So, I know what you're thinking... What is Cincinnati doing?
The easy answer is simply: nothing. Cincinnati has lost two players who made significant contributions to their 2013-14 season with defensive end Michael Johnson signing a five-year deal with Tampa Bay and offensive tackle Anthony Collins signing a five-year deal with... Tampa Bay. Now, we wait and see if Cincinnati will match the Cleveland Browns' offer to wide receiver Andrew Hawkins. The offer is worth a total of $13.6 million and it appears unlikely that the Bengals will match the offer, but it isn't totally out of the question.
With Collins and Johnson, it obviously would have been nice to hold on to the two solid players, but they played well and got paid elsewhere. Good for them. They deserve it. I would have liked to keep Johnson, but Cincinnati couldn't afford to shell out big money for their third-best defensive lineman behind Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap (both of whom Cincinnati resigned last offseason). Collins played tremendously well over the latter part of the season at left tackle, allowing Andrew Whitworth to move inside to guard where he seemed to thrive as father time creeps up on him. Still, Collins received a five-year, $30 million deal... the Bengals weren't going to give him that much.
As for Hawkins, there isn't really much to say. There is speculation that Cleveland merely raised their offer to make it hard for Cincinnati keep him. Sure, Cleveland wants him, but now if Cincinnati matches the offer, the Browns get to snicker at over $13 million of cap space being caught up in the Bengals' third/fourth-string receiver. Considering how Cincinnati is looking to resign A.J. Green, Andy Dalton and Vontaze Burfict to, presumably, pretty lucrative deals, spending that much on Hawkins is hard to rationalize.
It sounds like there isn't much Cincinnati can do about the losses then. How about gains? Well, Marvin Lewis was recently extended through the 2015 season, which is simply a one-year extension. The debate surrounding Lewis as the continuing coaching "answer" is for another post. Cincinnati has hosted two free-agent guards in Uche Nwaneri, a former Jaguar, and Vladimir Ducasse, a former Jet. Cool names, but not exactly what Bengals' fans are looking for in terms of exciting rumors. Anyone excited about the return of Dontay Moch? I personally like the guy and think he can contribute, but he hasn't done anything yet in either Arizona, where he spent the last two seasons, or Cincinnati the first time around, so I'm probably in the minority there.
I know where Cincinnati Bengals' fans sit. They are frustrated. They see cap space and see players like Jarius Byrd, who made some sense in Cincinnati at one point, and Darrelle Revis go to teams who look to be "ready to win now" or are "all-in" as much of the media refers to it. It is important to remember how the Bengals traditionally carry themselves through the dangerously optimistic first week of free agency though.
They don't do anything.
Think about it... Cincinnati never acts out in the opening days because they don't want to overpay. They don't want to get caught in a bidding war over a guy like Byrd because they plan to use their cap space carefully. What's the point of throwing cash around for big-name free-agents; a practice of which has yet to clearly lead a team to success (see: Philadelphia "Dream Team" Eagles), when you have a plan to resign core players, draft smart and wait for free-agent costs to go down before signing players to build depth? It is, at times, obnoxious to see Cincinnati seemingly sitting around, hardly even being mentioned in relation to any free-agents, but it is all part of the plan. Next week, I can assure you that the Bengals will be more pro-active. While that could mean they approach unknown players named "Vladimir", I would like to think it will be more along Cincinnati's other free agent approach: aging "washed up" veterans who really still have a couple years left in the tank and could actually benefit the team now. This approach has worked with guys like Terence Newman, why not others?
1. Defensive End Julius Peppers - As I type, Peppers is being linked with the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, so I know this is unlikely, but he would fit the description potentially. Peppers is 34-years-old and on the backend of a dominant career. Sure, he will probably be paid more than Cincinnati is willing to offer, ultimately, but it would be a big-name signing that could excite the fan base. Peppers' presence would help cover Johnson's departure and implement a dominant player into the still vastly talented defensive line rotation. Perhaps Peppers' former teammate Corey Wootton would be the more likely signing (lesser known and cheaper), but Pepper isn't totally out of the question. UPDATE: Peppers has signed with the Green Bay Packers.
2. Wide Receiver Devin Hester - Okay, so he wouldn't necessarily be signed for his receiving abilities, but everything seems very quiet for the 31-year-old who also, just so happens to be, arguably, the greatest returner in the history of the game. Hester would clearly be signed as a returner in a period of football where the return game is being phased out, but would Bengals' fans rather have Brandon Tate, who, to be fair, is actually pretty consistent in his own right, or Hester back to return kicks? Tate was recently re-signed, which shows Cincinnati is fine with Tate. That's fine, but Hester could come cheap and wouldn't be bad to bring in and see what he can do, especially since he's like... really, really good at returning kicks.
3. Defensive Tackle Pat Sims - Just as Moch left and was brought back to Cincinnati, Sims could follow a similar path. The NFL, as a whole, doesn't seem to understand his value as a run stopper, which was something Cincinnati benefitted from greatly while he played in the Queen City. If he goes into next week with limited attention and relatively low offers, look for Cincinnati to potentially try to bring him in to provide more depth with Atkins coming off a torn ACL. Without Atkins in the lineup, Cincinnati struggled and Sims could help remedy that particularly during Atkins' return. It's worth mentioning that Sims has recently been linked to Tennessee, who he visited Thursday, Mar. 13.
4. Cornerback Champ Bailey - I think Cincinnati will try to sign someone for their secondary. Cornerback, while a position of need, didn't really lose anyone from last season, so I don't think Cincinnati will necessarily go out and get a true corner through free-agency, but a guy like Bailey, whose best interest is probably transitioning to safety anyway, might be a decent idea. Bailey has said he ideally wants to play cornerback, but is willing to switch over to safety. If he doesn't receive much interest over the next week or so, teams will approach him about switching positions as he still is quite talented for being 35-years-old. His veteran leadership and skill-set could translate into some solid play in the twilight of his career in the right situation. I think Cincinnati could be that "right situation" whether it be as safety or corner. Atlanta has been linked, recently, with Bailey.
I'll just point out that the names provided are merely ideas. Sure, signing a guy like Antonio Cromartie or getting into another tussle with Cleveland over center Alex Mack may sound more appealing, or ideal, but considering Cincinnati's history of signing players in the second week of free agency and specifically targeting those who are picked over for various reasons (played for the Jets, Jaguars or are aging-veterans), the names above provide a sort of "best of both worlds" if you will. The chances that they actually come to fruition is hard to say (probably not high), but these are players who I could see getting a call from the Bengals brass in the coming week about visiting. Cincinnati is a much more appealing place to play now after all. Maybe these aren't such long shots. But then again, who knows with Cincinnati?
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