Identifying Bengals needs for 2016, as you might imagine, is a whole lot easier than surmising who they will select with their first pick or two and beyond at April's draft. Yet both exercises are perilous, play-at-your-own risk parlour games.
Many parlour games involve logic or word-play. Not these.
That's because guessing the Bengals' mindset from outside the team's inner circle and then extending the conclusion to an unknown situation by assuming that existing trends will continue or similar methods will be applicable is pure folly. In the Bengals' case, guesses can not be extrapolated without a net.
By analogy, the phrase "parlour game" has been used to accuse political opponents of the use of deliberately nebulous or confusing language when describing their positions on issues. Just sayin'.
Quick, how many of you correctly guessed that the Bengals, with two starting offensive tackles on the roster, would select 1-2 in last year's draft a pair of offensive tackles, the first one less than four months after suffering a knee injury in his last college game?
Let's see those hands.
Risky business indeed is the endeavor that attempts to speculate on the Bengals' first draft pick. Heck, it is tantamount to guessing what the Bengals believe is their need list. All draft speculation, and therefore all mock-drafting, must consider free-agent alternatives, not to mention the Bengals themselves. This reminder: Free-agency begins BEFORE the draft, on March 15.
Note to self: The Bengals have a plan, you just don't know it.
If you've been reading this space over the last several years, you might already know how we feel about mock drafts. They've become what can only be generously described as necessary evils, and no disrespect is meant to those who undertake mock drafts. The world certainly needs more undertakers. One thought, too. Horses usually come before the cart. Everything just rolls better that way, and carries more weight. Catch our drift on mock-draft dodging?
Even when done on terra firma, the earth is not solid when guessing what will go down in Cincinnati. To be sure, mock-drafting the Bengals is embarking on unforeseeable landscape that more resembles a minefield fraught with explosives that can hurt reputations, among other things. Even so, naming the Bengals' needs is a walk in the park compared to navigating only in the mind what goes on behind closed doors in the darkening cloister that is the team's War Room.
There could be any number of organic notions, fluid plans, moving parts, parting shots, changed minds, altered agendas and untold number of slippery slopes on which to slide before the Bengals finally get around to beefing up the roster with former college players, April 28-30. That doesn't include Mike Brown!
In the meantime, there is nothing but questions about the men in stripes, the Bengals' brass and their intentions.
The insouciant Bengals can be so polarizing with their draft unpredictability and utter lack of card-showing that it can be a knife fight among the guessers when it comes to agreeing on who they will select in the draft, and when. The questions just pile onto the matter in a mosh pit of speculation.
Is wide receiver a bigger need than defensive tackle this year? What about safety? What about Reggie Nelson among the dozen starting-caliber Bengals unrestricted free agents that are due to hit the open market a little over a month from now? Even if Nelson stays, what about his age? Will there be a mass exodus of players in free-agency, following the leaving of several coaches, or will the team be able to re-sign many of them, which is their penchant?
Should the Bengals take a wide receiver first with overall pick No. 24, as many are speculating? Should they select a defensive tackle, which is less likely given the Bengals' draft history? Should they go safety, which is a lot less likely? Who among free agents are going to Cincinnati this offseason? Who is leaving the last bastion of Midwest conservatism?
Can Darqueze Dennard be trusted in the secondary? Can he stay healthy, if he is trusted? Will Margus Hunt arrive on the defensive line? Can Russell Bodine handle center? Is Shawn Williams finally ready at safety?
The hope is the Bengals are writing all this down in pencil. If not, they will be wasting a lot of paper between now and the last week of April. What's somewhat certain is that they may be looking to add to the defense this year in the draft. But don't bet the house on it. Don't even bet a Tonka toy.
So, remember, the rest of this humbly submitted guesswork is based on what might happen to the Bengals in free-agency, where they could lose both starting safeties, two of their top three cornerbacks, three of their top four wide receivers, a starting linebacker, a valuable and versatile defensive lineman and a veteran defensive tackle. Some will be re-signed. Some won't.
What will happen? Unless you're a soothsayer, who knows? It's so complicated that it takes the world's longest disclaimer just to get us to here.
BENGALS NEEDS FOR 2016
Top-Priority Positional Needs: Wide receiver, defensive tackle, safety
Other Areas Of Lesser Urgent Need: Linebacker, defensive end, cornerback
What They Don't Need: Quarterback, offensive tackle, tight end, punter.
What They Think They Don't Need But Probably Will Need: Center, kicker, guard, running back.
Pos. Name Age Status
CB Leon Hall, 31, Unrestricted free-agent
RT Andre Smith, 28, UFA
FS Reggie Nelson, 32, UFA
LB Vincent Rey, 28, UFA
CB Adam Jones, 32, UFA
LB Emmanuel Lamur, 26, UFA
DE Wallace Gilberry, 31, UFA
WR Mohamed Sanu, 26, UFA
SS George Iloka, 25, UFA
RT Eric Winston, 32, UFA
DT Brandon Thompson, 26, UFA
WR Marvin Jones, 25, UFA
WR Brandon Tate, 28, UFA
DT Pat Sims, 30, UFA
C T.J. Johnson, 25, ERFA