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CINCINNATI (AP) The Bengals resolved their biggest offseason question when
they gave coach Marvin Lewis a two-year extension through 2019 on
Tuesday Cheap
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, providing him yet another chance – a
16th, actually – to try to get a playoff win.

There are a lot of issues to work through before they can even think in those
terms.

The contract extension came after two days of discussions between Lewis and
owner Mike Brown about how the franchise has to change.

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It’s unclear if Brown – a traditionalist who likes to stay with the familiar,
including head coaches – will cede much control to Lewis.

Lewis has been the head coach for the past 15 seasons – the second-longest
active tenure in the NFL to New England’s Bill Belichick – and was the key to
changing Cincinnati from a down-and-out team to respectability.

He hasn’t been able to take it to that next step – win a playoff game. Lewis
is 0-7 in the playoffs, the worst coaching mark in NFL history. He wanted to
make sure that he and Brown were on the same page about making changes coming
off a 7-9 season that ended with their stadium half-empty.

Players realized that a coaching change could ripple through everything.

”You’re going to be going with a new head coach, it could be a completely new
staff … there’s just a lot of uncertainty with that,” quarterback Andy Dalton
said. ”I think that’s the biggest thing is just the unknown.”

Instead Cheap
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, Brown decided to stay with what’s familiar.
And now, there are some big offseason challenges.

WHO’S COORDINATING? Lewis’ assistants are up for contract renewals, too. The
biggest question is who will be the offensive coordinator next season. Dalton
and the offense were best when Hue Jackson was the coordinator in 2015 – Dalton
led the AFC in passer rating. Jackson went to Cleveland, and the offense became
less creative and less productive under Ken Zampese, who was fired after an 0-2
start this season. Replacement Bill Lazor was confined by Zampese’s system, but
got more out of it. Still Cheap
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, the Bengals finished last in the NFL in offense
for only the second time in club history. They need a coordinator who can
redesign and rejuvenate the offense.

WHAT ABOUT THE O-LINE? The Bengals knew that the offensive line was going to
be a work in progress with two inexperienced tackles. It was far worse than
they’d hoped, unable to protect Dalton or open holes for a running game that was
the worst in club history. The offensive line is the first focus of the
offseason.

DALTON’S BACKUP: The Bengals have been fortunate at quarterback, with Dalton
avoiding significant injury over his career. The one time he got hurt – a broken
thumb near the end of the 2015 season – AJ McCarron took over and led the team
into the playoffs, giving them a sense of comfort should Dalton go down.

McCarron’s contract is up, and there’s a dispute over whether he’s a
restricted free agent – which gives the club some control – or unrestricted,
which means he can go wherever he wants. McCarron wants to start
somewhere Cheap
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, and he knows that it won’t be in Cincinnati.
A ruling on his status will come down mid-February and set everything in
motion.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT BURFICT? The Bengals’ most valuable defensive player was
again one of its least dependable because of suspension, ejection and
injuries.

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s no-holds-barred style of play got him another
three-game suspension, an in-game ejection, and a series of injuries, limiting
him to 10 games. He finished with only 1+ sacks. In 2016, he missed five games
because of suspension and injury. He’s not going to change his style of
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, which means the defense is never sure how
much it can count on him week to week.

THE FANS: Attendance dropped significantly at Paul Brown Stadium, which was
half-empty for the final game. The Bengals aren’t going to sell tickets until
fans are convinced that significant changes are on the way. How do the Bengals
get them back while bringing back Lewis?

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and
http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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