Lockout limbo: Bengals report

Posted May 15, 2011 @ 10:30 a.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

With NFL teams stuck in a state of limbo thanks to the lingering lockout, we are taking a tour around the league and looking at where teams stand as they await the opening of the 2011 league year. Today, we offer our take on where the Bengals stand.

Top three story lines

1. Will Carson Palmer relent and return as the Bengals' starting quarterback, or will he go through with his threat to retire? Should he elect to walk away from the Bengals, will the club trade him or will president Mike Brown continue to hold Palmer's rights? It's notable that head coach Marvin Lewis, in a conference call with season-ticket holders, reportedly said that Palmer will be the No. 1 quarterback if the veteran starter returns. The door remains open for Palmer, but whether he wants to walk through it again remains to be seen. If he does leave, rookie QB Andy Dalton is the favorite to start, and the speed of his development likely would tell the tale for the 2011 Bengals.

2. Many wonder if the Bengals' selection of Georgia WR A.J. Green with the No. 4 overall pick in April's draft signaled the end of the productive but quirky Chad Ochocinco's tenure in Cincinnati. Yes, Ochocinco's personality isn't for everyone, but he has been an above-average starter for a long time, and effectively and smoothly replacing him in 2011 isn't a complete slam dunk, not even by the very well-regarded Green.

3. Will the defense step up? With the Bengals installing a new scheme and potentially having to break in a rookie quarterback, uneven offensive play would not be a surprise, especially early in the season. If that happens, the Bengals' defense — so strong in '09 when Cincinnati won the AFC North but not as good last season — needs to take a page from division-rival Pittsburgh, which overcame a challenging beginning to the 2010 campaign thanks in large part to spectacular defensive play.

2011 free agency — whenever that happens

Unsigned players: RB Cedric Benson (6), OT Kirk Chambers (6), C Kyle Cook (3), WR Quan Cosby (2), DE Jonathan Fanene (6), TE Clark Harris (2), OLB Brandon Johnson (5), MLB Dhani Jones (11), CB Johnathan Joseph (4), TE Reggie Kelly (12), RB Brian Leonard (4), OG Nate Livings (3), OG Evan Mathis (6), S Chinedum Ndukwe (4), S Tom Nelson (2), WR Terrell Owens (15), QB Jordan Palmer (3), RB Cedric Peerman (2), CB Keiwan Ratliff (7), OT Dennis Roland (3), LB Dan Skuta (2), S Marvin White (4), S Roy Williams (9), S Gibril Wilson (7). (Editor's note: The number after a player's name is his years of service in the league. If the NFL decides to go with free agency under the same rules as used in 2010, then a player would become a restricted free agent after three years and an unrestricted free agent after six years.)

Analysis: If Joseph hits unrestricted free agency, he could find himself in demand, given the need for quality CB play. If that happens, will he price himself out of the Bengals' range? Joseph is an above-average player at a key position, and he could be tough to replace. Benson is very important to the offense — the Bengals don't have an ideal every-down replacement on the roster, and they likely would have to find another back in free agency if he were to depart. Benson seems to fit best with the Bengals; he re-established his career in Cincinnati, and he's most assured of a heavy workload in this offense. Owens is a long shot to re-sign even after a very productive season. He will be 38 in December, and he's not a fit with a club that could be going young at some of the key skill positions. Rey Maualuga could replace Jones in the middle. With Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson expected to be the starting safeties, it will be interesting to see what the Bengals decide to do with Ndukwe, Williams and Wilson. Fanene and Johnson are key backups; could they get bigger roles elsewhere?

2011 rookie class

First-round WR A.J. Green (No. 4 overall) — Green is likely to be an immediate starter and could prove to be a difference maker in Year One. With an ideal combination of size and speed and very good hands, he should produce no matter who the quarterback is.

Second-round QB Andy Dalton (No. 35 overall) — Dalton could start from Day One if Carson Palmer refuses to play for Cincinnati. Dalton is smart, instinctive and competitive, and he should fit Jay Gruden's West Coast scheme well. The question is, does he have the arm strength and downfield accuracy to effectively stretch the field when needed?

Third-round OLB-DE Dontay Moch (No. 66 overall) — The speedy Moch will transition to linebacker in the Bengals' scheme and primarily contribute as a pass rusher. Moch has rare timed speed but doesn't always play that fast, and he needs to develop more pass-rush moves. 

Fourth-round OG Clint Boling (No. 101 overall) — A tackle at Georgia, Boling will play inside in Cincinnati. He is versatile and instinctive but could stand to be more physical.

Fifth-round S Robert Sands (No. 134 overall) — Sands likely will be a backup strong safety in Year One. Sands is athletic, but his skills need more refinement.

Sixth-round WR Ryan Whalen (No. 167 overall) — Whalen will vie to be a reserve receiver. He is probably best in the slot.

Seventh-round CB Korey Lindsey (No. 207 overall) — Lindsey, who has good ball skills but lacks size and speed, will compete to be a reserve cornerback.

Seventh-round RB Jay Finley (No. 246 overall) — Finley has the speed to get to the outside. His best chance to stick on the roster is if the Bengals keep four running backs.

Lockout fallout: How impacted will the Bengals be by the work stoppage?

On a scale from 1 to 10, with one least-affected and 10 most-impacted, the Bengals rate a 9. If the lockout drags on, the Bengals could be compromised on a couple of fronts. For starters, they are changing offensive schemes. Also, they might be changing quarterbacks. A lockout dragging on into the summer — or longer — could limit their options if they decide to trade Palmer. The Bengals face a challenging set of circumstances in an abnormal offseason. That is far from ideal.