Don't worry about free agency. We'll be fine.

In Mark Curnutte's latest, he headlined a piece called "Bengals Quiet in Free Agency". I thought, well, yea. The Bengals this off-season have focused on signing our own, prepping season-long injuries into 2007 success stories and building through the draft. It's caused some Madden-armchair-GM-like fans to become disgruntled because of the lack of free agent activity. I believe, in a way, that's justified, only if you find a flaw in what's returning next season -- add to the fact that Marvin Lewis will be a "hardass".

Let's dive deeper.

  • Some believe that signing our own is indicative towards successful free agency. I believe there's some logic to that thought -- logic I don't agree with, but logic nonetheless. Expectations with free agency are signing outside players. We know what we have with our own which led to an 8-8 season. So re-signing our own guys is, in a way, disheartening, because there's nothing new and exciting coming from "insta-success" free agency. Personally, I don't believe the market was persuasive enough to sign players that make a difference within the scope of the team's finances.
  • Injury, injury, injury. That was a very depressing theme last season. Here's a list of players that went on IR last season:
    • Rashad Bauman (8/21/06)
    • Patrick Body (9/2/06)
    • Bennie Brazell (9/2/06)
    • Marcus Lewis (9/2/06)
    • David Pollack (9/18/06)
    • Frostee Rucker (9/27/06)
    • Antonio Chatman (10/27/06)
    • Greg Brooks (11/7/06)
    • Adam Kieft (11/7/06)
    • Chris Perry (11/28/06)
  • Chris Perry, Jonathan Fanene and Adam Kieft went on the Physically-Unable-to-Perform list to start the season. Fanene is the only player that didn't end the season on IR (Kieft went on IR on 11/7 and Perry went on 11/28). Bring these guys back and the team could instantly improve -- like signing a few good free agents.
  • Add that T.J. Houshmandzadeh missed two games to start the season with a bum heel. Add that Carson Palmer admitted that he wasn't 100% throughout most of the season. Add that Chris Henry, Odell Thurman and Deltha O'Neal missed time due to conduct issues.

In a way, if you truly examine 2006, the Bengals never played to the level of the conference's best. Against AFC Division winners (San Diego, Indianapolis, Baltimore and New England), the Bengals went 1-4. In four games, the Bengals offense failed to score more than 20 points and the defense allowed 26 points or more. In all five games, the Bengals were outscored by an average 10 points (20.6-30.8). Take out the 41 against San Diego and that average drops to 15.5.

The hope is that returning stars like Odell Thurman, David Pollack and Chris Perry -- the core guys that contributed to a successful 2005 season -- will come back. Pollack? Maybe not after a major neck injury, but he could easily be shifted to defensive end -- which makes sense if terms can't be agreed between the team and Justin Smith.

There are far too many unknown variables to justify going after veteran free agents. The only one I supported was Joey Porter for one reason -- veteran leadership and giving this defense some character. But knowing now the contract Miami gave him, I understood the likeliness of signing him was never realistic.

So where does that lead us?

With players returning from injury, it will seem like there's a new core of players. From Odell Thurman initiating his "final chance" campaign to the expectation of a defensive-heavy draft. There will always be a demand to bring in new, instant game-changing players. Perhaps everyone returning with added help through the draft will be all that we need.

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