The future has never looked so bright as a 30 year old Bengals fan. My first real memories of the Bengals were Super Bowl 23 and the loss to the 49ers. After that the rest of my childhood consisted of the 90's Bengals which were beyond awful. It's really amazing that a franchise could be that incompetant for an entire decade plus. The Bengals finally hired from outside the organization in 2003 and things started to get better. There was a buzz in Cincinnati about NFL football with the Marvin Lewis hiring.
We all know what has happened since then. The great 2005 season ended with Kimo von Olhoffen diving into Carson Palmer's knee and it kind of went downhill from that. Yeah there was the 09 playoff appearance, but in 2005 it looked like Cincinnati might have a team that would be in the playoffs year after year. It wasn't in the stars.
Fast forward to this off-season. It's supposed to be rebuilding time. The franchise QB says he'd rather retire than play here anymore and the Chad Johnson/Ochocinco era comes to an end with a trade to the Patriots. National pundits are picking the Bengals to have the worst record in the NFL and they are the favorites to have the number one pick in next year's draft and get Andrew Luck. They take AJ Green in the first round of the draft and Andy Dalton in the second. A rookie QB and WR and no OTA's due to the lockout, no way this team has a shot to go .500 much less have a good season.
Well so far Dalton and Green are looking like one of the best rookie QB/WR duos in the history of the NFL. Mike Zimmer has the defense playing like a top five unit. The defensive line is as good as it's ever been in Cincy. They are stuffing the run and getting to the QB on a regular basis using an eight man rotation, thus keeping everyone fresh. The offensive line is playing extremely well and the running game is more than adequate.
There is major excitement about this team in this city and by Bengals fans across the country. The biggest reason is this team is very young and already this good. Things are only going to get better with the more experience this team gains. Last Sunday they went toe to toe with a Steelers team many are saying is the best in the AFC. They got off to a slow start but for the last three quarters the Bengals looked like the better team not the Steelers.
As Bengals fans we all know what the situation is with this team right now. They have beyond exceded the expectations of most fans and now find themselves contenders to make the playoffs and maybe even win a game or two once they get there. For me, everything else that happens this year is just icing on the cake. What really gets me excited as a fan is what could happen with this team in 2012, 2013, 2014, and even beyond.
Thanks to Carson Palmer's refusal to play here anymore, Mike Brown's stubborness, and Jason Campbell landing on the IR at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, the Bengals now have two picks in the first round in next year's draft and likely an additional second rounder in the 2013 draft. Also Jonathon Joseph left via free agency to sign with Houston and the Bengals will likely get a third round compensatory pick for that loss. That's right the Bengals are looking at nine picks within the first three rounds of the next two drafts. They are already the second youngest team in the NFL and are loaded with talent at just about every position group. That means most of these draft picks are going to be used not to fill a starting role immediately, but to add depth to a team that is already young, talented, and stocked at every position.
This team also sits way under the salary cap and within a couple years has to be within 99% of the cap number which means Mike Brown will have to spend money. Now some of that will be used to extend contracts of current players and they should get Dalton and Green signed long term after next season. There also will be money left to go to some veteran free agents to add a nice mix of veterans with a team that is loaded with young players in their first five years in the NFL.
The bottom line is this team is poised to make a couple Super Bowl runs within the next 4 or 5 years. The pieces are in place at the key positions: QB, O line, D line, WR, and CB. Well they could use some extra depth at CB and I'm sure that's coming next off season either in the draft or free agency. They also need to upgrade the Guard position. Other than that they can draft just about wherever they want and take the best players available to them on their draft board.
When the Bengals last made the Super Bowl I was six years old. Now I have a son that is three years old and I am hoping the love for the Bengals passes on to him with him getting to see the Cincinnati Bengals play in a Super Bowl while he is at a young age and it plants a seed in him to be a fan for life like it did for me. Only this time with the Bengals coming out on top. We all want better things for our kids!