The Cincinnati Bengals have been one of the most historically disappointing teams in the NFL. They came into existence in the AFL in 1968 and won just 7 games in their first two seasons. In the first year of the NFL-AFL merger the Bengals won more games than they lost and made the playoffs for the first time, but they soon began to falter. In 1981, in the second season of Forrest Gregg’s rein as head coach, the Bengals won a stunning 12 games and beat the Bills and Chargers on the way to their first Super Bowl trip. There they ran into the San Francisco 49ers and fell just short of victory. That was the first of two Super Bowl losses in the 80’s as the Bengals became a better known team to the casual fan.
Unfortunately, their last playoff win came in January 1991. After that the 90’s were a remarkably forgettable period for them From 1990 to 2004 the best they could do was an 8-8 record. Things changed when Marvin Lewis arrived in 2003 and then drafted Carson Palmer first overall in 2004. The Bengals made the playoffs in 2005, where Palmer’s career trajectory was ruined by a brutal knee injury early in the game. He was soon gone from Cincinnati, but Lewis kept the Bengals around the playoffs. They had a 5-year streak of making the playoffs that included 2 division wins from 2011 to 2015, but they still couldn’t pick up a win thanks to poorly timed injuries, awful play at the worst time, and just plain bad luck. 2018 would end up being the final season of Lewis’ 16-year tenure in Cincinnati, but in Madden 19 you have a chance to rewrite the season and bring some positivity back to the Bengals.
In Madden 19’s Franchise Mode you can take over the Bengals at the start of the 2018 season and try to get that elusive playoff win and first Super Bowl, but it may take you some hard work and rebuilding of the roster. The Bengals start Franchise Mode with a 78 overall rating. This is not great, and is made up of a 79 rated offense and an 83 rated defense. This defensive rating is solid but far from spectacular. Offensively the Bengals are not as poor as this rating would suggest. They do have some star power but lack talent in crucial areas. How should you go about rebuilding this roster? Let’s start by looking at their cap situation.
Cincinnati Bengals Salary Cap
Cincinnati start Franchise Mode with a massive 68 players on their roster and $44.3 million in cap space. This is quite a healthy starting position to be in and gives you the flexibility to retain players that are coming up on free agency and sign some players too.
You will need to cut 15 players to get down to the 53-man limit. Fortunately, there are 21 players on the roster that can be cut without incurring any cap penalty. Making your roster cuts should open up another $3-5 million in cap space, meaning you don’t need to make any roster moves for strictly financial reasons in the coming seasons unless you go overboard with free agent spending.
Cincinnati Bengals Impending Free Agents
The Bengals have 27 players entering the final year of their contract when you start Franchise Mode. Most of these players you can let leave with little thought and are easily replaceable at the bottom of your depth charts, but there are some who will be much harder to replace and therefore require either re-signing or a definitive plan.
This starts with talented tight end Tyler Eifert. The 89 OVR player is just 27 years old and will play season 1 on a 1-year, $3 million contract. This is because of serious injury problems Eifert has suffered through his career, but in Madden 19 he has a star development trait and very solid stats across the board. He is a key part of the Bengals passing game, especially in Madden where getting the ball to the tight end is easier than it is in the actual NFL. You should aim to keep Eifert as long as his contract demands are not outrageous.
Darqueze Dennard is the next player you need to make a decision on. He starts Franchise Mode as Cincinnati’s #3 cornerback, which effectively makes him a starter and thus an important cog in the Bengals defense. He is 26 so has some room to improve, and unless your draft class shows a deep pool of cornerbacks to pick from it would be wise to retain Dennard as there are other needs to address before you starting throwing a top pick at cornerback.
The Bengals linebacker situation is not great, which makes the impending free agency of starting middle linebacker Preston Brown less than ideal. Brown is just 25 years old and while his 78 OVR is not massively impressive, he is barely behind Vontaze Burfict for best linebacker on the roster. Brown isn’t amazing and middle linebackers are usually common in draft classes so you could potentially replace him with a cheaper 3rd round pick that is almost as good and has more developmental upside. That would be the ideal way to go, but if you wanted to hold on to Brown anyway to create some depth at the position that would be ok too.
Other key impending free agents: CJ Uzomah (TE), Tyler Kroft (TE), Michael Johnson (DE), Andre Smith (LT), Alex Redmond (G)
Cincinnati Bengals Roster Needs
The Bengals have a long list of needs. It starts at quarterback where Andy Dalton (81 OVR) still has three years left on his contract but is the epitome of average. A skilled player might be able to lead the Bengals to a Madden Super Bowl with Dalton, but it will be hard work. The simplest solution is to draft a replacement for Dalton. You should do this in season 1 or 2 when his cap hit is still a reasonable $12.7 million. By season 3 Dalton’s cap hit jumps to $21.8 million and you certainly do not want to be paying him that much.
After you define your plan for the quarterback position you have to devise a way to protect him. The Bengals offensive line, a strength not too long ago, is a mess in Madden 19. They don’t have a single starter who scores even an 80 OVR, and while they invested in center Billy Price in the 2018 draft, the rest needs a lot of work. Left tackle should be your top target, and it is incredibly rare that a quality one hits free agency, meaning you have to scout your draft class heavily to try and find any options there. If you are going to spend your season 1 first round draft pick on a quarterback then throwing multiple mid-round picks at the offensive line would make a lot of sense. The Bengals skill positions are pretty good and don’t really need an upgrade, especially if you re-sign Tyler Eifert. Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, AJ green, and John Ross are good players, but none of that matters if your quarterback isn’t accurate enough or your line can’t block.
Defensively the Bengals are more solid. Geno Atkins is a terrific defensive tackle that anchors the line, and while they could use more depth at both tackle and end the defensive line is not the priority here. Likewise, the secondary has good starters with William Jackson at cornerback and Jessie Bates at safety so you don’t need to worry too much about that just yet. Linebacker is where you really need to invest with the Bengals. There is a horrible lack of athleticism at linebacker, which is an awful place to be in in Madden 19, so finding some speed here is the easiest way to improve the overall ability of the defense to make stops and create turnovers. It’s not easy, or cheap, to find athleticism at linebacker, so if you are going to take a quarterback or left tackle high in the season 1 draft then you may have to find a short-term fix for the linebacker position.
The Bengals are not an awful team in Madden 19, but they certainly need some work. They play in the highly competitive AFC North which makes finding a route to the playoffs very tricky, but if you can find a talented quarterback to maximize their offensive skill and solidify that defense then you can get them back to the playoffs and maybe finally bring a Lombardi Trophy home to the long-suffering fans.