The Cincinnati Bengals have agreed to a lucrative contract extension with head coach Zac Taylor that secures his services through the 2026 campaign, the team announced via social media on Wednesday afternoon. News surrounding the extension arrives just days after Taylor's Bengals fell short of capturing Super Bowl LVI in a hard-fought and thrilling last-minute 23-20 defeat at the hands of Matthew Stafford the Los Angeles Rams. Despite the disappointing defeat, Taylor absolutely deserves this long-term extension after unexpectedly leading the Bengals to an unforeseen Super Bowl appearance. Expectations for the 2021 Bengals were virtually nonexistent. Cincinnati managed to win just two and four games, respectively, throughout Taylor's first two seasons in charge. Forecasting playoff success was not on the cards for the Bengals in 2021. Several oddsmakers actually listed Taylor as the coach most likely to be relieved of his duties midseason prior to the campaign kicking off in September. Franchise quarterback Joe Burrow was returning from a horrid season-ending knee injury suffered in 2020 that left his immediate future and early-season effectiveness in doubt. Taylor's Bengals overcame all of these obstacles (and more) to truly shock the nation this season, and zero doubt remains whether or not Taylor is the right coach to lead the Bengals forward. He absolutely is. Cincinnati's historic playoff run captured victories over Derek Carr and the Las Vegas Raiders, Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans, and most notably, Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. Cincinnati's ability to reign victorious at Arrowhead Stadium in an overtime thriller that punched their ticket to L.A. further indicated just how serious these Bengals are. Two of their three postseason victories occurred in difficult environments on the road, and they nearly pulled off a third successive road victory at SoFi Stadium on Sunday. It speaks to Taylor's preparation and the overall mental toughness of the team and culture he's wisely built throughout his short tenure. With the ink dry on Taylor's contract extension, general manager Duke Tobin can turn his attention to next month's free agency period. The contending Bengals find themselves in a fantastic position financially as they're currently set to possess north of $48 million in salary cap flexibility, via Spotrac. It represents an exciting number that should allow Tobin to aggressively pursue upgrades across a poor-performing offensive line that was consistently exposed as their chief weakness throughout the regular season and postseason. Upgrading the protection in front of Burrow is undoubtedly priority numero uno for the Bengals in March and beyond. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, and Los Angeles Chargers are currently slated to possess more cap space than the Bengals are. Tobin will undeniably use some of that financial flexibility to keep a few of his own, as key players such as Jessie Bates III and C.J. Uzomah are among the Bengals' unrestricted free agents. Cincinnati happily has enough money to retain several of their own players while upgrading areas of concern with free agents from outside the organization. A player like Terron Armstead should be on the Bengals' radar, as should just about any high-performing offensive linemen with an expiring contract. April’s draft presents an exciting opportunity as well, although the Bengals must find immediate contributors up front, and they’re more likely to do so via the veteran free agency market. These Bengals are extremely well set up for the future, and addressing Taylor's contract situation completes another piece of the puzzle. Brace yourselves, Bengals fans. The Taylor era has officially taken off in a positive direction and more success is surely on the way in 2022 and beyond.
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