While a lot of focus is being paid this offseason to who is newly arrived for the Cincinnati Bengals—understandable when they made a change at head coach after 16 years, with Marvin Lewis was one of the longest-tenured head coaches in the league—one of the things the players are taking notice of the most as they begin their offseason program is, instead, who isn’t there.
And the two most significant names in that regard are one you’ll know all too well, the other not so much. This offseason, the Bengals released two players who were clearly becoming bigger headaches than they were worth, those being veteran linebacker Vontaze Burfict and second-year running back Mark Walton.
“Some guys are not here. That’s one big change”, veteran wide receiver A.J. Green, among the longest-tenured Bengals currently on the roster, observed as their offseason program got underway. “Just different energy around here”.
Walton, a 2018 fourth-round pick scarcely contributed during his rookie season behind more experienced running backs Joe Mixon and Giovanni Bernard. However, he had a very busy offseason, having had three altercations with police since January. The most recent resulted in him escaping officers after being tasered, only to later turn himself in weeks later.
As for Burfict, well, not much needs to be said. He is the most dangerous player in the National Football League for all the wrong reasons, having been caught on camera on numerous occasions going out of his way to try to intentionally injure players, both within the context of a football play (albeit illegal) as well as beyond the whistles.
“When the players set the standards, then we’re going to be heading in the right direction. “If the coach is the one that has to set the standards, sometimes that’s the way it has to start”, new head coach Zac Taylor said. “We have to be clear communicators and set the expectations, but when the players are the ones who are consistent with their approach and hold each other to those highest standards, then like I said earlier, that’s when we know we’re heading in the right direction”.
The Bengals have had the reputation for being an undisciplined football team for quite a long time now, and there are numerous occasions to which one can point in which they shot themselves in the foot, losing games because of their failure to play clean football, whether it was a penalty or a turnover or something else that cost them in the end.
That will be Lewis’ defining legacy, even though he is arguably the best coach by record and performance that Cincinnati has ever had. The organization is hoping that Taylor can write an entirely new chapter that isn’t marred by the ones that came before it. “It’s about us” is one of their new slogans. And it’s up to them to change the narrative that has followed them for many years now.