The Cincinnati Bengals have been a disappointing team for decades.
From Superbowl loses, to mediocre seasons, to playoff failures, their history is littered with fan-crushing moments. In the 2011 season, they showed real signs of leaving their mediocrity in the past.
After a spectacular draft which brought two Pro-Bowlers in in the form of Andy Dalton and AJ Green, the Bengals have looked to capitalize on the draft and bring in an influx of young stars.
The draft has rapidly become a time of year Cincinnati fans look forward to. Since 2010, the Bengals have been one of the best drafting teams in the NFL. The aforementioned Pro-Bowlers are joined by tight end Jermaine Gresham and defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
Gresham, the Bengals' first round pick of 2010, is a prototype tight end and second only to AJ Green in receptions last season. Geno Atkins, a bargain in the fourth round of 2010, led the team in sacks and is currently ranked as the NFL's second best defensive tackle, according to Matt Miller.
Other names worth mentioning include Carlos Dunlap who stunned in 2010 but slumped a bit in 2011 and Jordan Shipley, an exemplary slot receiver who dealt with injury for most of 2011.
The Bengals are loaded with young stars and the return of the winning ways of the Palmer/Johnson/Houshmandzadeh era seems eminent, only this time with less divas and more stars. But who deserves the credit for these sweeping improvements?
Mike Brown doesn't have the greatest track record as an owner.
He's drawn the ire of fans when holding the team hostage for a new stadium. He's promised and failed to deliver winning teams. He's been stingy when the times called for spending. He's given every convict player a chance, and has used free agency like a second draft. He's refused to hire a general manager or any scouts.
And then suddenly, he stopped.
What got to him?
Suddenly, the Bengals are looking like the shrewdest team in the NFL. Free agent signings of talented, although not overly-expensive players like BenJarvus Green-Ellis reveal that the owner is looking for great talent at a reasonable cost.
The removal of distracting players like Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens shows that he's looking to build a real team, not a handful of arrogant stars who run the show. Scouts have been hired, drafts have improved, coaches resigned. It's incredible.
Mike Brown won executive of the year in 2011 and, shocked as I was, it was definitely deserved.
When head coach Marvin Lewis and quarterback Carson Palmer were threatening to leave, I was certain they would. Brown doesn't care about winning, he cares about money...I thought. And then Brown caves to Lewis and we see so many changes.
Palmer gets his wish to be traded but Brown ensures that he gets the most of the deal by grabbing draft picks for a quarterback whose form has been totally inconsistent. He's helped create a dazzling coaching staff with both Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer becoming very desired coaches for teams across the NFL. He's drafted so well, handled the team so well, and, towards the end of the 2011 season, really helped the fans.
With attendance numbers still incredibly low and a big game again the Baltimore Ravens approaching, Brown showed he was not totally out of touch by offering season ticket holders deals on extra tickets. He was able to sell out the game in no time, pleasing both the players and the fans at home.
Give Mike Brown some credit.
I'm still not entirely confident in his ability as an owner, but if the last three years are any indication of what's to come, then the future is very bright for the Cincinnati Bengals. It looks like Brown, with the threat of Marvin Lewis leaving and the departure of his beloved Carson Palmer, has finally found what it takes to be an owner in the NFL.