The Bengals have only won six games over the past two seasons, but there's plenty of reasons to be optimistic about their future. They have a star quarterback in Joe Burrow and a quality core, which includes Jessie Bates, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and DJ Reader.
They'll also have around $37 million in cap space and eight draft picks to work with this offseason. They can easily free up another $18 million in space by cutting Geno Atkins, Bobby Hart and BJ Finney.
The Bengals are one of five organizations that made CBS Sports' list of teams that are expected to make a "major leap" in 2021.
"They've won six games in two years with Zac Taylor, but boy oh boy will Joe Burrow's return under center give them an adrenaline boost," Cody Benjamin wrote. "For the second straight offseason, the Bengals also have a ton of money to play with, meaning they can continue to surround their young quarterback with talent. Maybe it's help up front (please). Maybe it's another weapon to fill out an already-promising wide receiver corps. Either way, if Burrow can stay upright, Cincy should easily be bound for an improvement over 4-11-1. It helps that rivals like the Steelers could be due for regression as they battle age, cap issues and QB questions."
The Jaguars, Jets, 49ers and Panthers were the other four teams that made the list.
The Bengals could take a significant step forward in 2021, but they're going to have to be aggressive in free agency.
Signing a top tackle like Trent Williams or Taylor Moton would be ideal. It would give them flexibility in the draft.
The same goes for the guard position. Both Joe Thuney and Brandon Scherff could hit the open market.
Fixing the offensive line in free agency would give Cincinnati a chance to add extra firepower at wide receiver and/or tight end in the draft. They need to give Burrow as many weapons as possible.
If they do that, then there's no reason why the Bengals can't be much more competitive than they've been in each of the past five seasons.
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