We are now just a couple of weeks away from the 2017 NFL Draft getting under way. And when it does, the Cincinnati Bengals will be entering the process with the second-longest-tenured head coach in the league in Marvin Lewis, which is a clear sign of stability and continuity.
But much of his tenure with the team has been anything but, and that has frequently included his contract status. Bengals owner Mike Brown has allowed Lewis to enter several seasons over the course of the past 14 years on the final year of his contract, and the 2017 season appears to be the latest one, in contrast to recent years. So what is different about this year over the past few? A couple of things.
For one thing, Cincinnati posted its first non-winning season since the 2010 season, when they finished in last place in the AFC North. The Bengals placed third with a 6-9-1 record in 2016.
From 2011 through 2015, Lewis took his team to the playoffs every year, for five consecutive seasons, even though that also came with five consecutive losses in the Wildcard Round—including one courtesy of the Steelers at the end of their 2015 season.
Considering that the Bengals went between the 1991 season to Lewis’ third year in 2005 without making it to the postseason, however, what he has done in Cincinnati has to be deemed remarkable, taking them to the playoffs five years in a row, and six out of seven, seven times in all during an 11-year span.
So does the one blip during the 2016 season merit the owner foregoing what has become a seemingly annual tradition of giving Lewis a one-year contract extension in order to avoid entering the year with a lame-duck status? Not in and of itself.
But one has to wonder how much longer Lewis has with the team, as there have been persistent rumors of his interest in hanging it up in the near future. There were reports even last season that Lewis and then-Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson concocting a succession plan for the latter to take over for the former, the only roadblock to that being Brown’s unwillingness to put it in writing. Jackson moved on to become the head coach of the Browns instead.
“I don’t anticipate anything happening” on the contract front, Lewis recently told reporters. “It’s not really something that’s on my mind”, he continued, and “I don’t think it’s on Mike’s mind, either. I’ve gone into many seasons without a new contract. It’s not a focus for me”.
It’s worth noting that Lewis’ three previous one-year extensions all came at around this time in the year, but that is not expected to happen in 2017. Back in January, the veteran head coach said that “we’d like to agree to something at some point”, and that “it puts everybody’s mind at ease going forward for their futures. A lot of people in the building, it makes it easier for them”.
Not this year it won’t.