If you've been following along on our Cincinnati Bengals blog all offseason, you know that I'm an advocate of drafting at No. 24 the most athletic player who makes the most sense for what the team needs.
Since there may be an early run on cornerbacks and the cornerback position is one the Bengals are in need of addressing, I've been pulling for the team to take a player from that position group. Between Darqueze Dennard, Jason Verrett, Kyle Fuller and Bradley Roby, the options there are strong. By the time the Bengals come back to their second-round pick at No. 55, none of them may be on the board.
Defensive end has been a first-round possibility to me, too. But recent Bengals draft history shows the team shies away from taking players at that position so early. The same goes for quarterback. Only once in coach Marvin Lewis' 11 drafts have the Bengals used a first-round pick on that position. Carson Palmer was taken first overall in Lewis' first draft as a head coach. He led the Bengals to the playoffs two years later.
Not long after daybreak Saturday, Bengals fans were jolted from their slumbers when my ESPN colleague Chris Mortensen tweeted about a scenario that for the past few months has been a recurring dream for many of them:
Another "surprise" QB team to watch: Bengals, even though there are needs at CB & DL. Teddy Bridgewater is in discussion as fallback option
— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) May 3, 2014
As soon as that message went out, the Twitter equivalent of a draft-infused Bengals block party began. Casual draft observers and die-hard Bengals fans alike were praising the possibility Mortensen's tweet raised.
But it shouldn't be much of a surprise that the Bengals are at least thinking about Bridgewater (I alluded to some of that in this Saturday's Bengals mailbag). After all, from an overall fit standpoint, he best matches the type of quarterback -- backup or starter -- who the Bengals could use in offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's new scheme. Bridgewater's mobility and arm strength are two characteristics that could make him ideal for what the Bengals are hoping to execute with starter Andy Dalton this season.
So yes, absolutely Bridgewater should be a Bengals "fallback option," whether that's at No. 24 overall or 55th.
If you've watched Bridgewater's draft stock the past few weeks, you've seen its dizzying arc. There have been a few rises but mostly falls. Once seemingly a first-round lock, Bridgewater has inexplicably earned second-round or later projections of late. Some mock drafts in the past month have had teams passing on him into the third round. In their three-round mock draft just this past Thursday, ESPN draft insiders Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay had the Texans taking the former Louisville signal-caller with the first pick of the second round.
If he falls that far, his selection ought to be considered a steal.
That's why the Bengals are smart to at least consider him as a "fallback option."
Of course, that calls into question what Cincinnati should do about Dalton. He is, after all, still the starter and Lewis in particular has said publicly he wants him to remain in place for years to come. Team president Mike Brown has been a little less firm in his commitment to Dalton's long-term future with the franchise, but he also has made it clear that the organization is doing what it can to see if it can extend his rookie contract. That extension could come this offseason, but it also could come before or during next year's round of free agency. His contract expires next March.
By drafting a quarterback in the first two rounds, particularly in the first round, the Bengals could run the risk of sending the wrong message to Dalton. He's been told not to worry; a drafted quarterback won't unseat him or end his tenure.
"There's been a lot of talk that they're going to draft another quarterback, but they're not bringing in another quarterback to replace me," Dalton said late last month. "From everything they've told me they're not bringing in anybody to compete. So I'm not worried about it."
Bridgewater's potential drafting at 24 or 55 may not be about competition in 2014, but it definitely could result in Dalton's replacing if the Bengals and Dalton's representatives can't agree on his financial value to the team. He also would be replaced if Brown and the front office simply feels it prudent to move on.
So while Dalton may not feel worried about having Bridgewater behind him -- if the former Louisville star does end up getting drafted by the Bengals -- the starter would be wise to keep his head on a swivel.
Having said that, though, I'm still sticking to my guns about the Bengals' draft. I don't like to waffle on opinion. While I welcome opportunities to change my mind and to have it changed, I still like to stay firm with my beliefs. And I believe the Bengals need to focus either on bolstering their defense or their offensive line in the first round.
If Bridgewater is around when they pick in the second like some draft analysts have been suggesting in recent weeks, then you most definitely pull the trigger and turn that dream into reality.