Friday, February 7, 2014
MVP replacements: Cincinnati Bengals
By Coley Harvey
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.
So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.
Based on how his first two seasons have gone, linebacker Vontaze Burfict is the Cincinnati Bengals’ obvious MVP. A case also could be made for receiver A.J. Green, who has been selected to the Pro Bowl each of the three years in his career.
Burfict has ranked among the team’s tackle leaders the last two seasons. This year, he was the top tackler in the league, en route to setting a single-season franchise record with 171 total stops.
Signed through the 2014 season, Burfict likely will be looking at a big pay raise when his next contract is negotiated. Because of his undrafted status, he made the league minimum when he was signed following the 2012 draft. His anticipated pay increase should be exponentially bigger since he started so low on the pay scale.
Regardless of how high Burfict’s price tag will be after next season, he should be well within range for the Bengals to re-sign him. He’s beginning to turn into the type of young player around which a team structures other parts of its defense.
But for the sake of conversation, assume he doesn’t get re-signed. Since he wasn’t commanding much of the team’s payroll, it would be easy to replace him, financially speaking, either in the next two drafts or in free agency. Would his production be replaceable, though? That’s highly doubtful and it’s why the Bengals hope he stays healthy and keeps playing at his high level.
While Rey Maualuga and Vincent Rey could play Burfict’s spot, neither has proven he can replicate quite the same level of intensity.
As for Green, odds might be better – not significantly, though – that the Bengals could navigate life without him if they had to. While he has put up first-round pick numbers since arriving in 2011, the former No. 4 overall selection still has struggled to consistently dominate games. Some of that stems from his occasional ad-libbing on routes, thereby throwing off quarterback Andy Dalton.
If by some strange twist of fate Cincinnati doesn’t re-sign Green this offseason or next year when his first contract expires, it has a solid enough receiver in Marvin Jones. The No. 2 wideout emerged as a real pass-catching threat in 2013. The pool of young receivers in this draft class also is so deep that the Bengals could draft one and groom him along the next two seasons.
Potential pick: Adrian Hubbard, OLB, Alabama
Hubbard has the prototypical measureables (6-foot-5^, 255 pounds) and skill set to potentially fill a need at the strongside linebacker position. While he can improve his hand usage when locked up in a phone booth, he has natural core strength and experience lining up over the tight end setting the edge against the run. In addition, he is a fluid athlete that shows adequate range in coverage and also flashes as a pass-rusher. Hubbard could bring strong returns in the fringe Day 2 area and at the least provide immediate depth to the Bengals’ linebacker corps.
-- Kevin Weidl