Once you cut through all the stuff you had to cut through following Carlos Dunlap's trade to Seattle Wednesday, there was only really one conclusion.
The overhaul the Bengals began with new kinds of fresh moves, starting with the organization revamping the coaching staff as thoroughly as it's ever been revamped in 2019 and continuing with nearly $200 million committed this year in free agency at the advent of a once-in-a-century pandemic, took another uncharacteristic turn six days before the NFL trade deadline.
This time it was trading a franchise staple in the middle of the season when they sent Dunlap to the Seahawks for backup guard-center B.J. Finney and a seventh-round pick.
It's just not a roster reset. There's been more than that going on since '19.
"You run a new system on defense, a new system on offense. You've got to build around the players you've got because some of them have talents that sometimes you've got to suit your system to get the most out of them." said Bengals head coach Zac Taylor. "And in other ways you add players that you think best suit where you want your system to head."
With Taylor indicating that fifth-round pick Khalid Kareem is poised to take Dunlap's third-down snaps at defensive end in Sunday's (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) game against the Titans at Paul Brown Stadium, the defense project to have one starter with at least 40 starts as a Bengal when cornerback William Jackson III returned to limited work Wednesday after missing last Sunday's game with a concussion.
Defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who arrived with Dunlap in the 2010 draft, has played three of his 156 games this season but he may not start again against the Titans as they monitor his shoulder injury. Dunlap leaves with 155 games, the most of any Bengals defensive end but the 170 of Eddie Edwards, the man whose franchise sack record of 83.5 Dunlap fell one shy.
When Taylor re-convened the media Wednesday evening, he wouldn't get into what it means to his locker room culture to deal the defense's one-time biggest playmaker after he went public with the displeasure of a demotion. Or why it couldn't be salvaged by either side.
"I don't think it's worth getting into all that," Taylor said. "It's behind us now and we'll move forward and wish him the best in Seattle."
But the fact he called the Zoom showed the enormity of another move into the future.
"Carlos has done a lot of great things for this organization and the community. He deserves to go out the right way," Taylor said. "He's being sent to a team that's really a great organization. They're in the hunt right now. They've got a great record and he'll have a chance to help. Just because you have a disagreement and frustration doesn't mean (you can't) wish the best for him. I wish the best for him."
Both clubs could use the help. Seattle has just seven sacks and while Finney hasn't played a snap on offense this year, the former Steeler center-guard brings 13 starts to a battered offensive line that could be without three starters Sunday.
But the focus is on that rebuilding front line without injured starting end Sam Hubbard. With Titans NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry steaming his 250 pounds into The Paul, the Bengals rotating ends consist of veterans Carl Lawson and Margus Hunt and first-year players Kareem and Amani Bledsoe. Only Lawson was here for the first snap of camp. Kareem was still rehabbing his shoulder and Bledsoe and Hunt had yet to be acquired.
The ends total NFL sacks this season: Lawson's 3.5. Total NFL career sacks: 25.5. The Bengals have just one sack in the past two games and Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been dumped so infrequently Tennessee is ranked eighth in allowing sacks per pass.
But the Bengals are high on kids like Kareem and Bledsoe. Kareem played 35 percent of the snaps last week and he's getting more Sunday.
"For a guy that didn't lift from January to August because of a shoulder injury, he's started to get all his strength back," Taylor said. "That was something as he was going into the season. He was just getting back, just getting into the weight room. Now he has to go play NFL football. I think with him you see improvement every single week. It starts to sink in. In the first half of the season he's got a lot of quality reps.
"Count on him to have a really solid week this week. We're counting on him. He's open to that. He's done a great job as he gets ready for these games."
INJURY UPDATE: On Thursday you'll get a pretty good idea if there's a Henry-Joe Mixon backfield duel. Don't count on it. Mixon (foot) missed his fourth straight practice Wednesday. Center Trey Hopkins (concussion), left tackle Jonah Williams (stinger), Atkins (rest), defensive tackle Mike Daniels (rest), cornerback Darius Phillips (knee) and kick returner Brandon Wilson (knee) all didn't practice.
O-LINE HELP: With Hopkins and Jonah Williams sitting out Wednesday, left guard Michael Jordan (limited) and right tackle Bobby Hart (knee) already ruled out, it's a good week to get some reinforcements. And the Bengals personnel departments keeps finding linemen on each side of the ball. Except Finney won't be through the Covid protocol in time for the game.
But former Titans and Bills guard Quinton Spain could be in the building at the end of the week. Spain, 29, an undrafted free agent out of West Virginia, spent his first four seasons and 48 starts with the Titans and he tacked on 18 more starts in Buffalo before the Bills cut him a few weeks ago.
They like the physicality and strength of both guys. Finney, undrafted out of Kansas State, impressed them with both his power and brains as a center, where he's got seven starts. He's also got three at left guard, two at right guard and one at tight with what they see as a blue-collar approach. They also like the fact that five of his starts came against AFC North teams. He started at center in last year's game the Steelers won in Cincinnati, 16-10.
"To spend four years in Pittsburgh like he did and to play against Baltimore," Taylor said, "I know Cleveland is a little bit new on defense now. But he certainly understands the physicality and this division, it certainly helps."