The Cincinnati Bengals didn’t significantly harm their Super Bowl chances by standing still at Tuesday’s NFL trade deadline.
But they didn’t help them, either.
And that’s really the crux of the issue on a day when a stellar pass-rusher like Chase Young cost a mere third-round pick. Or when, at least presumably, help at running back or tight end wouldn’t have cost all that much.
The Bengals have gone away from stubbornness in many areas in recent years. But an unwillingness to get aggressive on the trade deadline is not one of those. They value future assets too much, citing the need not to sacrifice future teams for the sake of the current one.
Which is, in a word, silly. None of the suggestions for this year’s deadline were overdramatic, with Young’s third-round cost being the height of fan suggestions. Those fans can only hear the words “Geno Atkins” thrown around so much by the team while justifying the trade deadline behavior (How long did fans have to throw out “Andrew Whitworth” before they made a change in how they build the line?). He’s an anomaly of a fourth-rounder, a Hall of Famer even. Those mid-round picks are more likely to turn into a Zach Carter, Tyler Shelvin or Michael Jordan as they are to churn out a contributor.
In this scenario, that’s literally the point of a trade — trading away that random chance of production in a few years for an instant producer, especially when a suggested Samaje Perine or Hayden Hurst might be possible.
The Bengals can frame this from a cap space perspective, citing those attractive rookie salaries for four-plus years as a reason never to do something. But that’s asking fans to believe one of the savviest front offices in the league when it comes to cap management can’t make it work, which is, again, just silly.
Coaches will also frame this as belief in the current guys in the room, which they — as coaches — must. But that’s going to ring pretty hollow if a backup running back makes a mistake in a playoff game, Irv Smith never produces at tight end so they need to rely on a practice squad call-up or they run Trey Hendrickson ragged so he’s playing through a broken wrist and/or back issues in December and January again.
Of course, the big disclaimer to all this is that a lack of movement doesn’t mean a lack of effort. Zero moves doesn’t mean they didn’t pick up the phone and try. But that, too rings a bit hollow when a contender like the 49ers goes and makes a splash with Young and another contender like the Eagles got an All-Pro like Kevin Byard. Some would say all of the moves made at the deadline won’t have that big of an impact on the playoffs, too, but we’ll see, right?
It’s hard to blame fans, too. When the team admits it changed the approach to free agency and that push helped reach the Super Bowl and came a few plays from another, it’s fair for fans to wonder if a similar change to trades might be the push that has Joe Burrow hoisting a Lombardi Trophy over his head this winter — especially when the only notable trade example of late is acquiring the excellent B.J. Hill in exchange for Billy Price (another draft pick miss).
The usual counterpoints to this — from the team and outsiders — will rule the day over the next week because they’ve been so deeply ingrained for so long. But remaining in this conservative shell again means fans must play the what if? game if things go wrong over the next handful of months.