The Cincinnati Bengals started the 2018 season 4-1 but suffered five straight losses and lost seven out of their last eight, finishing the season with a 6-10 record to finish in last place in the AFC North. This marks the third consecutive season the Bengals have failed to make the playoffs. Now, they’ll look to rebuild their franchise this offseason.

The Bengals started going in a downward spiral after suffering an embarrassing defensive catastrophe in a season full of them. Cincinnati’s defense allowed 51 points and a massive 509 yards in an early November loss to the New Orleans Saints. They became the first team in the Super Bowl Era to allow more than 500 yards in three straight games.

Defensive Coordinator Terry Austin was fired the day after that game, and Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, a former defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, took over the defense moving forward. The defense was a disaster for the Bengals, ranking dead last in the NFL.

Marvin Lewis dismissed as Head Coach

Longtime head coach Marvin Lewis was dismissed following the 2018 season after 16 seasons, despite leading them to four division titles, and seven winning seasons. Unfortunately, Lewis was unable to lead the Bengals to a playoff win and left Cincinnati with a post-season record of 0- 7, the worst in NFL history.

In addition to being poorly coached, the Bengals suffered through a bevy of injuries during the 2018 season. The Bengals had a total of 20 players placed on the injured reserve during the 2018 season. Two of the most important Bengals suffered injuries that ultimately doomed the team. Pro- Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green missed several games due to a right toe injury. He eventually missed the rest of the season after undergoing surgery to repair torn ligaments in the toe.

The much-maligned quarterback Andy Dalton had his season end early with a thumb injury suffered in Week 12. He finished with season with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while throwing for 2,566 yards. With Dalton out for the season, backup quarterback Jeff Driskel attempted to step in, but he struggled with accuracy and pocket awareness. He isn’t good enough to be an NFL quarterback.

However, there were a few positives that the Bengals experienced this past season. Running back Joe Mixon led the AFC in rushing yards with 1,158. He finished the season by rushing for over 100 yards in three of the last four games. His 1,464 yards from scrimmage were the 11th most in the NFL and fourth in the AFC.

Wide receiver Tyler Boyd finished with a team-high 76 catches for a team-high 1,028 yards and tied for the team lead with seven touchdown receptions. He stepped up in A.J. Green’s absence while working with a backup quarterback and missing two games due to injury.

The Bengals have a new regime in 2019

The Bengals cleaned house and are starting a new era after they let go of Marvin Lewis. This new era will be led by former Los Angeles Rams quarterback coach, Zac Taylor, the Bengals’ 10th head coach in their history. Taylor will be the second-youngest coach in the league behind his former boss, 33-year-old Sean McVay.

Taylor was the University of Cincinnati offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2016. He moved on to Los Angeles to coach the wide receivers in 2017 and was named the quarterbacks coach in 2018. Cincinnati ranked near the bottom (26th of 32) of the NFL in offensive yardage. The Bengals are praying that Taylor can bring their offense back to respectability and winning football on the offensive side of the ball.

“Zac is a bright coach with an offensive mind and background, which is important to have in today’s NFL,” Bengals president Mike Brown said. “And he’s young. He embraces new ideas and new ways to do things, which will be a good thing for us. I believe our team will be exciting and fun to watch with him at the helm.”

Are the Bengals going to re-sign any of their impending free agents?

There is a new regime in the Queen City in 2019. What does that mean to the team’s impending free agents? The Bengals have some crucial decisions to make.

First and foremost, it will be what to do with quarterback Andy Dalton. Dalton is due over $16 million this season, the highest paid player on the team, but the Bengals can release him with no dead money on the salary cap. What does Taylor think of Dalton? Will Taylor bring in a quarterback of his own? Cincinnati has tons of holes to fill, and Dalton is NOT the reason that they don’t win games. Unless they get overwhelmed with an offer, I see Dalton staying with the Bengals for at least next season.

The offensive line is well, offensive. Cordy Glenn and Billy Price were brought in for the 2018 season, and both played poorly. The line did well in run-blocking for Joe Mixon. However, the line needs a complete overhaul. Every member outside of Glenn and Price are free agents, and the choices of Jake Fisher, Cedric Ogbuehi, Bobby Hart, Andre Smith, Trey Hopkins, and Alex Richmond are not exactly making Dalton feel any better. The team is still experiencing the results of their decisions to allow talented offensive linemen like Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler to leave the team.

Here are several other players that the Bengals must decide if they want to re-sign:

Darqueze Dennard, CB
According to Pro Football Focus, Dennard graded out as the Bengals’ best run defender (90.3). In 2018 he played in 13 games with 68 tackles, two forced fumbles and six passes defended, but only played in 30 percent of the team’s defensive plays. Dennard did not allow a 100-yard receiver the entire season. He should be in a Bengals uniform in 2019.

Preston Brown, Linebacker
Brown was the Bengals best linebacker last season which isn’t saying that much. He missed multiple games and ultimately his season ended after a Week 10 injury. The linebacker position is a massive need for the Bengals, so it’s doubtful that Brown will be able to survive the influx of talent.

Bobby Hart, RT
Hart played the highest percentage of snaps (99.7 percent) and started all 16 games for the Bengals. He was the eighth lowest graded tackle in the NFL last season. Look for the Bengals to revamp their offensive line in both free agency and the draft.

Tyler Eifert, TE
In Week 4 against the Atlanta Falcons, Eifert suffered yet another season-ending injury, this time to his ankle. In his last 48 games, Eifert has played in just 12 of them. The ankle issues are not new though – he tore ligaments in the 2015 Pro Bowl. Unfortunately, it looks as if Eifert has played his last game as a Bengal.

Tyler Kroft, TE
Kroft had a disappointing season as he only had four receptions for 36 yards, but that’s because he injured his foot after playing in only five games. Before this year, Kroft played in all 16 games during the 2017 season, when he broke out with 42 receptions and seven touchdowns. Kroft should sign as an inexpensive TE option.

CJ Uzomah, TE
This past season, in addition to playing all 16 games for the first time in his NFL career, Uzomah set career highs with 43 catches for 439 yards and three touchdowns. Due to injuries to Eifert and Kroft, Uzomah became the starting tight end by default. As someone who showed good production, and as also someone who excels on special teams, the Bengals should look to re-sign him.

Who are the free agents that the Bengals should target?

There are many holes to fill on this team. They need to vastly improve their defense which allowed the 29th most rushing yards in the NFL last season. Furthermore, the Bengals defense allowed the most total yards and most passing yards in the league in 2018. Luckily for them, the Bengals have the ninth most salary cap space heading into the 2019 season. Let’s look at how I would spend that money to help the Bengals.

K.J. Wright, LB
The Bengals are noticeably thin at the linebacker position. Vontaze Burfict’s career is in jeopardy after suffering another concussion towards the end of last season. While Wright only played in five regular season games last season, he had four straight years of 100 tackles. As a result, he could be cheaper which is right down the Bengals’ alley.

Matt Paradis, C
Paradis graded out as one of the top five centers in the NFL last season. While the Bengals used a first-round pick last year on center Price, he is more suited to play guard. While at Ohio State, Price was one of the best guards in the country, so a move back to guard makes sense. These moves would significantly improve two positions on a weak offensive line.

Ja’Wuan James, OT
Primarily a right tackle for the Miami Dolphins, James has shown his ability to be a strong run blocker but needs improvement in pass-blocking. He possesses some upside and would be a significant improvement on the right side of the offensive line.

Grady Jarrett, NT
Jarrett had six sacks in 14 games last season. With Jarrett and Geno Atkins coupled together on the inside and Carlos Dunlap bringing the heat on the outside, the Bengals would possess one of the top defensive lines in the league.

How do the Bengals attack the draft?

Round 1, Overall Pick#11: Devin White, Linebacker, LSU
I know it seems like an obvious pick, but hopefully, the Bengals can find a way to improve their horrible linebacking corp. There needs to be an influx of talent at linebacker and White is a crazy good sideline to sideline athlete.

Round 2, Overall Pick#42: Andre Dillard, Offensive Tackle, Washington St.
Dillard only allowed one sack in his entire collegiate career. He dominated with his great size and smooth footwork. His pass-blocking is elite, but he will need to improve in the run game. The Bengals will take any help they can get on the offensive line. Look for Dillard to play on the right side of the line.

Round 3, Overall Pick#72: Will Grier, QB, West Virginia
Taylor, looking for someone to mold into his type of quarterback, drafts Grier, who is one of the more intriguing quarterback prospects. He is ranked in the top five of this class by the majority of draft pundits after completing 67 percent of his passes last season. He also threw 37 touchdowns against just eight touchdowns. Taylor will look for Dalton to help mentor Grier in 2019 and hopefully under his tutelage, become the starter in 2020.

What should we expect from the Bengals in 2019?

From 2011-15, the Bengals made five straight playoff appearances, albeit without a victory. Over these past three seasons, the club owns a combined 19-28-1 record and has failed to post a winning campaign. Lewis received boatloads of criticism about the way he ran the team, clock management, and more. So it was warranted. However, not all of the Bengals failures are his fault.

The Bengals front office made many horrible decisions and I don’t need to go through the laundry list of errors. However, the selection of players who had issues with the law (Adam Jones) and punching a woman (Joe Mixon) display their lack of common sense. Speaking of lack of common sense, let’s talk about how the Bengals brought back Hue Jackson in the middle of the season. How can a coach who finished with a 3-36-1 record help your team? Oh wait, it gets even more comical. Jackson was interviewed for the Bengals head coaching job. NO team should ever hire him as their head coach. Luckily, they didn’t hire him and instead hired Taylor.

Owner Mike Brown is hoping that the young Zac Taylor can be the next Sean McVay. At the very least, Brown is projecting into the future and bringing new blood to a team that has been stagnant for the last several seasons. Let’s see where Taylor can take the team AND if Brown will let him.