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Posted Feb 5, 2014

Here are some key dates in the Bengals offseason that begins in earnest with the Super Bowl complete.


Leon Hall

Now that Richard Sherman has gone from Attila the Hun to the senior senator from Washington and Peyton Manning has gone from Mount Rushmore to the recycled bin, the Bengals offseason begins to take off. Here are some of the key dates of what’s ahead:

FEB. 19-25: The NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

You know the drill. There are about a million of them, including the all-important Wonderlic testing mental agility, that may get more ink and mean less than any. Forty-Niners running back Frank Gore seems to be doing just fine with his six (out of 50), and the Bengals along with the 31 other teams are going to watch the paint dry while making sure they don’t make too much about this weekend. The combine’s most important drill? The physical.

The Bengals are picking 24th and would probably love a repeat of what happened the last time they picked No. 24 when they whisked cornerback Johnathan Joseph out of South Carolina eight years ago. Joseph was there despite his blistering 4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash because he had played just one season of major college ball.

But he and Leon Hall (drafted No. 18 the next year) formed one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL and became a foundation of an AFC North championship defense. Arguably the Joseph pick was the selection that spurred Cincinnati's rise into the defensive top 10 four of the past five seasons. Tackle Domata Peko arrived the next day in the fourth round.

The Bengals could very well be looking at cornerback again in the first round with Hall coming back from a torn Achilles for the second time in three years and Terence Newman and Adam Jones turning 36 and 31, respectively, by the fifth game of the season.

Left tackle could also be on the board, pending the decision on the status of Andrew Whitworth, and that doesn’t seem to have been discussed yet. Is he a left guard or a left tackle? And if he’s a guard, can the Bengals re-sign Anthony Collins in free agency?

MARCH 8: The start of free agency with clubs not allowed to sign players until March 11.

From Feb. 17-March 3, teams can designate one of their free agents as a franchise or transition player. Look for the Bengals to do neither.

They are coming off a season in which they rolled out the third-most cash in the NFL with what is believed to be an estimated $139 million, $23 million more than the league average and behind only Detroit and Green Bay. That computes to $16 million cash over the salary cap, so look for more of the same strategy of signing their own and leaving much of free agency to extensions for their major players and the back end of the roster.

It’s believed the Bengals will make a run at this past season’s franchise player, right end Michael Johnson, before and after March 8. But with tackle Geno Atkins and end Carlos Dunlap inking $55 and $40 million extensions, respectively, it remains to be seen if the Bengals can compete in the market for Johnson.

Everyone assumes that with Jared Allen on the way out, new Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is going to make a big run at Johnson. His sack total may have dipped from 11.5 to 3.5 this season, but his work against the run, his indestructible 90-percent play time, and impeccable locker room presence are big sellers.

Much depends, too, on the Whitworth question. If the Bengals believe Whitworth is at his best at left guard, Collins may become a priority. Plus, they have to decide when they want to make a run to extend wide receiver A.J. Green and/or quarterback Andy Dalton. This offseason? Next offseason when Dalton is up and Green is headed into an option year? There’s not room for everybody if Green or Dalton or both get wrapped up this season.

That could cut into role free agents the Bengals would most like to have back. On paper, that would seem to be returner Brandon Tate, safety Taylor Mays and offensive lineman Mike Pollak. If the Bengals do venture into outside free agency, it most likely is going to be for backups or role players. 

At some point they may have to start looking at going with younger players instead of veterans at some spots as they try to make the cap work. It would be a surprise if the Bengals didn’t tender all three of their restricted free agents in linebacker Vinny Rey and wide receivers Andrew Hawkins and Dane Sanzenbacher, all solid young players.

MARCH 23-26:  Annual NFL Meeting in Orlando, Fla.

It’s a good spot to do business. Last year the Bengals made a run at signing backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick when the meetings were in Phoenix, where Fitzpatrick lives. They lost out at the last minute to the Titans, but who knows what lurks in hotel lobbies this year?

Not a veteran QB this time around, but these meetings mark one of the more remarkable NFL head coaching photos in Bengals history. This is the meetings the coaches sit for the camera and it will be the most intriguing Bengals shot since Sam Wyche and Jerry Glanville posed in 1990, their first get-together since Wyche waved Glanville off the Riverfront Stadium field after Wyche chose to kick a late field goal in the Bengals 61-7 victory over the Oilers.

That was also the spring first-year Jets head coach Bruce Coslet appeared in the photo, the last time a head coach came straight from a stint as a Bengals assistant.

At this meeting, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is going to be in the same frame with his defensive (Mike Zimmer) and offensive (Jay Gruden) coordinators from last  season with Zimmer now the head coach in Minnesota and Gruden in Washington. It’s believed to be the first time that’s happened in the league since 2007, when Chargers head coach Norv Turner took a photo with his offensive coordinator (Cam Cameron) coaching the Dolphins and his defensive coordinator (Wade Phillips) coaching the Cowboys.

APRIL 21:  First day of offseason workouts at Paul Brown Stadium.

The biggest question marks won’t be participating as Atkins (ACL) and Hall (Achilles) continue their rehabs. All indications are both are doing well and that there have been no setbacks of any kind. Which would suggest both are on the timetable for the start of training camp or close to it.

But there is a long way to go as everyone tries to avoid PUP, which would put them on the sidelines for the first six weeks of the regular season.

Everyone else who suffered season-ending injuries last season should be ready to go that first day at PBS, led by defensive lineman Robert Geathers (arm) and linebackers Emmanuel Lamur (shoulder) and Sean Porter (shoulder). Because left guard Clint Boling tore his ACL so late in the year (Dec. 1), there is some concern if he’ll be ready for training camp and is a PUP candidate purely because of timing.

MAY 8-10: The NFL Draft.

No matter what happens first, the big story is going to be if the Bengals take a quarterback relatively early, like say before the fifth round. Lewis and new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson have reiterated that Andy Dalton is their guy.

But the Bengals haven’t denied they are looking at getting younger and better at backup quarterback. It’s a position that has been served by journeymen veterans since Lewis sat first-round pick Carson Palmer in 2003 and it sounds like they want to see if they can develop one themselves as they look at a draft class that has been described as deep.

Don’t read into it as a way of pushing Dalton. As Jackson said when he was promoted, “I'm going to be the guy that pushes Andy and I think Andy will push himself.”

 

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