The Cincinnati Bengals haven't had consecutive top-10 selections in NFL drafts since 2008-2009. They haven't had consecutive top-5 picks since taking Peter Warrick and Justin Smith with the No. 4 picks in 2000 and 2001, respectively. The franchise is now hurtling toward top-10 picks in consecutive years with its unimpressive 1-4-1 record. The Bengals have no chance of competing in the top-heavy AFC North this season (or 2021, in truth) and should be planning for the future. That means trading off pieces before the Nov. 3 trade deadline and amassing picks and cap space for the coming years.
Instead, all's quiet on the Cincinnati front.
"I'm hearing a lot of chatter but asking prices seem unreasonable," one NFC executive told me this week.
Veteran defensive end Carlos Dunlap has regularly spoken out about his frustration with his reduced role in the defense. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins has been mostly relegated to third-down duty. Wide receiver A.J. Green is the third-leading receiver on the team and appeared to mouth "trade me" on the bench recently. Offensive lineman Billy Price could probably use a fresh start elsewhere. And receiver John Ross has had his agent go public this week with a trade request.
And the Bengals may not make any moves before the deadline.
Some of these frustrations can individually be explained away, of course. Dunlap, who has played less than half the defensive snaps in the past two games, feels that, as a Black man, he wants to communicate more as a mental health matter. He repeatedly said he'll do what head coach Zac Taylor and the Bengals organization feel is best.
A league source told me Atkins' limited role is due solely to the health of his shoulder. The Bengals don't wish to put him in obvious run-stopping roles, and there is no indication he'll be traded away soon.
The Bengals have a world of issues along the offensive line and trading away any warm body used to protect franchise quarterback Joe Burrow wouldn't be wise. Ross, coming off the best season of a so-far disappointing career for the first-round pick, was a healthy scratch for two games as the team sought more work for Tee Higgins.
And then there's Green, whose injury history and diminished play make it almost impossible for a team to trade for his prorated franchise tag for the remainder of the season.
But the Bengals should do something, right? Taylor is now 3-18-1 as head coach, and that includes a miserable 1-11-1 mark in games decided by eight points or fewer. Burrow's the future of the franchise but is getting hit at historic rates behind this offensive line and has completed just two throws 20 or more yards downfield. (Meanwhile, Andrew Whitworth continues to thrive in Los Angeles, as the decision to lowball the left tackle back in 2017 gets worse with each passing season.)
Cincinnati refused to assemble draft picks last year in a hopeless season and wound up with seven picks in seven rounds of the 2020 draft. That was a mistake then, even without the benefit of hindsight. The Bengals once again have just their seven picks in next year's draft. With a below-average ability to attract free agents to a team housing some of the worst facilities in the league, the Bengals franchise realistically can only hope to build a winner through the draft.
That would mean trading players for future picks now and either claiming players off the waiver wire or bringing in street free agents. But as one GM noted to me, claims have been down this year as teams try to keep their rosters tight to prevent against COVID-19 outbreaks.
"Also, there is so much uncertainty with what the cap will be next year that most teams will be more reluctant to trade for a large cap number next year," one GM told me.
Maybe we won't see fireworks across the league at the 4 p.m. deadline in a week and a half. But for the Bengals, where there's frustration and bad play and hopes for the future, the organization can't be stagnant.
Why trade Ngakoue?
They don't have to commit any future cap dollars to the pass rusher, and they retain the right to franchise tag him come March, once they know exactly what the salary cap number is.
It makes a world of sense for a Ravens team that has to construct itself to beat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, and getting a great pass rusher who can affect the quarterback while rushing four and dropping seven into coverage is truly the only way to beat the Chiefs offense.
What doesn't make sense is why the Vikings are trading Ngakoue now. A league source tells me Baltimore was the aggressor in pursuing Ngakoue and initiated talks. But Minnesota has long known it'd be without Danielle Hunter for most, if not all, of the season, and that was confirmed just as they pressed the button on the trade.
Ngakoue got off the couch and recorded five sacks, seven quarterback hits and two forced fumbles for the Vikings. But GM Rick Spielman swears they aren't giving up on this season despite now being without their two best pass rushers for the rest of the year.
It's a curious decision by the organization that, after texting around the league Thursday, I couldn't find a logical explanation for. The team signed Kirk Cousins to a two-year, $66 million extension in the offseason and then made Dalvin Cook the fifth highest-paid running back in the league. It's a bad year to already punt on this season, but that's the only conclusion I can draw.
Earl Thomas to the Cowboys: What's to lose?
The Cowboys defense looks lost. The front has no gap integrity and the backend is allowing bombs each week.
Still, as we all know, the Cowboys are still in playoff contention at 2-4 thanks to belonging to the NFC East. They need a playmaker in the secondary, and at this point going out and getting Earl Thomas can't hurt anything.
This an idea that one agent pitched me and it makes plenty of sense. Dallas's scoring defense is the worst, by far, in the NFL. They've generated a league-low three takeaways, including just one interception. The team barely had a chance when Dak Prescott was healthy, and it's hard to fathom how they'll win the division over Philadelphia without the defense growing competent.
Thomas's contract would certainly be for the remainder of the season and nothing beyond. Why not get to a playoff contender sooner rather than later? Especially one like the Cowboys where he can stand out and make even more plays to 1) refurbish his reputation and 2) make more money on his next contract?
He's been without a job for nearly two months, so the sidelining has likely humbled him by now. He'd be an instant upgrade to the Dallas defense and could pave the way to a big payday for himself with his hometown team in 2021.
Washington's QB dilemma
The Washington Football Team coaching staff obviously no longer believes Dwayne Haskins can win them football games. I'm told they'd be open to trading the former first-round pick for any reasonable compensation (read: above a sixth-round pick) but there's not much appetite on the market for Haskins. As such, there's not a great need to shop him so that that doesn't become another story.
Head coach Ron Rivera has sent mixed messages in the media about his plans at quarterback, and that's caused confusion outside the building. Inside, though, is the realization that Haskins doesn't offer them the best chance to win football games. That's not to say there will be a parade for Kyle Allen, but the belief is he's the better option if and until Alex Smith gets more comfortable.
What's important in Washington is that Rivera and his staff didn't keep forcing it with a quarterback they don't believe in. One of the worst mistakes a staff can make is holding on to a QB too long out of pride. The veteran head coach in his first year in Washington will take his early lumps on this one.
What can Brown do for you?
I've talked about in this column before but now that it's back in the news, let's rehash it: Signing Antonio Brown may not be the best decision when all members of your team have to abide by the social contract of not acting in a reckless manner outside of the team facilities during a pandemic.
The Seahawks organization has dealt with egos before. The locker room and coaching staff are calloused enough to understand what they're getting with Brown, even if classic NFL hubris dictates they don't exactly know what all they're getting with Brown.
Brown's off-field issues are troubling on their own. He's serving his suspension from the league for a burglary and battery case, and that's separate from the civil suit that's ongoing in Florida related to sexual assault.
Those serious issues aside, Brown has shown regularly in the last year-plus a penchant for reckless behavior. He filmed domestic disputes on Instagram Live. He intimidated an accuser via text message. Though he's seemingly calmed down on social media lately, he was tweeting nonsense frequently.
Everyone has to take care of each other in this pandemic. Brown is among one of the last people I would think would take care of me if I were his teammate. The Seahawks and Ravens and others can do all the background checks they want (and explain away whatever else they want), but they'll also have to reckon with having a wild card on the roster.
After Aaron Rodgers got totally confused by the Buccaneers, Russell Wilson has taken a comfortable lead in the MVP race. Here's how I have the top 10 right now: 1. Russell Wilson; 2. Ryan Tannehill; 3. Patrick Mahomes; 4. Tom Brady; 5. Aaron Rodgers; 6. Derek Carr; 7. Lamar Jackson; 8. Josh Allen; 9. Aaron Donald; 10. Derrick Henry. Deshaun Watson gets an honorable mention by having one of his best seasons despite his team being 1-5.
A tasty beverage to wash this down
I got a delivery a couple of weeks ago from Colorado's Breckenridge Brewery that wound up being a 15-pack of their Broncos Country beer. To be clear, this is not sponsored content and I'm only writing about it because I actually like it!
I'm an IPA drinker, and this hoppy pale ale is like a first cousin. At 5.7% ABV it definitely tastes like a beer, but as a pale ale it's light enough to drink on a warm day. I think it'd make for a good pool beer or serve you well in these autumn months rather than that terrible pumpkin beer you have in your fridge.
Plus the design is the old Broncos logo from the early Elway years and I'm a sucker for throwbacks.
Another solid week (9-5) for me brings my overall season record to 58-31-1. That .650 winning percentage would get me into just about any postseason there is. But I'm not satisfied with just getting in. I want the No. 1 overall seed. And after a week off from Thursday Night Football, I continue to be winless in that damn window after not picking the Eagles. Let's get better this week. To the picks!
Who'll win and cover the spread in Week 7? Pete Prisco, R.J. White and SportsLine's Kenny White join Will Brinson on the Pick Six Podcast to make their best bets and break down every game; listen below and be sure to subscribe for daily NFL goodness.
Cowboys at Washington
Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX
I'm concerned by how bad the Dallas offense looked with a full week to prepare for the Cardinals. It was like Andy Dalton had been sleepwalking through practices all year and never really studied the playbook. If the offense had appeared more competent, I'd pick the Cowboys. But Washington will get its second division win this Sunday.
The pick: Football Team
Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS
I chalked up last week's loss to Denver as the result of a lack of practice. But Cam Newton has to be able to muster more than 12 points for his team. Bill Belichick usually praises his upcoming opponent, but he spoke glowingly of Kyle Shanahan and George Kittle. I think the Niners get a bounce-back win in Foxboro and the Patriot "faithful" wonder what's going on.
The pick: 49ers
Buccaneers at Raiders
Sunday, 4:05 p.m., FOX
The Raiders have won without Trent Brown this season but going against this Bucs defense is a different ballgame. Todd Bowles could be on his way to winning another assistant coach of the year with the way this D is balling out. If you consider the Bears loss an aberration, the Bucs should win this one by at least a touchdown.
The pick: Buccaneers
Browns over Bengals
Seahawks over Cardinals
Chiefs over Broncos
Rams over Bears