hired Jim Turner, who has not worked in the NFL since being fired by the Miami Dolphins for his participation in a bullying scandal. That controversy might die down if the offensive line plays well, but that's a tall order at this point.
The Bengals are set at left guard with Clint Boling, and they drafted Billy Price last year to be their center of the future (although Trey Hopkins played well in his place when Price was injured). Left tackle is set for now with Cordy Glenn. It's the right side of the line that is a major issue.
The Bengals played patchwork with that side last season and it showed. Not only did Bobby Hart and Alex Redmond combine for 25 penalties, but Andy Dalton and Jeff Driskel were sacked a combined 37 times. The only bright side was that Joe Mixon was able to lead the AFC North in rushing despite a revolving door on the offensive line due to injuries.
While Turner said he thought Hart, a pending free agent, played "phenomenal," Hart's struggles were clear. The Bengals need to make more moves to fix a line that has struggled since Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler left in free agency in 2016. Trading for Glenn and drafting Price was a start, but they need to make similar moves now to fix their struggles on the right side.
Revamp the linebacking corps
The Bengals linebackers are a mess.
Preston Brown played with an injured ankle all season, Nick Vigil missed five games with an injury, and Vontaze Burfict had another season riddled with both injuries and suspensions. The play of their backups was inadequate at best and atrocious at worst.
It's clear the Bengals have to change their strategy in how they draft or pick up linebackers. Instead of bigger linebackers like Burfict and Brown, the Bengals would do well to draft smaller, speedier linebackers who can cover.
"That’s the league itself," new Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said. "Everybody is searching for the linebackers that can match up in coverage against the great tight ends you have to cover these days. The running backs. Guys like that. There are guys on the current roster that can do it, but you’re always looking to improve in those types of areas for sure."
This isn't necessarily something that can be accomplished overnight. While Burfict remains under contract, his unreliability and injury history over the last few years poses questions about his long-term future with the team. The Bengals could make a move to re-sign Brown on another one-year deal, hoping his injuries in 2018 were mere flukes.
But after years of trying to add middle-tier free agency linebackers on short contracts, the real work will be done in the draft. Linebackers such as Devin Bush or Devin White could certainly fit the Bengals' needs here, and the position probably will be heavily prioritized.
Not only does Green have a chance to break every relevant Bengals receiving record, but he has a shot to one day become the second Hall of Fame player the franchise could claim. All of that will happen only if the team gets a deal done to keep Green in Cincinnati for the rest of his career.
That's not as simple as it may have sounded a few years ago. Green will be 31 at the beginning of the 2019 season, the last year of a four-year, $60 million extension signed in 2015. He also has dealt with toe issues over the course of his career, which caused him to miss seven games in 2018.
There's no doubt the Bengals would like to have Green back, and he has said repeatedly that he wants to end his career in Cincinnati. Green also has said he would like to play until he is 36, but obviously the numbers on both sides would have to match up.
The Bengals typically try to get these types of extensions done in the summer prior to the final year of the contract, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see this drag out until after the season. That gives the franchise a better assessment on whether Green is still playing at his current level, or if there are signs of decline.
Boyd, 24, is also entering the final year of his contract. Considering how he has improved, re-signing him would be a no-brainer. This will be another priority for the Bengals over the spring and summer.
Try one more time with Tyler Eifert
If Burfict's future is unclear due to his unreliability, then Eifert's is certainly just as foggy.
Eifert's contributions have been practically non-existent lately after playing in only 12 games over the last three seasons. Eifert can't be counted on to play a full season, and that makes re-signing him difficult.
While the free agent tight end market isn't great this year (which could lead to teams overpaying for players), Eifert's suitors might be few since teams are nervous about his injury history. That could make it more likely he lands in Cincinnati again in a deal similar to, or even less than, the one-year deal he signed last year.
The Bengals certainly need to start looking for their tight end of the future, but that need is competing with bigger ones like linebacker and offensive line. Because all of the Bengals' tight ends are coming up in free agency, they need to at least get one of them back in stripes next year. Eifert is still clearly the best of the bunch, even with his injury history. Another short deal with Eifert, 28, could bridge the gap until they draft another top-tier tight end.
That's not to say the Bengals shouldn't re-sign C.J. Uzomah, who improved leaps and bounds in 2018, or Tyler Kroft, even though he has likely fallen to third in the pecking order. Eifert is a real difference maker when healthy, and the Bengals are better when they play with him. Their offense struggled after Eifert suffered a broken ankle against the Falcons in September.
"I can't predict how long he would've gone without that injury happening," Bengals player personnel director Duke Tobin said. "Maybe he would've played 16 games, maybe not. I can tell you that when he was playing, we were a different offense than when he wasn't playing, and that's probably the biggest compliment you can give any NFL player, is that he makes a difference when he's on the field."