Quick turnaround: Bengals provide blueprint for Jaguars on rebuilding process

Cincy won just four games in 2020, but will play for AFC title this season

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) throws against the Green Bay Packers. Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence rolls out to pass in a game against the Falcons. (AP Photos/Bryan Woolston and Chris O'Meara) (Bryan Woolston, Associated Press, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It was a tough season for the Jaguars.

Jacksonville won just three games for the third time in franchise history. The other two seasons happened in 2014 and ‘16. The years that followed those three-win campaigns showcased noticeable and then stunning improvement. In 2015, the Jaguars won five games. In 2017, Jacksonville won the AFC South with a 10-6 record and went on to play in the AFC championship game.

So, history says the Jaguars have a 50-50 shot of taking a big jump in 2022.

The Cincinnati Bengals are the most recent team to pull off such a drastic turnaround. The Bengals won four games in 2020 and lost quarterback Joe Burrow, the No. 1 overall pick in that year’s draft, to a major knee injury. Now, they are one game away from the Super Bowl.

Can the Jaguars have a similar type of turnaround? It is possible.

The biggest similarity between the two teams is that they both drafted their franchise quarterback with the first overall pick and then struggled during their rookie season. The Jaguars do have one advantage that the Bengals didn’t have. Trevor Lawrence will have the entire offseason to work out and improve. Now, the next coaching staff will need to do its job and improve the rest of the roster.

Bengals free agency approach in 2021

Last offseason, Cincinnati’s biggest free-agent additions were in the trenches. They signed pass rusher Trey Hendrickson to a big contract. They signed offensive tackle Riley Reiff to help protect Burrow, who was sacked 32 times in 10 games before his knee injury. The Hendrickson signing paid big dividends this season as he racked up 14 sacks. Reiff started most of the year at right tackle before landing on injured reserve in December.

What the Jaguars can learn

Don’t be cheap. The Bengals threw a bag at Hendrickson last offseason. He was the best available on the market. The Jaguars had the available cap space to make a run at him but opted to go for a more economical approach.

Bengals draft in 2021

Going into the draft the biggest weakness on the Bengals roster even after the signing of Riley Reiff was their offensive line. With the fourth pick in the draft, many expected the Bengals to select Penei Sewell, the top-rated offensive tackle. The Bengals threw a curveball by instead selecting wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. That pick paid huge dividends. Chase gave Burrow a go-to playmaker. When asked about what he was thinking on one of his touchdown passes this year, Burrow said “F*** it, Ja’Marr is down there somewhere.”

What the Jaguars can learn

This one has two lessons. Get your QB a go-to guy and draft the best player available, regardless of position. Finding a No. 1 receiver in the NFL is a tough thing to do. For Lawrence’s sake, the Jaguars may need to get creative to come up with a way to get one for him in Jacksonville this offseason.

The more important lesson is don’t draft for need, draft the best player available. This one is pressing since the Jaguars have the No. 1 overall pick for the second year in a row. This year, there is no clear-cut top player. Many have started to connect the Jaguars with offensive tackle Evan Neal because the Jaguars need to improve their offensive line.

Very few people believe that Neal is the best player available in the 2022 draft. The Jaguars need to do their homework on all of the top players. If they walk away saying someone like Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton is the best player available, then that is who they should pick. They just have to make sure they get it right.

The biggest thing the Jaguars should take from the Bengals is that a quick turnaround is possible. A rebuild does not have to take three to five years. When there’s a quarterback in place, it should be done quickly. The Jaguars have a shrinking window. Lawrence is on a rookie deal for five years and they have already wasted one of those.

When it is time for him to get a contract extension, it won’t be cheap and will eat up a big chunk of the salary cap. Teams like the Bengals, Seahawks and Chiefs, all in recent history, have been able to take advantage of having their QB on an affordable contract. The Jaguars’ window to do the same is already shrinking.

About the Author:

Jamal St. Cyr is an award-winning sports anchor who joined the News4Jax sports team in 2019.