I guess the return to irrelevance already happened last year, but at least then they actually went into the season with a chance at contending. Those days are over. You could make an argument in 2015 they were the best team in the league. They finished in a three-way tie for the best record in the AFC (and it took a blown 14 point lead with a backup QB in Denver to get to that point) and led the AFC in SRS and DVOA. If Dalton hadn't gotten hurt, they may have been able to make a run assuming he could get over his playoff woes. Of course, he hadn't played a playoff game with Green, Marvin Jones and a healthy Eifert which was how their offense was so good that year. Unfortunately, ownership decided not to continue to try to be a contender and here we are 14 months later. The core of making five straight playoffs was built through the draft. From 2009-13, they drafted Andre Smith, Michael Johnson, Dunlap, Atkins, Green, Dalton, Clint Boling, Dre Kirkpatrick, Kevin Zeitler, Mohamed Sanu, Jones, George Iloka, Eifert, Bernard and Burkhead while also signing Burfict as a CFA - that's a damn good run. Unfortunately, their 2014-15 classes look pretty awful and the only thing they've found so far from 2016 is Tyler Boyd as a slot receiver who they used a second-rounder on. When you don't re-sign the good players you drafted, treat FAs from other teams like anthrax and can't hit anymore in the draft, your roster will erode fast. Even during parts of The Lost Decade, the Bengals have almost perennially fielded a strong offensive line. The foundation started to crack last year and unless a miracle occurs, it's only going to be worse. Longtime stalwart LT Andrew Whitworth took a deal with the Rams. When the longest-tenured member of the team and captain moves his family across the country to play for a non-contender, either the Bengals offer was noncompetitive or he simply didn't want to be there anymore. It's a huge loss as now they hand the job over to 2015 first rounder Cedric Ogbuehi. Normally I wouldn't be so pessimistic about giving someone like that a shot, but he was absolutely horrible in his shot at RT last year (and when he moved over to LT his last game) and wasn't particularly good in college. He was drafted as an athlete with good feet, but his strength and technique are simply not NFL caliber. They go from the best pass protector to possibly the worst which is a big problem for a QB that struggles more than most with pressure and is a product of his surrounding talent. In addition, Zeitler took his talents a few hours north and the Bengals were never a legitimate suitor. He got the most money ever for a guard, but what's the point of drafting a guy in the first round if you're not going to even attempt to sign him to a second contract when he delivers a first round return and is still squarely in his prime? They brought back old friend Smith to play RG and I think he'll actually be pretty good there, but he's certainly not Zeitler and has missed 21 games the last three years. Also, it's a continued indictment of Christian Westerman, a fifth-rounder last year who a lot of people thought had day two talent but couldn't even be active once in a season where the OL was a mess and now a job he could have competed for has already been filled. Boling is a very solid LG, but Russell Bodine is a disaster at C (yet he's been on scholarship from the moment he arrived) and 2015 second-rounder Jake Fisher, while flashing some down the stretch, is still largely unproven at RT. After losing Jones in FA last year, they replaced him with Brandon LaFell. Their numbers (Jones 2015 vs. LaFell 2016) may look similar, but LaFell's lack of speed on the outside killed them since Green and Eifert essentially played only two games together and defenses were able to key on them without fear. Most organizations would thank him for his service and move on. However, the Bengals brought him back on a two-year deal because of all his supposed intangibles. This ensures the offense will continue to bog down if Green or inevitably Eifert get hurt, except it'll be even worse this time as incompletions will become sacks. It also likely means they won't draft Corey Davis (who might be the best player at 9 and fills a huge need) unless they plan on cutting LaFell which is highly unlikely. After running roughshod over the league down the stretch his rookie year in 2014, Jeremy Hill has simply been awful the last two years. He's averaged 3.2 YPC in that span against teams not named the Browns and doesn't have a 100-yard game against anybody else. I understood giving him a lot of rope in 2015 but when he only averaged 3.6 YPC in an explosive offense that Bernard had 4.7 in, that seems like a pretty big red flag. Unfortunately, they continued to feed him the ball this past year while Burkhead rotted on the bench. When Bernard was lost for the year in November, it was a perfect opportunity to give the reigns to Burkhead but they chose not to. They've stated they're going to draft a RB at some point. I can only hope the coaching staff actually plays him. On the plus side, the defense should be pretty good. After putting up an excellent year in 2015, they were horrible the first half last year before turning it on in the second. They badly need to upgrade the pass rush though as they've gotten nothing at RE since Johnson left after the 2013 season, which includes his return two years ago. It might be time to look for someone that isn't 6'6 and can actually bend around the edge, as their last two DE picks (Margus Hunt and Will Clarke) have been tall and stiff and haven't done anything. If they take Taco Charlton at 9, I might cry. Thankfully, longtime overrated NT Domata Peko signed with the Broncos and last year's fourth-rounder Andrew Billings will get the first crack at the job after missing his rookie year. I was in favor of signing Karlos Dansby to fill a LB void last year, but his play fell of a cliff and he was a huge liability. He's now gone back to Arizona again and the Bengals signed former Cardinal Kevin Minter to a one-year deal who should be an upgrade, especially in coverage. Last year's third-rounder Nick Vigil will open camp as the other starter which will thankfully relegate Vincent Rey into a reserve role. The Minter signing should spell the end for Rey Maualuga, who can't play in nickel and hasn't played a full season in four years. They used the money they didn't spend on Whitworth and Zeitler on Kirkpatrick, who got paid handsomely. After years of inconsistency, he finally delivered a first-round return last year minus the inexplicable illegal contact penalty on third and forever against Hogan which turned the game around. I certainly hope he lives up to the deal, but I'm not that optimistic as he turns 28 in November. Still, he should at least be good for a productive season this year. With the re-signing of Kirkpatrick, they have to cut Adam Jones. Not only is he in legal hot water again, but he's going to be 34 in September and his play declined significantly last year. In addition, last year's first-rounder William Jackson needs to start. Darqueze Dennard and Josh Shaw will man the slot while Iloka is an excellent safety. They need to get better play opposite him from Shawn Williams, who was very slow to react in his first season as a starter after getting a nice extension for his work in nickel. If not, Derron Smith, who is probably a better player anyways, should step in. The defense got younger and more athletic and should definitely take a step forward if they can find a pass rusher in the draft and let Jackson play. Unfortunately, I don't see how they can score enough points unless Ogbuehi defies the odds to become an acceptable LT and they find another weapon to pair with Green and Eifert. The schedule isn't daunting (AFCS, NFCN, BUF/at DEN) but it's tough to see them being a legitimate contender this year. They need to start hitting drafts again and picking in the top 10 with 11 picks is definitely the time to do so.