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Next Bengals coach inherits roster ready for big change

Tue Jan 1 4:38pm ET
By JOE KAY
AP Sports Writer

Players: Ben Roethlisberger, Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson

In this Oct. 29, 2017 file photo, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis works the sideline in the first half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts in Cincinnati. The Bengals fired coach Lewis on Monday, Dec. 31, 2018, ending a 16-year stay in Cincinnati that included seven playoff appearances without so much as one win. (AP Photo/Frank Victores, File)


Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph, center, reacts on the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)


CINCINNATI (AP) Bengals owner Mike Brown must decide whether to bring in another newcomer to coach his team, or return to his pattern of trusting someone he already knows well.

Whoever gets the job will inherit a roster on the cusp of significant change.

Brown parted ways with head coach Marvin Lewis on Monday after 16 seasons without a playoff win. Lewis' stay in Cincinnati - the second-longest active tenure behind New England's Bill Belichick - demonstrated how much the owner would rather stick with what's comfortable than leave his comfort zone and try someone new.

''It will be interesting to see,'' linebacker Nick Vigil said. ''We haven't had change around here in 16 years.''

The question is how much change Brown will tolerate.

He has a history of accepting as little change and as much continuity as possible. He elevated Dave Shula from the staff to head coach in 1992, Bruce Coslet in 1996, and Dick LeBeau in 2000, all the while failing to get an elusive playoff berth.

He went against his history by hiring Lewis in 2003, and he got a playoff appearance only two years later - a lesson in how major change can work. The two formed a close bond that was integral to Lewis' 16-year tenure despite an 0-7 mark in the playoffs, the worst in NFL history.

Brown has several options for his next coach that could fit his comfort zone.

For instance, he's familiar with Hue Jackson, who spent eight years on Lewis' staff in a variety of roles - receivers coach, defensive backs coach, running backs coach, offensive coordinator and special assistant on defense. The Bengals quickly rehired Jackson when the Browns fired him after he won only three games in two-plus years.

Cleveland had a resurgence when Jackson left, winning five of its last seven games, including both against Cincinnati. Hiring Jackson would send a message to fans that the franchise won't change all that much.

Brown also is familiar with Vance Joseph, who was fired Monday by the Broncos . Joseph was the defensive backs coach in Cincinnati from 2014-15. Brown also could consider someone off the current staff, although that again would reinforce the message that not much change is in the works.

Perhaps Brown will try to bring in someone from a winning organization, as he did with Lewis, hoping that jump-starts ticket sales. The Bengals' attendance has fallen each of the past three years and ranks second-to-last in the league.

In any case, change is coming.

''It's pretty weird to know you have a new (defensive) coordinator, a new head coach, everybody,'' linebacker Preston Brown said. ''You never know what could happen around here.''

The roster turnover could intensify as well.

Lewis had the youngest team in his 16 seasons. Veterans got hurt early, forcing players into roles before they were ready. Cincinnati was among the hardest-hit teams in the league, with 18 players on injured reserve by season's end, including quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green.

Dalton and Green are entering their ninth seasons. They led the Bengals to a club-record five straight playoff appearances from 2011-15, but they lost in the first round each time. Their chances for a playoff run are starting to run out.

The defense has been led by linebacker Vontaze Burfict for the past seven years, but he may have reached the end of the line. He opened the season with yet another suspension from the league and played in only seven games because of concussions and a chronic hip problem. Burfict finished with only 33 tackles and no sacks.

Cincinnati fell to the bottom of the AFC North for only the second time under Lewis, and it'll be a challenge to escape the basement in the near future.

Baltimore won the division with the league's top defense and rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson. Pittsburgh expects to contend for the title next year with one of the NFL's top offenses built around Ben Roethlisberger. The Browns jumped ahead of the Bengals as Baker Mayfield set a record for touchdown passes by a rookie.

In many ways, it's like 2003 in Cincinnati again. And the owner is facing the same type of choice in his next head coach: Stay with the familiar, or go with something entirely new?

Player Notes
Rashaan Melvin Mar 23 1:00am ET

The Detroit Lions signed free-agent cornerback Rashaan Melvin to a one-year, $3.5 million deal on Friday, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter. Melvin played for the Patriots in 2015 when head coach Matt Patricia was the defensive coordinator. The 29-year-old has been mostly a starter the last three seasons with the Colts and Raiders and had a career-high three interceptions with the Colts in 2017. He could be the replacement for Nevin Lawson, who signed with the Raiders earlier this week.

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Mike Glennon Mar 23 12:50am ET

The Oakland Raiders signed free-agent quarterback Mike Glennon to a one-year, $2 million deal on Friday, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The 29-year-old will be with his fourth different team in the last four seasons and will serve as Derek Carr's backup in silver and black. Glennon has played in 27 games (22 starts) and is 6-16 as a starter in his five seasons in the NFL. He has 35 touchdown passes, 20 interceptions and an 84.0 quarterback rating. Glennon won't be fantasy relevant.

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Morgan Burnett Mar 22 11:50am ET

The Pittsburgh Steelers informed safety Morgan Burnett that they will release him by April 1 per the player's request, according to his agent, Kevin Conner. Both parties discussed trade possibilities before the release, according to a source. Pittsburgh signed the safety to a three-year, $14.25 million contract last season that included a $4.25 million signing bonus. Burnett missed four of the first six games of 2018 due to injury and recorded 30 tackles and six pass deflections in a sub-package role in 11 games. The 30-year-old had previously played eight seasons with the Packers.

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Malcolm Brown Mar 22 11:40am ET

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Cody Latimer Mar 22 11:40am ET

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Trevor Siemian Mar 22 10:45am ET

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Jared Cook Mar 22 10:44am ET

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Clay Matthews Mar 22 10:23am ET

Updating previous reports, Los Angeles Rams LB Clay Matthews' two-year deal has a $9.25 million base value with $5.5 million guaranteed.

Morgan Burnett Mar 22 9:43am ET

Pittsburgh Steelers FS Morgan Burnett will be released by April 1, per the player's request, according to his agent, Kevin Conner.

Robert Griffin III Mar 22 8:23am ET

Free-agent QB Robert Griffin III (Ravens) re-signed with the Baltimore Ravens Friday, March 22, on a two-year deal. Financial terms weren't disclosed, and the deal is pending a physical.

Marcus Sherels Mar 21 10:20pm ET

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O.J. Howard Mar 21 10:13pm ET

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Fantasy Spin: Howard was having a TE1 campaign in 2018 before an injury ended his season early, but he should be back at full strength well before the start of next season. He is a big-play weapon from the tight end spot and could finish as a top-five fantasy option at his position.

Robert Griffin III Mar 21 10:10pm ET

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Fantasy Spin: Howard has always struggled to make an impact in the passing game, and after regressing as a between-the-tackles runner last year, the Bears don't have much incentive to feature him in the offense. Feel free to take a flier on him in the final rounds of drafts, but don't count on him to be a contributor for your fantasy squad.

Justin Houston Mar 21 10:00pm ET

The Indianapolis Colts signed free-agent outside linebacker Justin Houston to a two-year deal worth $24 million on Thursday, a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Houston had nine sacks for the Chiefs last year, but he was cut with the team trying to get younger and defense while transitioning from a 3-4 base defense to a 4-3 scheme. The Colts also run a 4-3, but they project to use him as a defensive end for the first time in his career. The 30-year-old has dealt with a nagging knee injury in recent years but still has 18.5 sacks in the last two years. The veteran will certainly help boost a weak Indy pass rush from a season ago.

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Fantasy Spin: Reed managed to play in 13 games last season, but it didn't translate into much production on the field. Between constant health issues and slipping per-game numbers, Reed is no more than a late-round lottery ticket heading into 2019.

Cooper Kupp Mar 21 9:23pm ET

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Fantasy Spin: Kupp is expected to be ready for the start of the 2019 season. He was Jared Goff's go-to target on third downs and in the red zone prior to the injury, and Kupp should be able to deliver WR2 numbers, especially in PPR formats.

Hunter Henry Mar 21 9:23pm ET

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Fantasy Spin: Assuming he doesn't suffer any setbacks, Henry should open the year as the starting tight end for the Chargers and a low-end TE1 candidate for fantasy owners.

Stephen Gostkowski Mar 21 7:03pm ET

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Fantasy Spin: Gostkowski struggled at times this past season but still can be a weekly starting option in all fantasy leagues.

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Free-agent DT Al Woods (Colts) met with the Detroit Lions Thursday, March 21.