CINCINNATI — It doesn't take a football genius to understand that the Bengals' offensive line has been a problem.
They've had five straight losing seasons and their struggles in the trenches are the biggest reason why they've taken a step back after making the playoffs and winning two division titles in a five-year span (2011-15).
You don't need me, Joe Burrow or Zac Taylor to tell you it's an issue. Even the most casual Bengals fans know the team needs to upgrade at multiple spots on the offensive line over the next few months.
We can all agree that it should be No. 1 on the Bengals' list of offseason priorities, but it can't be their only priority.
A successful offseason is about much more than just putting a competent line in front of Burrow.
The Bengals could sign Ohio native Joe Thuney in free agency and take Penei Sewell in the draft. Those two guys could be game changers in the trenches, but the bar for a successful offseason has to be much higher.
Cincinnati found their quarterback in Burrow. He's playing on a rookie contract for the next three seasons.
Putting an above average offensive line around him is the minimum.
"That's line one in every O-Line room on all 32 teams. You've got to protect your quarterback," new offensive line coach Frank Pollack said on Monday. "That's what everyone is trying to always constantly get better at and striving. We've got a good, young quarterback. We've got to do everything we can to protect him."
Solidifying the offensive line is the bare minimum. They have to fill multiple holes on this team, not just the offensive line. Protecting Burrow isn't rocket science.
The Bengals have plenty of resources to get it done. They're expected to have anywhere between $50-70 million in cap space. They have eight draft picks, including the fifth selection to work with.
Making the necessary additions to an offensive line that's in desperate need of a talent infusion is the minimum they can do, not the expectation.
The Bengals need to be held to a higher standard.
Browns general manager Andrew Berry added multiple starting offensive linemen, a top tight end and other key pieces last offseason to a team that had much more talent than the Bengals did last offseason.
Aggressiveness wins in sports. It wins in today's NFL.
It's no coincidence that Cleveland won their first playoff game since 1994 last Sunday against the Steelers. They had plenty of injuries in 2020, just like the Bengals. Odell Beckham Jr. missed most of the season, Nick Chubb was out for four games, Grant Delpit never played a snap. It didn't matter. They overcame those issues because their front office was aggressive.
They have a quarterback that's also on a rookie deal in Baker Mayfield. Taking advantage of your signal-caller being on a rookie contract is crucial to a rebuilding team that's trying to turn things around.
Cincinnati was aggressive last March when the committed nearly $130 million eight unrestricted free agents. They can't let injuries to key signings like D.J. Reader and Trae Waynes get in the way of spending big money again this offseason.
They need to aggressively address their weaknesses in free agency.
The Bengals know adding a couple pieces in the trenches won't be enough to leapfrog the Steelers, Ravens and Browns. Those are three of the top 12 teams in the NFL.
When people discuss Cincinnati potentially drafting Ja'Marr Chase or DeVonta Smith, the first question asked is "who's going to block for Burrow?"
The Bengals are a professional organization. They have the resources to fill more than one need this offseason.
There's no reason why they can't add the necessary pieces in the trenches to protect Burrow and give their star quarterback a legitimate deep threat to go with Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins.
It doesn't have to be Chase or Smith, but it needs to be somebody that can be a difference maker.
They franchise tagged A.J. Green because they thought he was going to do that in 2020. That didn't happen for a variety of reasons. Finding someone that can stretch the field this offseason is crucial for Burrow's development.
Doing the minimum and just adding a few pieces up front is unacceptable.
It doesn't have to be offensive line or star wide receiver. It can be both.
Burrow deserves better and fans deserve better.
This organization found the quarterback of the present and the future. Now they need to make the most of it this offseason by surrounding him with talent—both in the trenches and at the skill positions.
There's no reason why this team shouldn't be competing for a playoff spot next season. That's the expectation. Building a competent offensive line is step one, but they have to do much more than that over the next few months to achieve that goal.
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