The Cincinnati Bengals' 2013 season came to a sudden halt after a devastating 27-10 defeat at the hands of the San Diego Chargers in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. Despite the amount of success that the team was able to produce over the course of the regular season, playoff woes continue.
Now that the offseason has officially begun for Cincinnati, it's time to go back to the drawing board once again to create the best possible 53-man roster for 2014.
Certainly, the Bengals will be bringing in veteran free agents and rookies in short order, which means it will be time to cut ties with current members of the team.
Let's take a look at which players find themselves on the early roster bubble and determine whether or not their fate remains with the Bengals.
Once again, veteran center Kyle Cook showed zero improvement over the course of the season. The Bengals struggled to run up the middle against larger nose tackles, and quarterback Andy Dalton was constantly pressured due to Cook's missed blocking assignments.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Cook was given a negative-4.8 grade for the season, which ranks him 24th out of 35 eligible centers.
Cook was one of the few centers who received negative grades in each of the run-blocking, screen-blocking and pass-blocking categories.
He is currently signed through 2016 and is set to make a total of $3.34 million next season, according to Spotrac.com. Due to his performance in recent years, that may be too high of a salary for a below-average offensive lineman.
If the Bengals' offense is to improve, it will all start with bolstering the middle of the offensive line.
Defensive tackle Domata Peko has been the weakest link on the Bengals' defensive line for some time now. He could become easily replaceable in 2014 after the return of Geno Atkins and the improving play of Brandon Thompson.
Peko recorded 24 tackles, along with 28 assists and three sacks, this season but was highly inconsistent. In fact, Peko was one of the worst defensive tackles in the league, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Peko ranked 66th out of 69 eligible defensive tackles in 2013.
Along with his lackluster play comes a hefty salary.
Peko is slated to make a total of $4.165 million in 2014, according to Spotrac.com. Peko does not have any money left in his contract that would count against the team for next season, so cutting him would not penalize the team.
With the upcoming signings of A.J. Green and Co., the Bengals could use as much cap space as possible. Cutting Peko would certainly help in that department.
Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis is coming off of the worst statistical year of his NFL career.
Green-Ellis was only able to muster an average of 3.4 yards per carry throughout the 2013 season. He rushed 220 times for 756 yards and seven touchdowns.
Despite his struggles, he began to show better form throughout the Bengals' last two games of the season.
In Week 17 against the Baltimore Ravens, he averaged six yards per carry. In the playoffs against the Chargers, he averaged 5.3 yards per rush.
The emergence of rookie phenom Giovani Bernard could make Green-Ellis expendable though. After all, Green-Ellis is only signed through 2014 and is set to make $3 million next season, according to Spotrac.com.
Even though it looks like it could be easy to part ways with the veteran after a down year, the Bengals' coaching staff does like the dual-headed attack out of the backfield and should allow Green-Ellis to play out the final year of his contract in Cincinnati.
The Bengals brought back embattled middle linebacker Rey Maualuga on a two-year deal this past offseason. Head coach Marvin Lewis and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer expected to see improvement from Maualuga after a terrible 2012 campaign.
Although he did improve slightly, Maualuga still showed a huge amount of inconsistencies in his game. He continues to struggle with open-field tackling and is not much of a leader on the field.
Maualuga did finish the season with 52 tackles and 23 assists, making him second on the team; however, his production dropped off significantly from his total of 122 tackles in 2012.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Maualuga was ranked 38th out of an eligible 55 middle linebackers over the course of the 2013 season. Due to his down year, continued on-field struggles and faltering efficiency, cutting ties with Maualuga seems to make sense.
Maualuga, however, is slated to make a total of $3.875 million in 2014, and the Bengals would take a $1.125 million hit if they were to release him, according to Spotrac.com.
At this point in time, it may be more beneficial—monetarily speaking—for the team to simply keep him around for one more season.
Jermaine Gresham's inconsistent play continued to haunt the Bengals' offense in 2013. Numerous drops, penalties and missed blocking assignments rendered him the least efficient tight end in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
With last year's first-round selection Tyler Eifert in the fold and showing his ability to produce immediately, Gresham's services may no longer be needed in Cincinnati. There was plenty of speculation that the Bengals would utilize a two-tight end set in 2013, but that was rarely the case.
Gresham is set to make $4.332 million in 2014, the last year of his five-year rookie contract, according to Spotrac.com. If the Bengals cut ties with him, they would take a cap hit of $1,221,250.
The $3 million that Cincinnati could save by cutting him, however, could be used to re-sign certain players or bolster other members of the team who are due for contract extensions.
The Bengals need to make a major offensive overhaul if they are to finally get an elusive playoff victory in 2014. Without Gresham in the lineup, they have a better chance of doing so.
Linebacker James Harrison was signed to a two-year deal after leaving the Pittsburgh Steelers this past offseason.
Harrison saw one of the least productive seasons in his 10-year NFL career with the Bengals in 2013. He finished the year with 31 total tackles, two sacks, one fumble recovery and one interception; however, Harrison's stats are a little misleading due to the fact that he only played 383 defensive snaps throughout the season.
Even though his numbers were down, he remained solid in coverage and a sure tackler against the run. Harrison was ranked the ninth most efficient 4-3 outside linebacker by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) in 2013.
In 2014, Harrison is scheduled to make just more than $2 million, according to Spotrac.com. That small salary certainly warrants keeping the 35-year-old linebacker around to finish out his contract if he chooses to remain in the NFL for another season.
Not only is Harrison still capable of producing—albeit on a smaller level—he is a very solid mentor for the Bengals' many younger linebackers.