Bengals Mailbag: Free agents, the receiver depth chart, rookie linebackers and 10-year contracts

James Rapien

CINCINNATI — It's a weird time for the Bengals, the NFL and the entire country. 

There's plenty of uncertainty surrounding the start of training camp, which is scheduled to begin later this month.  

Thanks to everyone for participating in the first AllBengals mailbag! We'll be doing these weekly throughout the 2020 season. 

Feel free to post your questions in the community tab at or leave a comment on a story. You can also tweet me your questions. If I don't get to them on here, I could answer them on the Locked on Bengals podcast. 

Let's get to the mailbag. 

Most would probably say quarterback, especially in the Bengals' case since they're handing the keys to the franchise to a rookie. I would disagree with those people. 

Can you imagine Zac Taylor having to lay a foundation and trying to build a culture this offseason? How does a coach get to know an entire roster virtually? It's one thing to get Joe Burrow, Tee Higgins and the rest of the rookies up to speed. Having a brand new coaching staff would be an entirely different situation. 

The Bengals are a young team. Having a brand new coach with zero experience would've been a potential nightmare. Taylor's 2-14 run in 2019 helped prepare him for this offseason. 

If the Bengals were an established team, then it would be different. Getting Burrow ready for Week 1 is challenging enough. Installing a completely new playbook and trying to create a culture virtually would've been a nightmare scenario. I'm sure Taylor is grateful he didn't have to deal with COVID-19 last offseason. 

Neither scenario is ideal, but having a head coach that knows most of the roster is crucial, especially with a rookie quarterback like Burrow. 

It would be a surprise if the Bengals added another noteworthy free agent before the start of the season. I've banged the drum for former Saints guard Larry Warford, but the coaching staff seems content with the current roster. 

Offensive line coach Jim Turner has had nothing but praise for 2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams. He thinks Michael Jordan is going to develop into a quality left guard. 

Trey Hopkins is the best and most established offensive lineman on the roster. The right side has plenty of question marks, but they were happy with the additions of Xavier Su'a-Filo and Hakeem Adeniji. 

Bobby Hart and Fred Johnson will compete for the starting right tackle job. Hart is the favorite, but it will be a competition. Adeniji could get in the mix with a strong showing at training camp.

The offensive line is the weak link on the team. The Bengals improved all three levels of their defense. They got better at quarterback and at wide receiver. 

Can they hold up in the trenches? 

The coaching staff and the front office would say "yes." 

We'll get the answer in a few months, assuming there is a season.

There has been a lot of coverage about how hard it's going to be for Burrow and the other rookie quarterbacks to adjust to life in the NFL after a virtual offseason. First-year at other positions will have growing pains too. This was considered a great wide receiver class, but don't be shocked if rookies struggle out of the chute. 

The Bengals don't need Tee Higgins to be a star this season. In a perfect world, he'll compliment a healthy A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd and John Ross. 

In fact, that's exactly how I expect the depth chart to look like Week 1. Some will question Ross' inclusion, but he led the team in receiving touchdowns in 2018 and showed big-time playmaking ability last season. 

Obviously health is a huge question mark for both Ross and Green. The duo has only played in nine games together since Ross was drafted in 2017. Both players enter the season hoping to establish or re-establish themselves in the league. The Bengals will give both of them a chance to do just that. 

Auden Tate and Higgins will still get plenty of snaps. 

Multiple receivers have told me that Taylor wants everyone to be interchangeable. Each wide-out is learning the X, Y (slot) and Z positions. 

The sixth wide receiver spot is up for grabs. Don't be surprised if they try to keep seven on the final roster. Alex Erickson, Mike Thomas, Stanley Morgan and Damion Willis will all compete for the final spot(s). 

The Bengals have one of the most talented wide receiver rooms in the league, but they need to stay healthy. 

A Bengals Ring of Honor should happen in 2021, so that's what I'll go with. Who knows if fans will be able to watch Burrow throw passes at Paul Brown Stadium this season. 

What better way to welcome fans back in 2021 than to honor past legends? I inducted 13 influential figures as part of the Bengals mythical Ring of Honor. It should become a reality next season. 

With that said, it's hard not to like the direction of the franchise. They attacked free agency and completely remade their defense. A playoff run will be dependent on Taylor's ability to get the most out of Burrow early on and the offensive line. If both of those things happen this year, then the Bengals could put themselves in position to make a postseason run in 2021.

Unfortunately, no one knows the answer to any of your questions, Don. The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 is arguably the worst part of the entire pandemic — at least as far as professional sports are concerned. 

It's one thing to pivot and change the season or alter a plan, but no one knows what the next few weeks are going to hold. Will training camp start on time?

Here's what we do know. The NFL wants the season to begin on time and they're going to do everything they can to make that happen. There will be a loss of revenue, even if the league does have a full season. The Ravens announced that they're only allowing 14,000 fans to attend each home game in 2020. That's assuming fans can attend games this year. 

Owners also approved a proposal to sell ads that can be placed on banners in the lower seats of stadiums. So a loss of revenue is going to happen, it's just a matter of how much and why? 

As far as contracts go, it's something that the league and the NFLPA would have to negotiate. I doubt they would just push every contract back a year. The players wouldn't agree to that. Can you imagine telling A.J. Green that he has to play on a one-year franchise tag in 2021 since they didn't play football this season? What about telling Burrow he's going to be on his rookie contract through the 2025 season (including fifth-year option)?

Major League Baseball agreed to let players accrue an entire season, even if they didn't resume play because of COVID-19. I'd imagine that's what the NFL would agree to. Such a deal would likely include prorated salaries. 

There has been a lot of talk about the Bengals getting the number one pick in the 2021 NFL Draft if there isn't a season, but it wouldn't be that simple.

First off, it would be awful for Burrow, who needs experience after only starting for two seasons in college. He's already 23-years-old, which is older than reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson. Burrow needs reps and he needs them now. 

The NFL could hold a draft lottery. That would be more fair than having teams keep the same draft position they had in April. It's another thing that the league would have to discuss. 

Hopefully it doesn't come to that. 

The odds say no. The draft is a crapshoot, but there's certainly a scenario where all three players have NFL success. 

Logan Wilson and Akeem Davis-Gaither are extremely versatile. Wilson runs like a defensive back, with the size and power of a linebacker. Davis-Gaither is a great off the edge and has the athleticism to required to have success in today's NFL. 

Markus Bailey would've probably been a day two pick if it weren't for two ACL tears. He's extremely motivated to prove the Bengals right in taking a flier on him in the seventh-round. He excelled in coverage at Purdue and has plenty of upside. 

All three players should be easy to root for. It's nice to see the team prioritizing the linebacker position after years of ignoring it. Investing mid and late-round picks in Wilson, Davis-Gaither and Bailey was a better strategy than taking LSU linebacker Patrick Queen at No. 33. The Bengals were certainly enamored with Queen, but he wasn't available. I like this scenario better. 

Define team-friendly. If I could keep Burrow on his rookie deal and tack on another five years at $20 million per season, then I would do it tomorrow. Obviously that would be pennies on the dollar of what he'll get in a few years if he plays well. 

My pick would be Tyler Boyd. He's a tough, physical wide receiver that blocks well and runs good routes. He could have a huge season with Burrow under center. 

Boyd already has four years under his belt, but he's a smart player. I wouldn't be shocked at all if he plays at a high level for another decade. 

Two totally different experiences. In Cincinnati, I lived in the suburbs. I grew up in St. Bernard and lived in Deer Park, Oakley and Hyde Park. When my wife and I made the decision to move to Cleveland, we decided to get an apartment downtown. 

We loved it. There's a lot to do. Cleveland has plenty of great bars, restaurants and breweries. Northeast Ohio is a fun place. 

The national perception of the city couldn't be farther from the truth. We had a lot of fun in Cleveland. 

Anyone looking to see the Bengals on the road (hopefully this year) should consider making the trip. I plan on being in Cleveland for Thursday Night Football in Week 2 and for the NFL Draft next April.  

Ah, the Bengalorian! One of the biggest Bengals fans out there! I'd join you for a beer anytime, even during a global pandemic because you know how to make a mask look good. 

I do hope to have a get together this fall with Bengals fans. I also plan on stopping by the tailgates this season, but obviously COVID-19 could get in the way. 

Regardless, I'd love to have a beer with you. We'll find a time and make it happen!

I haven't bought a Bengals jersey in more than a decade. I remember buying a Puma edition Peter Warrick jersey when I was young. That was my first Bengals jersey. I also owned a Chad Johnson one during the mid-2000's

If I were to buy one, it would probably be a Ryan Finley jersey. My dog's name is Finley and if I could get a jersey that would fit him that said 'Finley' on the back, I'd do it. I haven't done much research. I'm sure it could be done. 

Register today for free or log in to access this premium article.