CINCINNATI — An unprompted comment from Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor hinted at the long-term outlook for the downtrodden franchise.
After Thursday’s practice, Taylor addressed the speculation about a potential trade involving wide receiver A.J. Green, whose contract expires at the end of the season. On the same day Green practiced for the first time since July, Taylor emphatically said Green would not be moved by the Oct. 29 trade deadline and was part of the Bengals’ future.
If that’s the case, the Bengals will forgo one of their best options to acquire additional quality draft picks. Instead of moving Green to a contender such as the San Francisco 49ers or New England Patriots for a first- or second-round pick, the Bengals are moving toward giving Green, 31, a deal that could limit their ability to improve the roster.
Taylor’s comments about Green, coupled with statements earlier in the week about the urgency to win, indicate the 0-5 Bengals might not believe the roster needs to be rebuilt. However, the winless start to the season and the current roster indicates Cincinnati is not in a position to end its streak of 29 seasons without a postseason win.
The first-year coach rebuked the notion of using the rest of the 2019 season as an evaluation for the young players on the roster.
“It’s [about] trying to win a game this week,” Taylor said. “That’s the emphasis right now. We want to win. We all want to win, and we’re willing to do what it takes to win.”
Winning has been difficult for Cincinnati. The Bengals have dropped 12 of their past 13 games. In the five losses this season, they have the league’s fourth-worst scoring differential.
After the Bengals hired Taylor to replace Marvin Lewis, the franchise kept the roster relatively intact. Cincinnati entered the season with an average age of 26.3, the 19th oldest in the league, according to ESPN Stats and Information research. No player drafted by Cincinnati after 2013 has made the Pro Bowl.
Green is one of the only players on the roster who is considered one of the best at his respective position.
Green has the fourth-most receiving yards in the NFL since he entered the league in 2011. Before he suffered a toe injury last season, he had five straight games of 75 or more receiving yards.
He expected that kind of production in 2019 before he suffered an ankle injury in the first practice of the preseason, an ailment that will keep him out for at least the first six weeks of the season.
While Green has been away, the Bengals have suffered their worst start to a season since 2008. In the opening weeks, Cincinnati is 29th in scoring offense and 27th in total defense.
The Bengals, who do not officially have a general manager, allow only the head coach to make public comments during the season. But during a media luncheon in July, Bengals president Mike Brown said Green’s age wasn’t going to be a factor when it was time for negotiations.
“One thing I’ve learned is that great players have a tendency to keep on longer, they just have more in the tank,” Brown told reporters.
That philosophy lines up with some of the deals the team has issued in recent years. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins, 31, is under contract until 2022. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap, 30, has a deal that runs through 2021. Both are among the five highest-paid players on the team.
Ninth-year quarterback Andy Dalton, who is the Bengals’ top cap hit next year at $17.7 million, could also be in contention for a long-term deal after his contract expires following the 2020 season. Dalton turns 32 at the end of October.
Based on the Bengals’ on-field performance, it’s hard to make a case that a rebuild isn’t necessary. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Bengals have better odds of a top-5 pick than making a playoff push.
If the Bengals don’t win nine of the remaining 11 games in the regular season, they will suffer their fourth straight season with a .500 record or worse. The front office hired Taylor this offseason to reverse that trend. But it’s probably going to take more than that.
The growing number of empty seats inside Paul Brown Stadium indicates the fan base is eager to watch a winning team, too.