Skip to main content

Bountiful Free Agency Zaps Zac Into New Draft World: 'We didn't hold back'

Head coach Zac Taylor went through the first-ever Bengals Zoom news conference Wednesday afternoon and the next time we see him will be in about 10 days or so when he previews the April 23-25 NFL Draft.

That's about all we know. The Bengals are, as Taylor says, "week to week," as they receive daily memos from the NFL reacting to the pandemic.

He had no comment if the Bengals had been offered a package for the draft's overall No. 1 pick, had not heard when the Bengals could start their virtual off-season program, they're still working on how to use three starting safeties and quarterback Andy Dalton's situation seems to be as up in the air as everything else.

At the moment, Dalton still has a Paul Brown Stadium locker. Whether he has one Opening Day may depend on when it is.

"I think there's a lot of unknowns right now on what the offseason is going to look like and when the regular season, when training camp is going to start," Taylor said. "We're in a position right now where Andy's under contract. We just want to make sure we're making the best decisions for the club."

What is clear is that P.J. Combs, the Bengals maven of media relations, with an assist from communications chief Emily Parker, threw a touchdown pass on his first official try running a cyberspace news conference. Combs, who broke into the business writing for a weekly publication, smoothly handled 20 or so media types pushing the unmute button.

"Success!" is how Taylor put it in a post-Zoom text.

What Taylor also said definitively:

- Wide receiver A.J. Green, who has missed 23 of the last 24 games with foot and toe problems, is 'fully healthy," and everything is "positive," in wake of the team giving him the franchise tag.

- With everyone in the country expecting the Bengals to take LSU quarterback Joe Burrow No. 1, Taylor would only say they feel good about who they're going to take.

"We should. We've been looking at them since January," Taylor said.

- Free-agent pickup Vonn Bell, who just turned 25 as he begins his fifth season in the league, is quite definitely a starting safety.

"That's the intent," Taylor said. "He's a great tackler. He's played really well in the box. He's been a great addition to the run game there in his four years in New Orleans. Sure tackler. Brings a lot of energy to the defense. He does a good job in coverage, watching all of his targets. He does a great job staying right there with the tight ends when he's in coverage on those guys and has good zone awareness. He's a guy who has won a lot of football games over his time at Ohio State. He played in some really big games there and played in some really big games in New Orleans."

- In his first comments about the eight free agents they've signed in the last three weeks, Taylor wasn't taken aback the Bengals unleashed their richest off-season attack ever even though pundits and non-pundits alike were surprised.

"There's no side message we're trying to send to anybody. Last season wasn't good enough," Taylor said. "We know where we have to improve as coaches and the players that we still have around. And at the same time, we can go help ourselves at a lot of different positions and that's what we did. We didn't hold back. So, that's just the message. We want to go win right now."

But if he was effusive, he was also cautious.

"We got a lot of guys that I think their best ball is ahead of them. They maybe have four years in the league, the free agents that we added," Taylor said. "I do feel like we are a better team. But a better team on paper doesn't mean jack right now. Unless we find a way to put in the work, find a way to maybe manufacture the camaraderie that you otherwise have and chemistry that you'd have in the locker room. We have to go to work, and make sure that just because we feel like we added some good players in free agency and the draft we can't feel like our work is done."

How they get that chemistry before training camp with the current social distancing guidelines in place is the current brain teaser. The Bengals started their draft meetings last week in virtual fashion and this week the NFL stipulated no one can be in the same room during the event.

So Taylor already seems at ease with making picks while conferring with club president Mike Brown, director of player personnel Duke Tobin, scouts, assistant coaches and doctors via a computer screen while everybody sits in separate buildings .

He's in a routine because that's how it's been for about three weeks. As defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has said, it feels like they've been sitting in the same room with Tobin pulling the strings during the meetings.

Taylor is looking to do the same kind of thing with his players. The class-room portion of the off-season program was set to open on April 20 before a delay and Taylor is anxious to deploy his virtual plan of installing systems as well as trying to mesh old and new players together via the computer screen in team and position meetings. He just needs a start date.

"It's just like they do in classrooms. You can't see everybody necessarily on the call," Taylor said. "I haven't gotten a chance to test it out with 100 people yet. I'll be up front and honest about that. But often times people are just split up on the screen and you can't see everybody. They would need to be brief. You don't want to do anything for too long of a period.

"It's just kind of a 'nice to see you guys again' in our own way. You're allowed by the NFL to be able to pre-record things and load it on to the iPads so they can study it on their own time when that time comes and we do start the off-season program. There's a lot of different ways you can attack it. You've got to be creative with it. I'm looking forward to seeing how that unfolds for us. We talk about it on daily basis with our coaching staff, what the best ideas are to make sure we get the most out of what looks to be a virtual offseason for the most part."

As for the draft, Taylor isn't worried about the pace of the picks, the frantic nature of trades and the obligatory software screw-ups snarling their efforts. Since they have the first pick all three days, Taylor doesn't see them unable to make the pick in timely fashion even if there are problems.

"If we don't get the pick off in time for three of our first four rounds, then Duke will be sitting here doing his press conference because we'll have plenty of time to sort that stuff out," Taylor said with a laugh. "I think that we'll have everything ironed out by the time Thursday of the draft rolls around … Worst-case scenario, you've got your cell phone on and you talk to somebody through the phone like everybody else does. I don't anticipate any issues on our end … We've had meetings with everybody in the building using all this technology over the last three weeks. We all feel really comfortable with it."

Taylor is also extremely comfortable with the two centerpieces of his first free-agent class, Texans nose tackle D.J. Reader and Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes.

Reader: "Versatility, leadership. He can play up and down the line. He can take some of the pressure off those guys up front."

Waynes: "What he brings to the table is toughness, he's a really solid tackler, he's got good long speed, he can make plays on the ball, he seems like he has a really high football IQ and has played, to an extent, in a similar system. There's some carryover there between what they've done and what Lou does here … So we just felt like he was a really good fit for us."

But as for the next two weeks …

"We're just taking it, really, one to two weeks at a time," Taylor said, "and make the decisions that help our club."