The 2013 NFL Scouting Combine is here, which means every tidbit of information from head coaches could mean absolutely nothing at all, or could provide major insight into the team's offseason strategy as the 2013 NFL draft approaches.
Lewis is in the early stages of scouting draft prospects, but interestingly revealed that he started with the offensive tackle position (h/t Bengals.com):
I don’t have enough information to give you an early look on anything. I’ve only watched eight players. From where I’ve started there seem to be some talented offensive tackles and people have told me there are some talented defensive players, but I haven’t gotten that far. I’ve only concentrated on a couple positions on offense.
This opens the door for a few interpretations. Perhaps Lewis simply starts his evaluation process along the offensive line each year. Maybe Lewis only had access to offensive tackle tapes as he began the process.
Or maybe he revealed more than he meant to and is truly concerned about the state of the offensive tackle position moving forward.
Hypothetically, that concern could make a lot of sense. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth is now 31 years old and has seen his play dip over the last few seasons as he has battled nagging injuries.
Make no mistake—Whitworth is one of the best at his position still, just not as good as he used to be. According to ProFootballFocus, Whitworth was the seventh-best left tackle in the NFL in 2012, ninth overall among tackles. In 2011, he was the fifth-best left tackle, also ninth overall. Most concerning is 2010, when Whitworth was ranked the No. 1 tackle in the NFL.
Whitworth is in no danger of being replaced, but scouting some quality youngsters to groom behind him for the future makes a lot of sense. It is the kind of smart drafting the team has been employing for years now.
More importantly is the issue at right tackle with Andre Smith, who is headed for free agency. Smith had a breakout year in 2012 and ended up ranked as the No. 1 right tackle overall as a result.
Smith is going to come at a hefty price, but Lewis has stressed that the franchise will use its excess amount of cap to retain its own players (h/t ProFootballTalk). According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Smith could come in at a price range of $9-9.5 million per year thanks to his 2012 performance.
If the Bengals and Smith cannot come to terms on a new deal before the March 12 deadline, the team could simply slap him with the franchise tag, which would come in at $9.660 million (NFL.com).
The problem with Smith becomes more convoluted when taking into consideration he is not the only key free agent the team would like to bring back. Defensive end Michael Johnson, cornerback Adam Jones and several others need new contracts as well.
Perhaps Marvin Lewis is prepping for a worst-case scenario with Smith. Doing the homework on the top tackles in the draft now could give the Bengals an insurance policy should the team not be able to retain both Smith and Michael Johnson.
It is easy to clamor on about how the Bengals have the most cap space in the league, but that space could easily disappear sooner rather than later if the team hopes to keep talents such as defensive tackle Geno Atkins and wide receiver A.J. Green.
Who do you value more if the Bengals can only afford to keep one?
Lewis has been doing this a long time and knows it takes extreme foresight to build a competitive team.
As of now, it is hard to see the Bengals taking an offensive lineman early, but if Andre Smith slips through the team's fingers like Jonathan Joseph did a few years back, Lewis may not have a choice.
Once again, the scouting combine has provided intriguing information—or perhaps nothing at all. Marvin Lewis is one of the most tight-lipped coaches in the league when speaking publicly, so take any and all news from him with a grain of salt.
Regardless of the plans moving forward, it is clear Lewis and Co. are at least going to be ready for any plausible scenario by the time the draft rolls around.