The Cincinnati Bengals‘ Mike Brown is notorious for being one of the most loyal owners in sports, sometimes to the detriment of his franchise.
Brown’s patience (which some call stinginess) is the main reason quarterback Andy Dalton and head coach Marvin Lewis remain at the center of the Bengals franchise despite their lack of postseason success since Dalton was drafted in 2011.
Aside from Bill Belichick, no NFL head coach has held their current position longer than Lewis. However, he’s only under contract through the 2017 season, and it appears the Bengals are OK with heading into the upcoming campaign with Lewis as a potential lame-duck coach.
And make no mistake, Lewis and Dalton are joined at the hip at this point, their fates intertwined.
For the first time since Dalton took over from Carson Palmer in 2011, the Bengals sat at home in January, after posting a 6-9-1 record.
Dalton’s and Lewis’ 52 regular-season wins from 2011-15 matter little next to the number of playoff wins over that period: zero.
Whether that’s fair or not is subjective, but what can’t be disputed is the Bengals are close to wasting maybe the best era of talent in their history. Brown is loyal, but another season of mediocrity might even push him to make changes.
Lewis has been instrumental in building this roster, but eventually, he has to be held accountable for its inability to perform in big games.
Rumors of retirement have swirled this offseason, and while Lewis has shot them down, they could be close to the truth. Last offseason, Lewis admitted he tried to make then-offensive coordinator Hue Jackson stay by forming a succession plan for Jackson to eventually take over as head coach in 2018.
Jackson ultimately took the Cleveland Browns‘ head coaching position, but Lewis’ openness to either retiring or moving into a front-office role can’t be forgotten.
While Dalton will likely remain a part of the Bengals in 2018 regardless of his and the team’s performance in 2017, if Lewis is allowed to walk, Cincinnati could begin to look at replacing the quarterback.
Any incoming head coach wouldn’t have any ties to Dalton, and he’s proven without a doubt that he’s an average NFL talent, at best.
Dalton needs to try to cement his position in 2017, and the Bengals’ offseason has both hurt and helped the pivot’s ability to do so.
The loss of guard Kevin Zeitler and left tackle Andrew Whitworth – among the best at their respective positions – will likely cause the play of the Bengals’ offensive line to deteriorate. For Dalton, who’s strong when free of pressure but struggles to be consistent when facing it, the lack of solid protection could be fatal to his Bengals career.
However, the Bengals’ philosophy this offseason seems to have been to load up on more weapons to help compensate for the weak offensive line.
Cincinnati wasn’t done, however, adding controversial running back Joe Mixon and receiver Josh Malone in rounds two and four, respectively. Add in the likes of veteran wideout Brandon LaFell and running backs Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill, and Dalton has an embarrassment of riches to work with.
And there could be a good reason why the Bengals have ensured Dalton has all the weapons he needs to succeed. His team-friendly contract allows Cincinnati to get out of the deal with few cap ramifications after the 2017 season, according to Spotrac.
Again, like mentioned previously, Dalton will likely remain a part of the Bengals due to the difficulty in finding a capable starter, but he could be relegated to a stop-gap who’s holding the fort until a replacement can be found and groomed – like the Kansas City Chiefs have done to Alex Smith by drafting Patrick Mahomes.
Coincidence or not, the Bengals can move on from both their starting quarterback and head coach after this upcoming campaign. Dalton and Lewis need to prove to Brown that this iteration of the Bengals deserves another shot at making some playoff noise.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)
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