Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor had a rough first year. It took 13 weeks to earn his first NFL coaching victory. The season ended with a dismal 2-14 record.
That finish does afford the Bengals the opportunity to select first in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft. The question looming as the draft approaches is should Cincinnati trade the first pick in an attempt to acquire more picks and build their roster?
Yes, Trade Down
It is almost a foregone conclusion that former LSU quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow will be the first pick in the draft. With the emphasis on the quarterback position in the NFL, having a very good one is a must for teams with their eyes on the Super Bowl.
There are a number of teams that would be willing to give up a lot in order to obtain that first pick. Take the Raiders as an example. Head Coach Jon Gruden and GM Mike Mayock own two first-round draft picks this year and have roughly $55 million in available salary cap space.
The Raiders watched as their division rival Kansas City stomped all over everyone with Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. Gruden might be tempted to give up those two picks to obtain Burrow.
The Chargers are another team in need of a quarterback after veteran Philip Rivers signed with Indianapolis. The Chargers, unfortunately, may not have as much to offer for the No. 1 pick.
Miami, on the other hand, has the resources to make the trade, but they might be more interested in former Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa or Oregon’s Justin Herbert than Burrow. The Dolphins have three first-round picks and two second-rounders in the 2020 draft and if Miami comes knocking, the Bengals may want to listen.
Remember, Tagovailoa and Herbert as well as Utah State’s Jordan Love are all potential first-round quarterbacks. Acquiring another first-round pick or two later in the round would still give Cincinnati the opportunity to select a quarterback.
Then, there is the issue of Cincinnati simply not having enough talent to compete in the AFC North and with the rest of the league. In addition to the quarterback issue, the Bengals are in need of a quality offensive tackle and likely another receiver since A.J. Green is a free agent.
That doesn’t even begin to address the Bengals defensive needs which include cornerback and linebacker. William Jackson could be a star at corner, but he is getting near the end of his rookie contract. Germaine Pratt was a solid third-round pick a year ago, but the rest of the unit is average at best.
A pile of draft picks obtained in a trade for the first pick would allow Cincinnati to address more than just the quarterback position.
No, Draft First
The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. The best teams over the last decade have been the teams with the best quarterbacks.
Take last year’s Lombardi Trophy winners, the Kansas City Chiefs. They have arguably the best quarterback in the game right now in Patrick Mahomes. The New England Patriots won six Super Bowls during the reign of Tom Brady at quarterback.
Teams like New Orleans and Seattle continue to win division titles and battle for trips to the Super Bowl because they have quarterbacks like Drew Brees and Russell Wilson.
The point is that the key to winning championships is dependent upon having an elite quarterback. That is why Cincinnati should hold onto the first pick in the draft and select Burrow.
Of the four quarterbacks in the draft viewed as potential first-rounders, Burrow is by far the one that could make the most impact from Day 1. Tagovailoa presents a number of problems. The first being that he is left-handed. There hasn’t been a quality left-handed quarterback in the NFL since Mark Brunell.
Many don’t realize how a left-handed quarterback impacts things like play-calling. An offensive coordinator has to develop a left-handed mindset. It’s much harder than it appears.
The second reason Tagovailoa presents a problem is his injury history. Sure, he won a ton of games for Alabama head coach Nick Saban, but he also spent his share of time on the sideline with injuries. The most recent was a hip injury that ended his 2019 season prematurely.
Of the remaining two prospects – Herbert and Love – Oregon’s Herbert is surer candidate. Love is a stretch. At 6-foot-4-inches tall and 225 pounds, Love surely has the physical characteristics. He is athletic and possesses a strong arm, but he also threw a ton of interceptions in the Mountain West Conference. Facing New Mexico and Wyoming isn’t the same as playing Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, and the like every week.
Cincinnati’s rebuilding process will take more than a single season. It did for San Francisco. The 49ers suffered through a series of losing seasons, including 4-12 in 2018, before going 13-3 and winning the NFC West last year.
The Bengals need time to build a roster and develop a quarterback, which should be the best prospect available and that is Joe Burrow.