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5 things Bengals should do over next two months to improve in 2018

Richard Skinner analyzes the Bengals offseason needs. (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - With the NFL Scouting Combine ongoing, free agency looming in a little over a week and the NFL draft coming at the end of April it's an important two months for NFL teams to improve their rosters heading into the 2018 season.

Here are five things the Bengals should do over these next two months to improve in 2018:

5. Try to re-sign tight end Tyler Eifert, but only if the price is right.

The Skinny: Eifert is an unrestricted free agent coming off his third back surgery and has been plagued by numerous injury issues over the last four seasons, which limited him to only 24 games in that span-- 13 of which came in 2015 when he caught 13 touchdown passes and made the Pro Bowl.

According to SpotRac.com, Eifert has an estimated market value of a four-year, $30.4 million contract, but it would be lunacy to sign him to such a deal or anything close to it.

I can't believe any NFL team would sign him to a deal in that neighborhood based on his injury history.

If the Bengals can land Eifert for a one-year deal filled with incentives that is beneficial to both then that's fine.

When healthy, Eifert is a valuable player. Yet in his career he has averaged only 3.3 receptions per game for 39.4 yards and 0.51 touchdowns per game. Over a full 16-game season (which he has never played since being taken in the first round of the 2013 draft) that would extrapolate to 53 catches for 630 yards and eight touchdowns.

Tyler Kroft had 42 catches for 404 yards and seven touchdown last season and C.J. Uzomah added 10 receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown. So combined they had 52 catches for 496 yards and eight touchdowns. It's not like the production was way off from what Eifert would have likely given them.

I'm not saying don't try to re-sign him, but the price has to be right. If it isn't then let him walk and take a tight end somewhere between the third and fifth rounds of the draft where the team has five picks.

4. Spend a mid-round draft pick on a quarterback and add a veteran, cost-effective free agent at the position, too.

The Skinny: With AJ McCarron likely to leave as a free agent, because he understandably wants to start and will probably be given that opportunity by some team, the Bengals have only Jeff Driskel on the roster as a backup to starting quarterback Andy Dalton. Remember, Driskel is working his way back from a broken left arm suffered in the final week of practice when he was playing wide receiver.

The Bengals are committed to Dalton as a starter, which means they aren't likely to spend a first-round or second-round pick on a quarterback. However, it wouldn't hurt to spend a one of the five picks between rounds 3-5 on one, and even add a veteran (low-priced) free agent for depth.

I addressed some mid-round possibilities in MockDraft 13.0 a couple of weeks ago.

Whether you like it or not the Bengals are still high on Dalton.

"We feel very confident and comfortable with Andy Dalton as our starting quarterback," Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin said this past Wednesday at the NFL Combine. "We feel good about what Andy's done. Andy's been able to play at the top of the league in the past. We've got to play better around him. We've got to support him with a better running game, better pass protection, and he's got to make more explosive plays down the field. That's part of the wideouts' job, part of the tight ends' job and part him. We've got to connect on those long plays, and Andy's going to work on that, and has been working on it. The sky's the limit for Andy in our opinion. You don’t have to look very far around the league to see teams that don’t have a guy and what that does to them. Do we feel good about Andy Dalton? Yeah, he’s in the prime of his career and we feel good about him."

There's nothing to say that a mid-round pick can't develop into a starting quarterback and eventually push Dalton in a couple of years, and the team is high on Driskel's potential. Whatever veteran they might add is for emergency purposes only.

3. Make the right business decisions by letting a couple of veterans go.

The Skinny: The Bengals are loyal with veterans to a fault, especially those still under contract. But they can clear some extra cap space by letting go of a couple whose careers are quickly fading, most notably defensive end Michael Johnson and wide receiver Brandon LaFell.

The 31-year-old Johnson has one year left on his contract and is due to make a base salary of $4.5 million and roster/workout bonuses of another $500,000. The Bengals would absorb a cap hit of $1.125 million if they cut him. That's a huge savings, especially because Johnson is no longer a productive player and because the Bengals need to start working on extensions for Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins.

LaFell is due to make $2.5 million in base salary and another $1.5 million in roster/workout bonuses. The Bengals would absorb a cap hit of $1 million if they cut him.

If John Ross returns healthy and lives up to the potential that made him a first-round pick in 2017 and Tyler Boyd plays the way he did as a rookie and at the end of last season then LaFell is a fourth wide receiver at best. The Bengals already have plenty of those on the roster that are cheaper and they can always draft a wide receiver, too.

The decision on cornerback Adam Jones is a little tougher. He is still a productive player when healthy, although he has slipped a bit the last couple of years. But I'm not sure he starts ahead of William Jackson III, Dre Kirkpatrick or nickel cornerback Darqueze Dennard. A team can never have enough good cornerbacks and Jones is still a very capable player. Nonetheless, he is due to make $5.78 million in base salary and roster/workout bonuses if the team picks up his option by March 14, while the cap hit is only $666,668 if they don't. Is it worth keeping him around when the savings could be used for a more productive player elsewhere?

2. Try to add a quality linebacker and/or safety in free agency.

The Skinny: The Bengals were a mess at linebacker last season, and they enter the 2018 season with only Vontaze Burfict and Nick Vigil as starters they can count on-- and Burfict can't stay healthy while Vigil was only average at best.

Middle linebacker Kevin Minter wasn't very good and he will likely be allowed to leave as a free agent.

That leaves the Bengals in need of adding at least one starting linebacker, and instead of it being a stop-gap guy like Minter or Karlos Dansby or A.J. Hawk, it's time to wade into free agency for a higher-caliber player at the position who can be more a long-term solution. Local product Preston Brown (Northwest High School) comes to mind. He has been a productive middle linebacker for the Buffalo Bills and is only 25.

The Bengals should also spend at least one draft pick on a linebacker anywhere from the first round to the fifth round.

The team already tried to add a veteran safety when they had discussions with Kurt Coleman, but he opted to sign with the New Orleans Saints.

Starting safeties George Iloka and Shawn Williams are both under contract through the 2020 season, and both are solid, but neither is a playmaker.

Coleman's price tag was probably a little too high (he signed a three-year, $18 million deal with at least $6 million guaranteed), but there are a lot of safeties on the free agent market so there is probably a cost-efficient option who will be available.

If they don't land a safety in free agency the Bengals will have to draft one, but the problem is there aren't a lot of good ones from the third round and below and it's unlikely they spend a first-round or second-round pick on one.

1. Add at least one tackle and one interior linemen in free agency or spend high draft picks on both.

The Skinny: There was some encouraging performances from young guards Christian Westerman and Kyle Redmond at the end of last season and the team hasn't given up on tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher. That doesn't mean the team is set on the offensive line either.

There is also the issue of center Russell Bodine being a free agent, and good or bad he has started all 64 games over the last four seasons.

"I think he’s got lot of great qualities," new offensive lineback Frank Pollak said of Bodine this past week at the Combine. "The whole free-agent stuff, hopefully things work out and I’ll be coaching him. I’m excited to work with him and he knows that. I see a lot of qualities he can build on and continue to grow and improve as a player, no doubt."

If the Bengals don't re-sign him they will have go after a free agent center and/or take one early in the draft as well.

I'm not sure I would overspend on a free agent tackle, but I would spend the 12th overall pick on one, because the Bengals are probably going to have their choice of one they can plug and play immediately.

Clint Boling played well in his brieft stint at left tackle last season and could be an option there again, but if the Bengals can get a quality left tackle with that 12th pick then Boling could move back to guard or even battle it out with Fisher (and even Ogbuehi) for the right tackle spot.


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