The NFL trade deadline is next Tuesday, and the Cincinnati Bengals could use upgrades at tight end and their third-down running back role.

History suggests – no, it damn near guarantees – the Bengals will not do anything to address those needs before the deadline.

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Why Don’t the Bengals Use the Trade Deadline as an Asset?

The last time the Bengals made an in-season trade to acquire a player later than one week into the season was 1972.

It was Nov. 1, 1972, to be exact, which means this year’s trade deadline falls one day shy of the 51-year anniversary of the last time the Bengals made a deal to improve their roster more than a week into the season.

And if you’re thinking that trade went so poorly for the Bengals that they decided to shun such trades until the end of time, think again. Cincinnati acquired future Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Charlie Joiner and linebacker Ron Pritchard for running backs Paul Robinson and Fred Willis.

The Bengals traded away Joiner three and a half years later, setting him on the path to his HOF career with the Chargers in exchange for Coy Bacon in April 1976. And Pritchard finished out his career in Cincinnati, retiring after the 1977 season.

The Bengals won the trade and said, “never again.”

Obviously, trading in 2023 is a different game than it was 1972. Those player(s) for player(s) swaps are rare these days league-wide. Most trades over the course of the last two decades have involved dealing a player for future picks.

But the Bengals have been mostly dormant on the other side of the negotiation table as well, making just four in-season trades over the last 39 years where they dealt a player for future picks. And in three of them it was a malcontent on the roster forcing the front office’s hand, leaving them no choice but to trade them.

  • In 2020, it was defensive end Carlos Dunlap, whom the Bengals essentially gave away to be rid of him, getting only a seventh-round pick and backup offensive lineman B.J. Finney in return.
  • In 2011, it was team owner and president Mike Brown finally caving to quarterback Carson Palmer’s trade demands, but only after the Raiders made an offer that even the Bengals couldn’t refuse, giving up a first- and second-round pick. The first-rounder became cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, and the second rounder running back Giovani Bernard.
  • In 1984, No. 7 overall draft pick Ricky Hunley held out and never played a game for the Bengals, leading the team to deal the linebacker to the Denver Broncos for first-, third- and fifth-round draft picks. The first became wide receiver Tim McGee, the third safety David Fulcher and the fifth punter Greg Horne.

MORE: Cincinnati Bengals Eyeing Another Bye-Week Bump Heading Into ’11-Game Gauntlet’

The only other one could have been the product of a disagreement between player and ownership as well. Following the 1984 season, tight end Dan Ross played in the startup USFL, which was creating a stir by stealing players from the NFL.

Ross returned to the Bengals for the 1985 season, but on Oct. 18 the team traded him to the Seattle Seahawks for an undisclosed draft pick.

The Bengals have always valued their draft capital more than other teams, which is why they refuse to give up picks for a quick fix in season.

But it’s one thing to stay stuck in your ways when riding a wave of success. For a team that has never won a championship doing things the way they always do them, maybe a change in philosophy should be in order every 50 years or so.

The strangest part of the franchise constantly electing to sit out the trade deadline is the other side of the negotiation table, where the draft capital they covet is available. But in 2019, the Bengals had a chance to deal a number of players at the deadline – Andy Dalton, Tyler Eifert, even the “injured” A.J. Green – and they sat on the sidelines yet again.

Director of player personnel Duke Tobin famously said during the team’s trip to London and an eighth consecutive loss to start the season that it wasn’t his job to make other teams better.

More recently, Tobin has explained the reluctance to trade away picks by saying every season is important to the Bengals, and they aren’t willing to reduce their chances in a future season for a better chance in the current one.

But there are ways to make improvements without mortgaging the future.

The whole point of making a trade is to make your team better, whether it be immediately or in a season or two. It’s one of the tools available to all teams to improve their roster. But the Bengals treat it like a pyramid scheme to be wary of at all costs.

Help will be available between now and next Tuesday. But instead of picking up the phone, the odds are much more in favor of the Bengals pushing down the snooze button.

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