For better or worse, I get only brief exposure to local sports talk radio in Cincinnati since I no longer live there. However, when work presents me with some mindless tasks from time to time it occurs to me to listen in live on the interwebs to get a feel for the zeitgeist surrounding the Bengals back home. Yesterday happened to be one of those days, so I checked in on the always reasonable Mo Egger.
The general theme in Bengaldom appears to be this: Bengals fans appear to be pretty much writing off this year's group as a giant suck and they seem pretty firey about it. His response to this amounts to saying, I get that they suck, but what did you expect with this group of young players including a rookie QB? Lower your expectations folks. He counsels, have patience with the current group of players even though the franchise itself has exhausted your patience.
That would be fine advice if the Bengals were a normal NFL team. But of course, they are not. Just to start, we are the only team in the NFL that ever decided to voluntarily rebuild because they created such a terrible environment their franchise QB straight up quit. Starting over with a rookie QB was a completely avoidable outcome and fans have no obligation to support the team during this rebuild.
Second, what can you even expect out of a Bengals rebuilding project? From 1991-2002, they achieved the miraculous state of permanently rebuilding for over a decade. A feat only matched by perhaps the Clippers and the Knicks in the modern era of professional sports (update: and Browns since their return to the NFL, as WhoDeyFans points out in the comments...I personally think they will fix that going forward). This team does not dedicate the resources necessary to build anything consistent.
Third, we have already witnessed the perfect storm for rebuilding under Mike Brown. Beginning in 2003, we had an outrageous offensive line, a boatload of core talent at skill positions, a franchise QB just launching his career, a serviceable if flawed defense, a coach who actually had legitimate influence on personnel decisions, and Mike Brown even had stepped back from total authoritarian rule. AND MANAGEMENT STILL SQUANDERED IT ALL. We got two playoff berths, no playoff wins, a wasted career of a potential Hall of Fame QB, and a Bengalized Marvin.
Does the Dalton Era seem as promising as the Palmer Era to you? Clearly not. This rebuilding era starts from an even lower base than the Carson rebuilding era. Management shows no interest in dedicating the resources to actually improving. In fact, they will probably just treat the next two years as a laboratory to see if by some alchemy they create gold with young players and retreads while maintaining a low salary and raking in low-risk profits.
So definitely have low expectations for this season as Mo advises, but there is no point in trying to have any patience at all. Having patience implies that there will be a reward in the future as the team develops. We have no evidence the Bengals franchise can develop a team in the first place. Instead, any patience you have this year in expectation of better things to come will likely be rewarded with a half decade where the Bengals compete at a level above the Lost Decade but below playoff caliber. Call it Jeff Blake Quo.
But let's say you are slightly deranged and hopelessly optimistic, you're probably telling yourself something like "hey, so the offense will have growing pains this year, but the defense has lots of talent starting to come into its own (Atkins, Dunlap, Rey, Hall, etc...) and Zimmer leading the helm, so NEXT year if the offense starts to come together we'll have two decent units and we'll be right in the thick again."
Then you realize Zimmer's not under contract after 2012. In other words, the single best thing about this franchise may walk out the door right when the Bengals might actually be forced to spend money on talent.
Then you realize, it's hard for us to keep our young awesome talent because we have to pay a premium over market value for them to stay a Bengal and tolerate the Siberia of the NFL (JJoe). So maybe Hall leaves, or maybe Atkins leaves after him, or maybe Dunlap leaves after him.
It's a cycle of failure. And it repeats itself. The Dalton Era will be no exception. Having patience with the Bengals will forever and always be pointless.