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Offseason Primer: Cincinnati Bengals Continuing Youth Movement with No. 5 Pick, A.J. Green Set for Free Agency

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Last season proved another challenging campaign for the 4-11-1 Cincinnati Bengals. Not only did they finish last in the AFC North for the third consecutive year, but they also lost quarterback Joe Burrow, the No. 1-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, to a season-ending knee injury Week 11.

Burrow was having a strong rookie season prior to the injury, passing for 2,688 yards and 13 touchdowns with five interceptions through ten games. He also demonstrated his mobility adding three scores on the ground.

The former Heisman winner needed that mobility throughout the season, as he was sacked 32 times. Strengthening the offensive line to better protect Burrow in the future will be paramount for the Bengals, a goal they will likely address both through free agency and the draft.

Burrow also operated the majority of the season without the services of running back Joe Mixon, who saw action in just six games due to a foot injury. Mixon rushed for a career-low 428 yards and three touchdowns.

While Mixon will be back healthy in 2021, wide receiver A.J. Green is expected to be playing elsewhere next season. Green remained relatively healthy and played in all 16 games, but posted career lows across the board in receiving yards (523) and touchdowns (2). With Green set to hit free agency in just a few months, he will end his Bengals career as the second most prolific receiver in franchise history, trailing only Chad Johnson.

Green may not be the only franchise mainstay the Bengals part ways with this offseason. As the youth movement in Cincinnati continues, they could also move on from defensive tackle Geno Atkins. The two-time All-Pro was virtually invisible this past season and saw his snap counts consistently drop week-by-week. He recorded just a single tackle and a quarterback hit in eight games. Still under contract the next two seasons for $24.6 million, Cincinnati and the 32-year-old are likely headed for a divorce, either by trade or release.

The Bengals’ defense faced their fair share of struggles themselves, but free safety Jessie Bates III was one of the lone bright spots. Bates led the team with 109 total tackles, three interceptions and 15 passes defended. He was honored as the Bengals’ 2020 Team MVP by the Cincinnati Chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America.

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Cincinnati’s defensive struggles can largely be pinned on their lackluster pass rush, which recorded the fewest sacks in football with 17. Acquiring a difference maker along the defensive line is at the top of their wishlist.

Cincinnati will have plenty of opportunities to retool and add talent with eight total picks in April’s draft, including the No. 5-overall selection.

Notable Free Agents:

WR A.J. Green
SS Shawn Williams
WR John Ross
CB Mackensie Alexander
CB William Jackson
P Kevin Huber
WR Alex Erickson
TE Cethan Carter
S Brandon Wilson
G Alex Redmond
K Randy Bullock
CB LeShaun Sims
ILB Josh Bynes
DT Christian Covington
DT Mike Daniels
LS Clark Harris
DE Margus Hunt
DT Xavier Williams
WR Mike Thomas
QB Brandon Allen
DE Carl Lawson
CB Tony Brown*
RB Samaje Perine
OLB Jordan Evans

Cap Commitments:

Cincinnati has an active cap of $148,458,547 entering the 2021 offseason, according to Spotrac. The Bengals have the fifth-most cap space in the league at $34,224,143.

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