Cincinnati Bengals: Keep Carson Upright
It could be argued that the Cincinnati Bengals did well to win four games in 2008. They were missing their star quarterback, Carson Palmer, for the majority of the season. That left the job to an overmatched Ryan Fitzpatrick, who did his best, but was saddled with a bad running game, worse offensive line and not much defense. The Bengals found a way to win three straight at the end of the season, finishing 4-11-1.
There are many areas for improvement as the Bengals make their way toward 2009 trying like crazy to avoid doing 2008 over again. Luckily, kicker is not one of those areas of need.
Free Agents: S John Busing (RFA), RB De De Dorsey (RFA), WR Glenn Holt (RFA), LB Rashead Jeanty (RFA), LB Brandon Johnson (RFA), LB Corey Mays (RFA), OL Stacy Andrews (UFA), RB Cedric Benson (UFA), LB Darryl Blackstock (UFA), S Chris Crocker (UFA), QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (UFA), CB Jamar Fletcher (UFA), OL Eric Ghiaciuc (UFA), K Shayne Graham (designated franchise player), WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (UFA), DT John Thornton (UFA)
Draft Picks: 1 (6); 2 (38); 3 (70); 4 (102); 5 (134); 6 (166); 7 (198)
1. Offensive line. The Bengals surrendered 51 sacks in 2008, third-most in the NFL. Furthermore, the running game was a disgrace, ranking last in the league in touchdowns and near the bottom in yards per carry. Cincinnati needs to get tougher and stronger, especially along the interior. They also face a tough decision with Andrews, who had knee surgery in January. Ghiacuic is a decent center, but he has trouble holding his ground against bigger tackles.
2. Wide receiver. The drama needs to end. Houshmandzadeh is likely to leave as a free agent, and the team should probably look at trading Chad Johnson. That would leave Chris Henry as the top receiver, and we know that probably wouldn't go well. Between the draft and free agency, it's likely the Bengals will need two starting-quality receivers.
3. Pass rush. Cincinnati was dreadful last year, getting just 17 quarterback sacks. For this to improve, the Bengals have to find more aggressive defensive tackles. Thornton is probably not going to be back, so there won't be a lot of experience along the line. Coach Marvin Lewis says the team will be proactive in free agency, and this is one area I expect them to address.