Cincinnati Bengals mailbag: An overlooked draft priority, Brock Bowers, biggest FA mistake

Welcome to the dog days of draft season. The early weeks of April feel a bit like that second week of August in training camp. The actual season still feels far away, and every conversation and development feels monotonous.

The mock drafts are expanding into questionable territory. Prospect Instagram reels are becoming breaking news for pro day visits. Fifth-round interior offensive line debates are starting to simmer in the distance. We are deep.

Don’t worry, things will go much deeper in the coming weeks, but for now, you had many Cincinnati Bengals questions — draft and otherwise. I tried to hit on most of the major themes you threw my way or that I hadn’t already written about previously (see trades, Tee Higgins, free-agent fallout).

Let’s get this going:

What under-the-radar need should cause minor panic if not addressed in the draft? — Brian L.

Which “weakness” would you be OK with the Bengals entering the season with? — Johnny B.

This poll was directed my way and really, the results sort of ended up hitting on a theme of the questions.

There’s a considerable number of Bengals fans out there in denial that the club will target a receiver on Day 2. Or don’t see the position as a need at all, often mentioning tight end without talking about receiver.

The receiver pick is coming. It’s coming early.

Oct 7, 2023; Athens, Georgia, USA; Georgia Bulldogs tight end Brock Bowers (19) runs against the Kentucky Wildcats during the second half at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals are yet to find a replacement for Tyler Boyd in the slot. Last year’s fourth-round pick Charlie Jones will be in that competition, but it will be exactly that. Jones needs to make a leap to seize the job. They can’t count on that. That’s essentially an open starting spot.

This draft is overflowing with Day 2 receivers, many falling to that spot because they do project as mostly slot players. That’s before talking about the possibility the Bengals are still looking for a long-term replacement for Tee Higgins, assuming he’s gone in 2025.

Yes, Mike Gesicki can take on some of the slot role. Yes, Trenton Irwin is a nice reserve player who can absorb snaps. Yes, Andrei Iosivas has the potential for a jump this season on the outside. All of this can be true, but there is a gaping hole in an otherwise well-constructed receivers unit at the starting slot receiver spot in 2024. How much 11 personnel the Bengals like to run and how much Joe Burrow thrives spreading and distributing make this a significant need.

This is the draft, so you never know. But I’d be floored if they entered the fourth round without selecting a receiver. And I’d be willing to bet that player will be the lone rookie starting in Week 1.

Syndication: USA TODAY

Have your odds for a Boyd return changed at all? Assuming it’s still slim to none but interesting. — Laura W.

A fantastic follow-up to the first question. Talks have broken off with the Pittsburgh Steelers, according to our friend and face of the Whiparound franchise, Mark Kaboly. Would Boyd return? The answer is still slim to none, but the odds shifted closer to slim.

Boyd’s best move would be to kick his feet up and let the draft unfold. Too many teams are looking to the draft rather than paying his price as a veteran slot. Not everyone will see the draft fall their way. Some teams will revisit the free-agent market in May. Boyd will be sitting there offering a flirtatious wave and holding a piece of paper with his salary request on it.

One of those teams could be the Bengals. I still see them seeking more explosiveness at the position, but there is a fallback plan in which a call is placed to an old friend. Again, not close to a likely one, but you never push a player with history like Boyd fully out of the picture.

Is there any chance the Bengals move up to get Brock Bowers? Obviously, I’m not thinking move up to the top five, but if he slips toward the back of the top 10 or even out of it, would they make that move for a long-term tight end? — Austin F.

This topic continues to be a popular one. In my trade story this week, I outlined the history of the Bengals trading up in the first round. There is none. Not since Ki-Jana Carter in 1995. There is a better chance of aliens landing on the concourse of Paycor and taking over the draft room than moving up for the first time in 30 years and doing so for a tight end. This after they just signed Gesicki, Drew Sample and Tanner Hudson following three straight years of creating solid production out of various veteran one-year deals.

Now, if Bowers slides to 18, there’s a different discussion altogether. I still don’t see it happening. It’s hard to imagine them valuing him higher than any of the top offensive tackles likely to be available or Texas defensive tackle Byron Murphy II.

More on that hierarchy in the debut of my Bengals big board next week.

Round Pick Overall Notes
1 18 18
2 17 49
3 16 80
3 33 97 Compensatory
4 15 115
5 14 149
6 18 194
6 38 214 Compensatory
7 4 224 From Texans
7 17 237

If they go offensive tackle in the first round, do you think they try to start him off at guard and move him out to tackle after Trent Brown leaves or just have him as a swing tackle and don’t bother having them try guard? — SA

Great question, specifically considering the number of powerful tackles with position versatility to kick inside. The answer without knowing the specific player is a fairly definitive no. They still don’t have a swing tackle. They would love to put that player in a competition with Brown for the starting gig. Putting too much on a rookie to learn multiple positions would be an error when his most likely path to snaps this year is beating out Brown or playing due to injury at either tackle spot.

Plus, they really like the progress from starting left guard Cordell Volson. Right guard Alex Cappa isn’t going anywhere. They also need to draft an interior offensive lineman at some point who can compete.

Now, if a rash of injuries occurs and a player like Washington’s Troy Fautanu is one of the best five available, sure, different conversations occur in the name of the best five playing. But, that wouldn’t be Plan A.

There are obviously bigger needs than linebacker on the Bengals, but the play there last season was lackluster at best. Will they address this position in rounds 2-4? — David B.

Sep 23, 2023; Athens, Georgia, USA; Georgia Bulldogs tight end Brock Bowers (19) scores on a 41-yard

No. The Bengals place much of the linebacker problem on issues behind and in front of Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt. Both need to play better, but there’s a strong belief better play around them will make that happen. They also paid Akeem Davis-Gaither $3 million for one year. They have the league’s seventh-most cap dollars committed to the position in 2024.

They will look into using all those late-round picks on a developmental player to own a role on special teams. That position doesn’t even enter the conversation until the fifth round.

Curious if the Bengals put any additional thought on guys from local schools other than Ohio State (UC, Akron, Toledo, etc.)? UC, in particular, they’ve had opportunities to draft them and passed — shouldn’t they have the most info being local? A certain DT this year maybe? — Jordan S.

First off, I love the idea of taking a late-round or UDFA shot at 6-foot-2, 300-pound Jowon Briggs to prove himself in his hometown. Would be a fun story.

I’m old enough to remember when this club was criticized for not taking players from Ohio State. Then there was a rash of them (Billy Price, Sam Hubbard, Michael Jordan). Now the Bengals have selected four Michigan Wolverines players since the last Buckeyes prospect. And with so many great Michigan players this year, it’s a fair guess the run extends to four straight years taking one of Jim Harbaugh’s guys.

To answer your question, there’s not that much more insight gained locally. And often the extra insight is exactly why they have not selected somebody from UC or one of the schools you mentioned. The most informed selections are often the ones you don’t make.

In the same way you talk about close relationships offering info at UC, I’d think the same of Notre Dame, where former linebackers coach Al Golden is the defensive coordinator, or Wisconsin where friend of the staff Luke Fickell runs the show. These connections are everywhere across coaches and personnel. The football world is too small anymore for geography to come too much into play.

What position at 18 that nobody is talking about could be a dark-horse pick? — Armani

 

I don’t see much talk about cornerback at 18 and wouldn’t rule it out. Never rule corner out. DJ Turner will be given every opportunity to assume the other spot opposite Cam Taylor-Britt, but if the top corner on the Bengals’ board was sitting there at 18, I could see them say them making the call. Likely? Probably not. But dark horse is the proper classification.

In your opinion, what’s been the Bengals’ most questionable or dumbest move so far this offseason? Or maybe it was a move they should have made? — Ed H.

I wrote this before, so I won’t go too long here. They should have paid for one of the run-stopping defensive tackles available in the early portion of free agency. A number of the best run stoppers were available for much less than $8 million AAV, and they could have stretched for it. If the plan was to let DJ Reader walk, which I didn’t necessarily have a problem with, then signing a player like Malcolm Roach, Grover Stewart or DaQuan Jones would have made sense in the big picture. They didn’t do that. Now they are forced to rely on a weak draft class. I viewed it as risky business that could have been avoided.

 

How do the players really feel about the new turf installed at Paycor? Don’t they really want real grass? Is the overall vibe that this is an upgrade or just another subpar surface? — Big Ern

I spent a decent amount of time discussing this topic with players last year. Unquestionably, most players prefer grass. The difference in how the body feels Monday after a grass game compared with a turf game is significant. There’s a reason you hear that drumbeat from the union. That said, they also understand the business aspect, and most of the focus remained on having a uniform surface in all stadiums. So, this change should be welcomed by the players. Players haven’t been around since the announcement, so I can’t say any of that specifically beyond what I heard last year.

What are your sources saying about the Bengals possibly playing in Munich vs. the Panthers? Any sources can shed some insight if the Bengals are possibly opening the season vs. Kansas City? — @Burrow_Szn_9to1

Georgia Bulldogs tight end Brock Bowers (19) runs after a catch during the third quarter as Auburn

First, with KC, even the schedule makers are in the early stages of working through the national TV lineup. No clue there, yet.

The international game news has changed over the years. There used to be advanced notice given to both teams playing overseas, but now the process is so comfortable for teams that only the home teams know in advance. The Bengals don’t know yet whether they will play the Carolina Panthers in Munich. They likely won’t until days before the public learns.

Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn mentioned it as possible, as well as a great chance they will have to give up a home game in 2025 or 2027 to go overseas. The league will want a quality game there, it’s an important growth point — remember, they sent the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins last season.

It’s still unlikely they’ll go.

Last year, everyone except for Jacksonville Jaguars–Atlanta Falcons at Wembley (Jacksonville is an anomaly here, playing in London every year) was in the AFC, but not the same division. The same was true with all NFC teams (minus Jacksonville) in 2022. With one league having the extra home game, forcing a team to also send one of its nine road games overseas hasn’t been in the NFL’s interest.

That leaves the Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals and New York Giants as top candidates with none of those three connected to other international games. I’ll place my bet on Dallas.

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