It's time to face the music. Unless the 2010 Cincinnati Bengals go on a massive winning streak, they won't be playing post-season football this year. At worst they can lose two more games and still play January football.
Also worth noting is the staggering number of impact players for the team who's futures are in jeopardy. Some players are simply entering their prime while closing out their rookie deals, like starting cornerbacks Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph. Other players are mid-career pickups who owner/General Manager Mike Brown likes to low-ball into short performance-incentive-based contracts like CB "Pacman" Jones, WR Terrell Owens and most notably RB Cedric Benson.
In a third category are aging superstars with long term contracts nearing their ends. Bengals fans are probably familiar with WR Chad Ochocinco and QB Carson Palmer, who is owed something like $12 million next season.
Anyone familiar with how Mike Brown runs this team knows we aren't getting all of these players back. Either CB Hall or Joseph will likely be retained along with the far less expensive Pacman, but probably not both. Unless no one else is willing to pay him, on the strength of a good season T.O. is likely headed out of town. Chad is headed into a Club-option year in his contract and will either whine for a new contract, a trade or simply for the Bengals to not use the option and give him up to free agency. Regardless of how all these lower priority Bengals contracts pan out, the team will look much different next year than it does right now.
But the biggest difference will be at either quarterback or running back. With Benson not under contract at all beyond this season and Palmer owed more money than he is likely worth at this stage in his career, it seems extremely unlikely Mike Brown will pony up the cash to keep them both. But assuming he keeps one (he really could lose both), the other position will have to be addressed in the 2011 draft.
Enter Mike Brown first round draft pick speculation:
If we lose Carson Palmer
The front runner right now is Auburn QB and Heisman Trophy candidate Cameron Newton.At 6'6" 250 Ibs, Newton looks and plays like a typical Mike Brown quarterback (Palmer being the chief exception to this rule).
He runs as well as he throws, he plays for a school we've successfully drafted from before (Willie Anderson), and he's used to being a Tiger. He even has the prototypical Bengals "checkered past." Newton narrowly dodged felony charges after buying a stolen laptop during his brief time at the University of Florida. It sounds like it wasn't really his fault, but that will certainly come up if the Bengals draft him.
If visions of Akili Smith are dancing in your head, you're not alone.
If we lose Cedric Benson
This one is even more clear to me. Mark Ingram from Alabama has already won both the Heisman and a national championship!
He is practically a carbon copy of what Cedric Benson was to the University of Texas, and maybe even better. Based on where the Bengals will select in next year's draft (in the top half, but not the top five), he will very likely be available. I'm not sure if he'll be an improvement on Benson, but he will be fresh legs.
Corey Dillon, eat your heart out.
So these are the kind of massive changes you can expect for next year's Cincinnati Bengals. Oh, and we probably won't have head coach Marvin Lewis either. I personally can't wait for 2011, the year the Bengals make a run at a five win season!