The Cincinnati Bengals have been to the playoffs twice in the past two seasons. Even though Andy Dalton and AJ Green took over the identity of this franchise ahead of the last two seasons, the Bengals haven’t really suffered from a lack of leadership or experience on the field. Unless of course, your expectations for such young players is to win a Super Bowl almost immediately.
Although the Bengals have had no real leadership question marks with their youngsters, they did have plenty of veteran experience surrounding them last year.
This year, that experience has been depleted by free agency.
Rey Maualuga may only be finishing his rookie deal, but he was in his third and fourth year as a starter the last two years. 32-year-old safety Chris Crocker had accrued 12 seasons. 28-year-old defensive end Wallace Gilberry spent time with three teams over his six year career.
Terence Newman was 34 and had started for 10 straight years since being drafted. Adam Jones‘ six-season career that spanned over eight years had seen almost everything that could be seen, while Bruce Gradkowski had a much quieter season, but was undoubtedly an important role model for Dalton.
Those players only account for a portion of the experience the Bengals are losing this off-season.
Experience and leadership is very important in an NFL locker room. Along with the coaching staff, the veteran players are expected to set the tone for their teammates by establishing discipline and making people accountable for their responsibilities.
No matter how much young players can contribute to setting the tone the way Green, Dalton and Geno Atkins have, they can never fully focus on it as they are still at points in their careers when they have to focus on their own development. It’s impossible to establish a tone and implement leadership if you are still not 100 percent set on your fit in football.
Much of the Bengals’ leadership question marks can be fixed with the re-signing of their own players. Players such as Newman, Jones, Maualuga, Crocker, Gradkowski and Gilberry are all legitimate options to return in some role.
Even if they don’t, there are plenty of affordable options who could come in and have a similar impact that those players did last year. 12 year veterans Richard Seymour, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Andre Carter or Juqua Parker are possibilities.
As is 16-year veteran Ronde Barber, 15-year veteran Charles Woodson, 11-year veterans Chris Hope and Quinten Jammer, and 10-year veteran Aubrayo Franklin. Not all of those players would contribute a huge amount on the field, but each would bring a lot to the locker-room with their various levels of experience.
Too often, we get lost in the Xs and Os or the skill-sets of players as outsiders looking in on the team-building process. Understanding the human element is vital for every NFL franchise, because the players on the field will be the ones dealing with each other’s quirks and traits every single day of the season. If you don’t have the right mixture of characters and attitudes in the same place, it can be as destructive as not having the right mixture of on field talent.
It won’t matter how much talent the Bengals can combine on their roster in 2013 if they don’t have enough leadership and experience to guide them through the season.