CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals and Marvin Lewis just can't quit each other.
The team announced Tuesday that Lewis will return next season, signing him to a two-year contract that runs through the 2019 season. This comes after two days of discussions between Lewis and team owner Mike Brown that were all about “getting on the same page.”
The Bengals are going to bring back Lewis, but his return needs to come with major changes. It has become clear the Bengals' fan base has grown weary of seeing the same results year after year. That was evident during the last few home games of the season, when the team was playing in front of an increasingly sparse crowd.
Some fans on social media have threatened to stop going to the games at all if Lewis returns. The Bengals want to sell tickets as much as any other team. There's no way the front office is blind to what has happened with the fans in the past year.
The team's lack of playoff wins now stretches all the way back to the 1990 season. Although Lewis has done plenty of good for the team during his tenure, in the end, his legacy will be defined by the postseason wins. He’s currently 0-7, which is the worst playoff record in NFL history for a coach with at least five postseason games. That has to change, and the team needs to help him get there.
Major changes are the only way the team is going to able to sell another two years of Lewis to a disenchanted fan base, and it's likely in those discussions with Brown that Lewis was asking for the same thing.
The lack of indoor practice facility, while frustrating for the coaching staff because the team has to waste time sitting on a bus traveling to the University of Cincinnati, is probably not the sticking point. The Bengals are the northernmost NFL team without an indoor facility, but even if the decision were made this week to get one, it likely wouldn't be built in time to do much good for next season.
Lewis is likely seeking more control over personnel, much like he was the last time he and Brown went into these discussions after the 2010 season. Although Brown appeared to cede more control at the time, the Bengals still have one of the smallest scouting staffs in the league, rarely sign free agents or make big trades and seem reluctant to part with assistants or players who have money left on their contract.
The firing of offensive coordinator Ken Zampese two weeks into the season was an anomaly for a team that thrives on continuity. That needs to change. With the contracts of many of the Bengals' assistants up, now is the perfect time for the team to make changes to the coaching staff. And the first order of business should be getting the offense back on track.
If the Bengals want to sell this to the fans, they need to start in the offseason. They need to do everything possible to fix the offensive line, whether that means moving on from longtime assistant Paul Alexander, signing a quality free agent or taking a lineman in the first round of the draft. They need to hire an offensive coach who can get quarterback Andy Dalton back to the form he showed in 2015 with Hue Jackson. Free agency should be a priority, not a last resort.
The Bengals need to show that they're serious about being a team that can win games in the postseason, not simply a team that's content to get there. And to win back their fan base, they need to start those changes now.