clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Bengals have tough choices to make. Firing Marvin Lewis and ditching Andy Dalton would be a good start.

Blow it up, Bengals.

Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Scoring touchdowns is important. The Cincinnati Bengals haven’t done that and — surprise, surprise — the team is now 0-2.

At least Andy Dalton recognizes the issue.

"If you are going to win in this league, you have to score touchdowns, and we haven’t done that," the Bengals quarterback told reporters after a 13-9 loss to the Houston Texans.

The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, so at least that’s out of the way. But fixing that problem may be a tad more difficult.

Cincinnati’s offense isn’t just bad, it’s on the path to historically terrible. Only one other team in the last 10 years has finished the first two games of the season without a touchdown: The 2016 Rams that ended the year 4-12 and averaged a league-worst 14 points per game.

If the Bengals can’t score a touchdown next week against the Green Bay Packers, they’ll join the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers — an infamously awful expansion squad that finished 0-14 — as the only two that couldn’t get in the end zone in the first three games of the year.

The team’s offensive line is horrible, Dalton is struggling, and the Bengals’ most realistic shot at a big play is hurling it up for grabs to A.J. Green, no matter how many guys are covering him.

Two games may be early to throw in the towel, but there isn’t much reason to expect a significant turnaround. Inevitably, the Bengals will have better days in the remainder of 2017 than the first two weeks of September, but finishing the year close to the bottom of the league in scoring look unavoidable.

So the Bengals should start planning to do something about it.

Step 1: Fire Marvin Lewis

Marvin Lewis is six games away from passing Jim E. Mora and becoming the most experienced NFL head coach with zero postseason victories. Mora coached 231 games with the Saints and Colts, and was 0-6 in the playoffs.

Lewis coached in his 226th game Thursday — all with the Bengals — and is the only coach in NFL history with zero playoffs wins after seven trips.

That alone made him a coach on the hot seat. Finishing the 2016 season with a 6-9-1 record turned it to a boil. But the team’s disastrous start to 2017 means Lewis is a dead man walking unless a truly incredible reversal of fortune is on the way.

Firing Ken Zampese as offensive coordinator appears, for now, to be a rearranging of the chairs on the Titanic.

The problems for the Bengals run deeper and to make the wholesale changes necessary, the franchise will need a new man in charge.

Step 2: Bench (and eventually cut) Andy Dalton

It’s not cheap to keep a starting quarterback in the NFL and the Bengals had little choice but to give Dalton a seven-year, $97.09 million deal in 2014 or risk losing the quarterback.

Dalton played up to the new contract, though. After an up-and-down 2014 that still landed him in the Pro Bowl, he had a strong 2015 with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Had he not broken his thumb in the final weeks, who knows? Maybe the Bengals may have been able to finally get a playoff win under Lewis.

But when the Bengals gave Dalton that contract in 2014, the team made it easy to eventually move on from the quarterback in the future if he didn’t play up to his salary.

While it would’ve been costly in each of the last three offseasons to cut Dalton, it would save $13.9 million if the team did it in 2018. And it would scrub the quarterback from the books altogether in 2019 and 2020.

Andy Dalton’s contract situation

Year Cap hit with Dalton on the roster Cap hit if Dalton is released
Year Cap hit with Dalton on the roster Cap hit if Dalton is released
2014 $9,059,063 $17,573,036
2015 $9,600,000 $13,800,000
2016 $13,100,000 $17,900,000
2017 $15,700,000 $18,100,000
2018 $16,300,000 $2,400,000
2019 $16,200,000 $0
2020 $17,700,000 $0

Ultimately, Dalton’s $16.2-$17.7 million cap hits over the next three seasons aren’t that expensive. Fourteen different quarterbacks count at least $18 million against the salary cap in 2017.

But the bigger question is whether Dalton can be the guy that leads the Bengals offense to a Super Bowl victory. After 95 starts, the answer sure looks like a resounding no.

We already saw the best case scenario for Dalton.

The team’s offensive line was among the best in football in 2015 and he had A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones — each of whom are among the 16 receivers making at least $6 million in 2017 — at his disposal. A thumb injury spoiled a good season, but it wasn’t a great one.

Seventeen quarterbacks had more yards per game that year than Dalton. And then Sanu and Jones signed elsewhere in free agency, and Hue Jackson left his job as Bengals offensive coordinator to become head coach of the Browns.

From there it all fell apart.

Even if the Bengals spend the next few seasons surrounding him with a new offensive line and find another crop of talented receivers — a task easier said than done — is there reason to think it would be enough to make a winner?

No, probably not.

Cutting Dalton after the season and beginning a rebuild of the Bengals offense is the right move. If the team is able to come to terms with that sooner rather than later, it can spend much of 2017 figuring out if AJ McCarron or Jeff Driskel could end up being the guy instead.

McCarron’s rookie contract with the Bengals is set to expire in the offseason, but the Bengals reportedly spurned trade offers as high as a second-round pick for the backup this offseason. Even Driskel — a sixth-round pick of the 49ers that Cincinnati scooped up a year ago — impressed in preseason and looked like an intriguing talent.

If the Bengals have the foresight to decide Dalton won’t be on the roster for long, it would be valuable to gauge how good one or both of the other options on the roster are before beginning the overhaul of the offense in the spring.

Step 3: Get new guys on offense

Well now your coach is gone and your quarterback is gone. The offense is one of the NFL’s worst and possibly without a franchise passer.

Now it’s time to reload.

Dalton and Green are the two most expensive players on the Bengals roster right now. After that it’s seven defensive players.

With a decent amount of cap space to work with — and an additional $13.9 million following the release of Dalton — go get players in free agency and the draft that can help turn this ship around. Hint: It would be a good idea to start with the offensive line.

For now, the Bengals are just 0-2 and had a couple of bad offensive performances against a pair of defenses that were top 10 units a year ago. There’s time to turn things around and make up ground in the AFC North.

But Cincinnati already fired Zampese — an unusually proactive move for a franchise that had never before in its 50-year history fired a coordinator during the season. If the team is taking its offensive ineptitude serious enough to make that move after only two games, why wouldn’t it continue to make changes if things don’t get better?

A matchup against the Packers next week could quickly mean 0-3. The last team to bounce back from a start that poor and make the playoffs was the 1998 Buffalo Bills.

Whether it’s now or in a few weeks, the Bengals look toast. And if that’s the case, there’s not much reason for keeping Lewis and Dalton along for the ride to the bottom.