2022 Cincinnati Bengals Offseason Preview
The final whistle of the Super Bowl marks the end of the 2021 season. That solidifies all draft positions and gets us looking to free agency as the next chance for teams to make significant changes to their rosters. In this series, I’ll break down the needs and goals of every team as it relates to the 2022 offseason. Included will be cap space, cut candidates, positions of need, and plenty of other useful stats and notes as we prepare for free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft. Special thanks to Over the Cap, Pro Football Reference, Pro Football Focus, and Ben Baldwin’s RBSDM.com for all of the useful stats they track and house.
Bengals 2021 Recap
Two years ago, the Bengals were looking up at the rest of the league from the basement. From 2016 to 2019, only the Browns had fewer wins than Cincinnati’s 21. The Bengals capped off that run with a two-win season. As difficult of a pill to swallow as that was, the medicine it brought would lay the groundwork for their eventual Super Bowl appearance. That season netted them Joe Burrow via the first overall pick. Though Burrow’s first season would be cut short due to a torn ACL, the extra losing without him would secure the final ingredient for their offense, Ja’Marr Chase. In his second season, Burrow tossed 34 scores, a whopping 13 of which found their way to Chase. Cincinnati’s new dynamic duo stayed hot in the postseason and became the first team not led by Tom Brady to slay Patrick Mahomes in the playoffs. Their run would ultimately end with a loss to the Rams, but the Bengals now have the league’s attention as a team of young stars.
Key Offensive Stats
- Points per game: 27.1 (7th)
- Dropback EPA: .16 (9th)
- Passing yards per game: 259 (7th)
- Rush EPA: -.09 (22nd)
- Rushing yards per game: 103 (23rd)
Burrow became the sixth player to lead the NFL in completion rate and yards per attempt in the Super Bowl era. In the Bengals’ Week 16 decimation of the Ravens, Burrow threw for 525 yards. Only three quarterbacks have ever topped that mark in a single game. Not to be outdone by his teammate, Chase accomplished some truly mind-numbing feats. His 1,455 receiving yards are the most by a rookie since the merger. He also became the fourth player to drop a pair of 200-yard games in a single season since the merger. Joe Mixon set career numbers, totaling 1,519 yards from scrimmage and 16 touchdowns. In his second year, Tee Higgins stepped up, posting a 74/1,096/6 receiving line while missing a handful of games. The trenches were an issue but not as drastic as many had forecasted. Pro Football Focus ranked Cincinnati’s line as the No. 20 unit at the end of the regular season.
Key Defensive Stats
- Points per game: 22.1 (17th)
- Dropback EPA: .02 (10th)
- Passing yards per game: 248 (26th)
- Rush EPA: -.08 (14th)
- Rushing yards per game: 103 (5th)
The defense was expected to be an issue for Cincinnati but their front office killed free agency last offseason. Bengals de facto GM Mike Brown splurged on defensive end Trey Hendrickson instead of re-signing Carl Lawson for the job. The move proved prudent as both players got the same APY on their deals but Hendrickson notched 14 sacks, a mark Lawson never came close to as a Bengal. Cincinnati also added two corners on contracts worth more than $20 million in total. Chidobe Awuzie defended 14 passes and finished the year as PFF’s No. 14 corner. Mike Hilton also earned a top-30 grade while manning the slot. Brown even got a career-high in sacks from Larry Ogunjobi on a one-year deal.
Bengals 2022 Offseason
Total Draft Value
Notable Free Agents
|FS Jessie Bates (franchise tagged), TE C.J. Uzomah, LG Quinton Spain, RT Riley Reiff, DT Larry Ogunjobi, CB Eli Apple|
Notes: Cincinnati’s total draft value is the sum of the value of every pick they own using the Fitzgerald-Spielberger NFL Draft Trade Value Chart. The values are only estimates until the NFL announces compensatory picks. Cap savings are listed assuming the player is cut before June 1st.
Burrow’s cap hit is less than that of Taysom Hill and Nick Foles in 2022. It’s nearly a fifth of the cap hit that Matt Ryan carries. That type of flexibility gives the Bengals a massive advantage over every other team looking to return to the playoffs. They are the only team to make the postseason last year and still have more than $30 million to spend this offseason.
Spain was the Bengals’ highest-graded interior lineman last year. He was still ranked 43rd out of 82 qualified guards according to PFF. He is set to hit free agency and won’t be the Bengals’ first choice at left guard. Second-round pick Jackson Carman was unable to take the role of starting right guard from Hakeem Adeniji, who would go on to give up three sacks in the Super Bowl.
The tandem of Jonah Williams on the left and Reiff on the right worked well for the Bengals last year but the latter is a free agent and the market has a few big names at tackle for the Bengals to splurge on. Terron Armstead is the crown jewel of the free agency class. Many have speculated that Cincinnati will make him a massive offer.
The Bengals are likely to address this need by re-signing C.J. Uzomah. The veteran tight end has spent all seven years of his NFL career in Cincinnati. He is also coming off his best year as a receiver and handles business as a blocker. The two sides should have no problem reaching a deal that brings Uzomah back for multiple years.
The Bengals only made two coaching changes this year. Both were minor moves. Charles Burks was hired as the team’s next cornerbacks coach while James Bettcher joined Cincinnati to lead the linebackers. Burks was promoted to the same position for the Dolphins last year but fled to Cincy amid the shuffling in Miami. Bettcher was a senior defensive assistant for the 49ers in 2021 after spending five years as a defensive coordinator in Arizona and New York. Head coach Zac Taylor was given an extension that keeps him under contract through 2026.
The Bengals are swimming in resources for a team that just made the Super Bowl. They have three picks inside the top 100. All three are their own selections. The Rams, for reference, will not have picked once by the time Cincinnati makes their third pick. LA’s draft starts in the triple-digits. By virtue of the Rams being woefully over the cap, the Bengals have nearly $55 million more in cap space to work with this offseason.
Expect plenty of that cap to go toward retooling their line. Both of Burrow’s first two seasons have ended at the hands of his lineman. He lost the second half of his rookie season after getting sandwiched by two Washington defenders. Then he lost the Super Bowl while getting pressured on 43 percent of his dropbacks, taking seven sacks in the process. Only once the trenches are taken care of can the Bengals look to add names at other positions.