With the offseason officially under way, Around The League will examine what's next for all 32 teams. The series continues with the Cincinnati Bengals.
A third straight playoff season in Cincinnati served as the tipping point for a coordinator exodus: Offensive play-caller Jay Gruden was swooped up to coach the Washington Redskins while longtime defensive leader Mike Zimmer now guides the Minnesota Vikings. That leaves Hue Jackson to run the offense and Paul Guenther to oversee one of the AFC's nastiest defensive units. A string of solid drafts and one of the league's better cap situations have the Bengals in position to restock and add depth -- but will they bring in competition for Andy Dalton?
» DE Michael Johnson: After handing out huge-money deals to defensive behemoth Geno Atkins and pass rusher Carlos Dunlap over the past two seasons, Johnson looms as a potential odd man out. After slapping him with the franchise tag last March, the Bengals aren't about to do the same next month. Expect Johnson to generate fierce interest on the open market as the NFL's top available quarterback chaser alongside Carolina's Greg Hardy. The Cincinnati Enquirer gives the team a 20 percent chance of re-signing Johnson, and that feels about right.
» OT Anthony Collins: An emergent producer on Cincy's line, Collins shifted into the left tackle spot and gave up zero sacks and just one pressure as a starter down the stretch. He was less effective against the run, but we could see the Bengals make an effort to lock him down with a reasonable contract.
Other key free agents: WR Brandon Tate, TE Alex Smith, OT Dennis Roland, OG Mike Pollak, OLB Michael Boley, CB Brandon Ghee, S Chris Crocker, S Taylor Mays, P Zoltan Mesko
What they need
The Bengals house one of the AFC's more complete rosters, but they have areas to address if they hope to keep their defense a beast.
It starts with an aging secondary, where cornerback Leon Hall will turn 30, Adam Jones 31 and Terence Newman a creaky 36. Vontaze Burfict enjoyed a breakout campaign, finishing as the fourth-ranked player at his position by Pro Football Focus, but the unit could use a true coverage linebacker. Vincent Rey came on inside in place of the injured Rey Maualuga, but looms as a restricted free agent. One possible answer is on-the-mend Emmanuel Lamur, who Guenther praised as a potential every-down 'backer with the ability to shine on passing downs. Finally, defensive end is a need if Johnson bolts.
On offense, Cincy could use bodies along the offensive line. Adding another pass-catcher wouldn't hurt and I'd love to see Cincy import a more dynamic prospect under center to push Dalton.
On the way out?
» TE Jermaine Gresham: Set to make a whopping $4.8 million, Gresham is a prime target for release. Cincy might opt to part ways with the tight end after his contract expires next offseason, but the presence of Tyler Eifert makes the drop-prone Gresham vulnerable. If the team retains Alex Smith and drafts another tight end, chopping Gresham would save the team $3.2 million against the cap.
» RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis: If kept, Law Firm's attempts will increase under Jackson, but Green-Ellis averaged a paltry 3.4 yards per carry while offering nothing in the passing game. Set to make $3 million, Cincy could use a more explosive -- and less pricey -- companion for Giovani Bernard.
» LB Rey Maualuga: Set to earn $3.8 million -- more than any linebacker on the roster -- Maualuga averaged a healthy 47.1 snaps per game in 2013, but was outplayed by young Vincent Rey after suffering a knee injury. Odds say he'll keep a roster spot on a squad thin at the position, but Maualuga is overpaid for what he brings to the field.
Offseason crystal ball
The defense won't falter if the Bengals effectively patch holes and add depth. On offense, Jackson's promotion is an under-the-radar plus. One of the game's most creative play-callers, Jackson will make the most of Cincy's weapons and set the ground game free in the hard-hitting AFC North.
Still, the elephant in the room remains: In previous eras, Dalton's numbers over three seasons would be viewed as exemplary, but he stands out as the guy holding back an otherwise balanced, talented attack. It's scary to think what the Bengals would become with a multi-threat, cannon-armed passer at the controls. I'd love to see the franchise boldly take the chance on another young quarterback in the draft.
On the latest edition of the "Around The League Podcast," the guys huddle with Seahawks trio Michael Robinson, Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant before unpacking Cleveland's week of chaos.