This article is part of our 2020 Training Camp Preview series.
Expanding upon our team preview collection from earlier this offseason, we're gearing up for an irregular August with a series of team-specific articles to get you up to speed for training camp. You can find the previous writeup on the Bengals here.
State of the Franchise
After an unusually active offseason on the free agent market, the Bengals' attention has since shifted towards acclimating their new signees and deciding whether their mainstays are going to be part of the future. Their first decision was in early May, when they opted not to pick up the fifth-year option of WR John Ross. While there's some risk Ross blows up and finally fulfills the potential signified by his early first-round price tag, the fact is he has played only 24 of a possible 48 games so far in his career, and the fifth-year option comes at a price that far exceeds his production.
The next decision was with veteran A.J. Green – they applied the franchise tag with him, locking the team into a guaranteed one-year, $18.2 million deal. The two sides were then unable to agree on a long-term deal, so the wideout signed the franchise tender and will play under it in 2020, making this a big walk season.
Finally, the contract situation for Joe Mixon still looms. Both sides want to reach a long-term deal, but there's been little progress so far. Derrick Henry was able to reach a deal with the Titans, and that might serve as the Bengals' template.
We mentioned the contracts of Green and Ross above – they are just two of the five viable wide receivers the Bengals can roll out on a regular basis. Green is the leader of the group when healthy, but he also hasn't been so for a couple of seasons. In his stead, Tyler Boyd emerged to become a reliable option, though a less efficient one in 2019. He'll be the No. 1 A to Green's No. 1 this season and still should get a steady stream of targets.
The Bengals also drafted Tee Higgins with the first pick in the second round, but the lack of a real rookie minicamp and time working with rookie quarterback Joe Burrow might slow the Clemson product's development. That might keep the door open for Ross or promising third-year receiver Auden Tate to stay in the mix as the No. 3.
On defense, the Bengals have overhauled their linebacking corps, even though it wasn't their top free agent priority. Most of their hoped-for improvement will have to come through the draft, though MLB Josh Bynes (via Baltimore) could take on a lead role. Additionally, rookies Logan Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaither and Markus Bailey will also be asked to step up and support second-year player Germaine Pratt.
Williams, the 2019 first-round (11th overall) offensive tackle from Alabama, was the latest Bengals top pick to suffer a major injury, missing the entire season with a torn shoulder labrum. Since 2015, each Bengals' first-round pick has missed significant time. Williams has received a clean bill of health for 2020, though the lack of practice reps this summer might slow his ascendance into the starting lineup. Still, the offensive line was a major weakness in 2019, and Williams ultimately should provide an improvement.
Jackson, the Bengals' top cover corner, played through a torn shoulder labrum of his own last season. He had to sit out the team's Week 17 finale against the Browns in addition to another game earlier in the season. Last season was a slight disappointment for Jackson, who allowed 39 receptions against him, though many of those came when in a zone scheme. This is a big season for Jackson – he could potentially be a free agent in 2021, and the Bengals added two corners via free agency and have to decide whether to use some of their cap space on him.
Anderson was a trendy sleeper to win the Bengals' third running back job last preseason, but unfortunately he tore his right ACL in the preseason finale, his second torn ACL, to go along with a broken leg and fractured vertebrae at Oklahoma. Despite that laundry list of injuries, Anderson's upside remains tantalizing. However, he's approaching his rehab with caution, and now that there are fewer practices and no minicamps, it'll be more difficult for him to beat out Trayveon Williams, let alone demonstrate that the Bengals have a long-term alternative to Joe Mixon in case they can't reach a contract extension.