The Bengals have a message for their fans. The whole season is about finishing the job and focusing on the here and now.
That message was delivered very clearly by head coach Zac Taylor and director of player personnel Duke Tobin at a training camp preview luncheon on Monday.
Forget about the Jessie Bates contract saga or how the Bengals are going to go about extending Joe Burrow in the offseason. Don’t worry about Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase down the road.
The Bengals are done worrying about player contracts and dollars – for now. The focus is where it should be – on the field.
“We don’t really bury our head in the sand and ignore what’s going on elsewhere,” Tobin insisted. “We are aware of what’s going on elsewhere. We are aware of other deals that are out there. At this point we are just focused on 2022 and putting the best team out there. We are aware that we have decisions and contracts that will be coming up as our team matures. That is the design of any player we pull off the draft board the design is they are going to earn a big, big contract.
“That’s what we want out of our guys. We want them to be considered top, top-level guys. Do we have an awareness of what they are being paid? Sure. That’s the process of dealing with your team and putting together a roster. We ultimately are going to have to do what is right for us to get the best 53 guys possible with the resources and salary cap we have.”
Tobin isn’t ignoring the future. He’s just aware that this isn’t the time to address it with Burrow, Chase, Higgins, Bates, et al.
“We are trying to be competitive in every window,” Tobin said. “Whether upstairs, downstairs or in the basement we are looking out the window trying to be competitive. Each team is a little different and each team’s resources are a little different. Each team has different breakdowns with when the money goes. We feel good about where we are with this team. Next year the dynamic might change a little bit. The year after might change a little bit more. We’ll just have to cross those bridges when they come to us.
“We want all our players to earn a big deal. That means we are taking the right guys and they are succeeding. What happens in the future will remain in the future. Right now, we feel great about where this current team is. That’s really where all the focus is how can we improve the 2022 Bengals so we can go win a Super Bowl.
“We are trying to be competitive now and in the future. I don’t think we would ever look at a future year and say that’s not an important year. To me, that’s what you are outlining. Some teams can say next year is not important and this year is. We will not look at a future year and say that year is not important. Every year is important. Are we trying to maximize ourselves in the current year? Absolutely.”
Patrick Mahomes is on a 10-year, $450 million deal. Deshaun Watson has a fully-guaranteed $230 million deal over five years. And Kyler Murray just agreed to five years and $240 million in Arizona, a deal that reportedly includes mandatory film study for Murray. (Hard to believe Burrow needing such motivation). There might be lots of talk about what Burrow will command but Tobin definitely won’t be taking part.
“You are talking about contract negotiations with Joe Burrow? That is not on my mind right now,” Tobin smirked Monday. “I don’t think it’s on Joe’s mind. That’s in the future. We love Joe. I think he loves being here. Our focus is not on that; it’s on how do we win the Super Bowl this year and I think that’s where Joe’s focus is.”
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) July 25, 2022
The biggest challenge, according to Tobin will be preparing the roster and setting a culture that doesn’t regress from being so close to winning it all last year.
“It can happen, but we’ll have to fight against that,” Tobin said. “The key is getting the team to buy in from step one all the way to the final step and gelling like that last team did. Those of you who were around it saw it. It was a great group of guys that were all playing for each other and having a great time playing football. It’s hard to build and we’re going to try and build that back.
“A natural regression when you’re 39 seconds away from winning the Super Bowl there’s really, truly only one way to go. You’ve got a small distance this way and there’s a mile over here. The odds would put you at a regression. We’ve got to fight against that to take the last one percent.”
We’ll see about the players but the coaches and staff feel they haven’t nothing to prove to anyone but themselves after establishing themselves as a legit threat to win it all in 2022.
“I don’t know that our motivations are vindication for anything,” Tobin said. “Our motivations are trying to win. Really, at least in my mind, it doesn’t work that way, ‘That I got you now.’ I now that some people may operate that way, I don’t. My mind works, ‘how do we get a little bit better and maybe we can win it this year and get back to the Super Bowl.’ That’s how my mind works.”
Added Taylor, “You put a lot of work in this profession for moments like we experienced last year, so you don’t take that for granted at all, but it’s in the past. After the first game, whichever way the first game goes, there are going to be people who have an opinion quickly about how this season is going to take shape. It’s very much what have you done for me lately, and we’re excited about the expectations that are in front of us. We know there is a ton of work we’ve got to do to be ready for Week 1 against Pittsburgh.”
Aside from closely monitoring the injuries to Alex Cappa and La’el Collins along the offensive line, the Bengals appear to be in terrific shape in terms of not just having sufficient playmakers but also having depth to cover a number of positions in the trenches, critical as the Bengals found out when Larry Ogunjobi went down with a foot injury against the Raiders in the playoffs.
“(We) feel good. We know there is work to be done,” Tobin said. “We know the team has to come together as it did last year and gel as a unit. We really feel good about the players we have in the building. The work they put in in the offseason. The confidence they are carrying from last year. Really feel good about it.”
The Bengals should feel good about it going in, again assuming Cappa and Collins don’t have long stays on PUP and NFI, respectively. Pro Football Talk reported Monday that Cappa is expected to beat Collins to the practice field once camp starts.
Cappa had a minor core procedure in the late spring and spent most of OTAs on the sideline doing rehab work while Collins tweaked his back earlier this month away from the team, thus the non-football injury related reserve list to begin camp.
Collins didn’t look too concerned when he accepted a birthday treat Tuesday from a team staff as he turned 29.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) July 26, 2022
Other takeaways from Monday:
“I think that’s gonna be his biggest deal,” said McPherson’s special teams coordinator and kickstarter Darrin Simmons. “He’s gotta be a self-starter. He’s gotta be his biggest motivator. I think he relishes in those… He’s always been the top dog wherever was was—coming out of high school or at Florida, he’s always been the No. 1 guy. He was not the No. 1 guy coming here. Austin Seibert was the top guy, who’s very talented himself. He kicks in this league. Seeing Evan compete against Austin, the days that he competed—the cream rises to the top and he showed and proved that he was the better guy.
“Again, this is no slight to Austin, but I thought that’s how it would work out. I’ve been apart of these competitions where it didn’t work out that way, but it worked out the way it was supposed to work out. I think the big challenge for him now, he’s established himself. Now I’ve gotta see how he’s gonna be as a self-starter. It’s a one-man show right now. He’s gotta challenge himself in the areas that he doesn’t have all the answers yet. There’s a lot of areas and room for improvement for him.”
“I think that will certainly play a role in it,” Simmons said. “The last time I checked the only way you can win a game is to score points, score more points than the opponent. I think the operation of the snap and hold the kick will certainly affect who the snapper and the punter is. I’ve told Evan that. Obviously, he has a great deal of confidence in Kevin and Clark and that operation. For us to be truthful about this and for this to be a real competition, he has to feel the same level of comfort with Cal and Drue in whatever form or fashion that is. In whatever combination, whether it’s Cal and Kevin or whether it’s Drue and Clark. He has to feel the same level of comfort because those are all options that are on the table. He can’t just sit back and think that it’s gonna be Kevin and Clark. He has to get to a point where he feels comfortable with essentially four guys. But it will have an effect on who the punter and the snapper are for sure.”
“I don’t have as good a feel this year as I’ve had in the past,” Simmons told me. “It’s probably due to lack of practice time. We didn’t practice as much in OTAs. So certainly the younger players I don’t have a feel for. It’s gonna be difficult, frankly, for some of these young guys to crack in there. We have a lot of veteran players coming back. There’s a certain level of confidence and comfort you have with those guys that are returning because I know what to expect from them. We played in the biggest game with those guys so there’s a high degree of confidence that comes with that. And at the same time, it’s part of my job, it’s part of my task to put the best 11 players on the field for a certain play. If that means it’s a rookie player, it’s a rookie player. And there will be some rookie players that play for us for sure. To answer your question, I don’t have as good a feel sitting here today as I did a year ago at this point. That’s not a knock, it’s just a fact. We just didn’t practice as much. It’ll happen quickly. We’ll get up to speed. I have my general opinions, but until we get to playing in games too and I know what guys are like under the gun, that’s difficult.”
“Joe looks the same,” Callahan said. “He’s in great shape right now. He had a really strong offseason as far as his work that he put in. And like I said before, it gave him a chance to rest a little bit too, you know, coming off that long rehab and a full season and then playing all the games that we played. So the rest part was good. And I think he had a chance to reflect on where he could be better, and he worked really hard. But physically, no, he’s the same roughly. I don’t think you’re going to notice anything different about him. He’s throwing the ball well, just like he did last year and excited to get going.”
“Well for me, of course, my father’s name has been up there and I think deservedly so,” Paul’s son Mike said. “This is a move that I do think he would have agreed to. He was always for what’s best for the football team. It’s a time now where we need a revenue stream that will help us as do such things as build the indoor facility. It’ll help us perhaps handle the cap a little bit easier. We’re a small-market team. We need the revenue streams that we can obtain. The fact that about 30 teams have naming rights and a revenue stream from that and they have more revenue than we do to begin with. We have to do some things just to keep up. I don’t have anything to say about it as to what, when or how. When it comes time for an announcement, we’ll make an announcement. But not (yet).”
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) July 25, 2022
“Jessie’s a good guy,” Brown said. “We like him. He’s been an excellent player. He fits with us. We’re two years in trying to extend him. We weren’t able to get there. I regret that we didn’t. But we’ll have another chance at the end of the season. Maybe it’ll happen then. Keep in mind that we have a lot going on. We’re trying to get ready for our cap as we go down the line. And we’re going to need room for our quarterback, for our receivers and for some other people who are going to want to get paid at the top level, too. It’s not easy to fit all these in. One thing, I expect Jessie to be here and play for us this year. That’ll be something that we look forward to.
“You can present to me all kinds of things that are difficult. This a puzzle. It just doesn’t all fit perfectly. We’re going to have some pluses. We’re going to get some guys signed that are critical to the team. And we’re going to lose some guys. Right now, our obvious, most important issue will be with our quarterback. It’s not quite ready or ripe yet but it’s right down the track. We see the train coming. Right with him are going to be the receivers pretty soon. They’re critical. And we have others that we like a lot and want to keep. I hope we can. We’re trying our best to keep the guys that we think are the very best players that we have. Sometimes, we’re going to lose a guy.”
“It’ll be a challenge, probably. But I like what Mahomes said. He wasn’t bothered by all the big quarterback contracts that came after him because he had enough to set him up for a lifetime anyway. I can’t tell you how this is going to unfold. I can tell you that we couldn’t be happier with Joe Burrow. He’s everything you would wish for, especially for a quarterback in Cincinnati. Our whole focus is going to be on keeping him here.”