CINCINNATI (AP) — Coach Marvin Lewis opened the offseason with one of his starting cornerbacks getting arrested, tossing another variable into his plans for getting the Cincinnati Bengals back to the playoffs.
The Bengals (6-9-1) missed out on the postseason for the first time in six years. The offensive line fell apart, the running game vanished, the defense looked old, the kicker kept missing wide right, and 15 players can potentially become free agents.
Cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones’ arrest for an alleged altercation with a security guard at a downtown hotel overnight adds uncertainty.
Jones denied the allegations through his lawyer, but he could face a suspension for violating the NFL’s player conduct policy, depending upon how the court case turns out.
Usually when a season ends in failure, it’s clear what needs to be done to turn things around. But the Bengals were a tiger-striped contradiction — impressive one moment, horrendous the next — all season long.
Is it time for a makeover? Or should they keep it together and give it another try?
“We had some Ripley’s (moments) where you can’t believe these things occurred,” Lewis said.
One thing is clear: There won’t be change at the top. Lewis has one year left on his contract and plans to stay, even if it means playing out the contract. It’ll be his 15th season with Cincinnati and another chance to snap that 0-7 mark in the playoffs.
Quarterback Andy Dalton had a second straight impressive season, throwing for more than 4,000 yards with only eight interceptions — his career low for a full season.
And he did it despite a leaky offensive line, an unreliable running game, and top receiver A.J. Green, running back Giovani Bernard and tight end Tyler Eifert missing much of the season with injuries.
Some things that the Bengals have to address in the offseason:
LINE WOES: The veteran offensive line was a foundation of the five straight playoff runs, but it crumbled this season. Cedric Ogbuehi, a first-round pick from 2015, started at right tackle and struggled so much that he was reduced to a part-time role and then benched. He was finally moved to left tackle — his more familiar spot — for one game before suffering a shoulder injury. Andrew Whitworth is a free agent and would like to return at left tackle. Guard Kevin Zeitler had a solid season and is a free agent. They’ll likely look for another offensive lineman high in the draft.
RUNNING ON EMPTY: The running game struggled in Ken Zampese’s first season as offensive coordinator. Jeremy Hill topped 100 yards twice, and Rex Burkhead had 119 yards filling in during the final game with Bernard and Hill injured. Burkhead is a free agent and will be looking for a chance to have a bigger role than a No. 3 back. Cincinnati’s running game finished in the middle of the pack overall, a huge disappointment. Bernard will spend the offseason recovering from a torn ACL.
WHICH OFFENSE? Even when everyone was healthy, the offense was an enigma. It showed a tendency to go well in spurts, and then go nowhere. The best example was a 24-20 loss to Pittsburgh that eliminated Cincinnati from playoff contention. The Bengals got ahead 20-9 at halftime, and then managed a total of 38 yards in the second half. The coaching and the play calling have come under scrutiny.
OLD DEFENSE: The Bengals have spent a lot of money keeping the nucleus of their defense together, resulting in one of the oldest starting units in the league. It sure looked old in the first half of the season, allowing a lot of big plays and an average of 23.3 points in the first nine games. It was back to form in the final seven games, allowing an average of 15 points. The first-half slide suggests it’s time to start working in younger players.
CORNERBACK LOGJAM: Jones’ arrest complicates things. The Bengals are deep at cornerback with Dre Kirkpatrick emerging as a dependable starter, but he’s a potential free agent and will get a big contract somewhere. No. 1 picks Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson III — who missed all of his rookie season with a chest injury — are ready for bigger roles. And Jones’ status for the start of next season is unclear.
THE KICKER: The Bengals have to find a full-time replacement for Mike Nugent, who was released after numerous missed kicks. Randy Bullock took over but missed a potential game-winning kick — wide right — in Houston. The Bengals will have a competition at the spot.
For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL