The NFL playoffs are fantastic, but the teams searching for new head coaches grab almost as many headlines this time of year. With a quarter of the league on that search, this year is no exception. Ranking the available jobs in terms of desirability is always a trendy thing to do.
The one job universally at or near the bottom of those lists is that of the Cincinnati Bengals. Owner Mike Brown’s well-documented frugality and resistance to delegate any kind of real power to anyone else are the reason for this.
The drawbacks to this gig are obvious, and it is far from the best one on the market, but it certainly is not the worst. It has two big positives going for it. The first is the most basic one of all.
There Is Talent on the Roster:
No coach can achieve any kind of success without having good players to work with. Joe Mixon is just 22 years old and led the AFC in rushing this year. Despite missing eight games this season, A.J. Green has stayed relatively healthy throughout his career and is consistently a lock for 1,000 yards and a handful of touchdowns. 24-year-old fellow receiver Tyler Boyd posted a career-high 76 catches in 2018. Even the much-maligned defense has a couple of established pass rushers in Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. This is in addition to young players like Nick Vigil, who always seems to be around the ball.
Quarterback Andy Dalton is also a frequent target of criticism. Given his winless playoff record and dismal performances in primetime, it is understandable. However, Dalton is 67-50-2 as a starter and has led his team to the playoffs four times in addition to being a key part of Cincinnati’s 2015 playoff run prior to missing the playoff game due to injury.
Talk of Cincinnati replacing Dalton never goes away, but it is ridiculous. There are billions of people in the world, and only about six can lead their team to a Super Bowl regardless of the players, coaches and circumstances around them. Does Dalton belong in that group with guys like Tom Brady? Of course not. Still, Rex Grossman got to a Super Bowl, Case Keenum got to within a game of one, as did Mark Sanchez twice.
You can absolutely get where you want to go with Dalton. The margin for error is slimmer, but it can be done. Dalton got hurt in 2015, which was the year Cincinnati may have built enough around him. Depending on how you view the future of young guys like Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield, you could argue that Cincinnati has the second-best quarterback situation on the open head coaching market. Moreover, there are certainly no realistic options better than Dalton for the Bengals at the moment. If you look only at the talent on the roster, it is miles ahead of what the vast majority of new coaches will inherit this or any other year.
Whoever the New Coach Is, He Will Be Given Time:
The 16 years was way too long for Marvin Lewis to remain head coach of the Bengals. However, a potential new head coach may view that differently than fans or media members. Vance Joseph was given just two seasons in Denver. Steve Wilks was inexplicably given just one in Arizona. That is the nature of the beast in today’s NFL: it is not entirely fair, but it is the way it is.
Cincinnati has always been different, though. Even prior to Lewis, the Bengals have always kept coaches around for more than a cup of coffee. Things can become stale, as we saw with Lewis. However, every NFL coach has a family and personal life that follows that from job to job and city to city. A prospective head coach would have to take some comfort in knowing that they don’t have to worry about relocating their entire life after just a year or two in Cincinnati.
The Bengals have been a franchise that has seemed content being mediocre, and it will be tough for the next head coach to turn them into a consistent winner that does more than just make the playoffs every now and then. Still, it is far from the career death sentence it is being made out to be.