The deal, reportedly for five years, means the Bengals are in the market for a new offensive coordinator—and not only is it the right time for such a problem to arise, but they also have the right man for the job: Hue Jackson.
Gruden has been the Bengals offensive coordinator since 2011, the same year the team drafted quarterback Andy Dalton. He developed Dalton into a playoff-caliber quarterback, but not a playoff-winning one, with the Bengals going one-and-done in the postseason for each of the past three seasons.
The Bengals offense improved under Gruden, though the biggest dividends weren't paid until the 2013 season. They went from the bottom third of the league in yards per game to ninth this season, with an average of 372.5 yards per game, and improved to ninth in scoring, at 25.9 points per game.
However, Gruden's offense didn't provide the Bengals with an identity. It wasn't cohesive or coherent, varying wildly almost every week. Despite having all the tools a balanced offense requires, Gruden would often bury the run game and ask Dalton to shoulder the load—like in the team's most recent playoff loss to the San Diego Chargers.
He also didn't seem suited to game-plan around his two tight ends, preferring either Jermaine Gresham or Tyler Eifert on the field instead of both.
No matter how much of a part Gruden played in the Bengals' continued playoff struggles, or how big of a role he's played in Dalton's slower-than-expected development, his departure and Jackson's arrival give the Bengals an opportunity for a fresh offensive start.
|Bengals Offense Under Jay Gruden, 2011-2013|
Jackson has been with the Bengals since 2012, when he joined the team as secondary and assistant special teams coach after a one-year stint as the Oakland Raiders head coach. The job title is notable, only because Jackson has a long history of working with offenses. He clearly wanted to be in Cincinnati, regardless of his duties.
Jackson was then promoted to running backs coach in 2013 and returned to the side of the ball with which he is most familiar. And his job working with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard should indicate how he handles Cincinnati's offense going forward.
In a statement obtained by the Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was excited about the offense's prospects under Jackson:
"We are blessed to have a staff that allows us to promote from within. It keeps some of the continuity with our offensive team, yet we get new direction and fire from an aggressive and innovative coaching mind. Hue’s expertise in all aspects of football and coaching is very wide."
Jackson described the promotion as "an honor."
Though the Bengals are a team capable of offensive balance, that wasn't always what we saw on the football field during Gruden's tenure. Fifteen times did Gruden call 40 or more pass plays for Dalton—and not just in games in which the Bengals were playing from behind. For a quarterback prone to fits of poor play and not bouncing back from said poor play, Gruden seemed to be accentuating Dalton's worst characteristics when asking him to pass that much.
That's not to say that Jackson will make the Bengals a run-first team—he has, after all, been a quarterbacks and wide receivers coach as well, including a stint with the Bengals as the latter and with the Baltimore Ravens working with Joe Flacco as the former.
But Jackson isn't so singularly quarterback- and passing-game-centric, which means a renewed focus on the entire offensive picture and not just Dalton. That might appear counterintuitive, with Dalton seemingly the "problem" in Cincinnati. However, the problem that Dalton represents could be fixed by Jackson's tutelage and a different, non-West-Coast-style offensive philosophy.
Of the Bengals coordinators in the running for a head-coaching job, Gruden was the most replaceable and the one the team frankly could have done without. They needed to move forward, to get to the next level, and the offense was holding them back.
At least Jackson will breathe new life into that side of the ball, provide leadership and a guiding hand and, hopefully, be able to maximize the amount of talent the Bengals have on offense in ways Gruden fell short.