WDR doesn't believe that the Bengals will sign top flight free agents this year. Their reasoning is that Mike Brown is cheap with the scouting department, doesn't pay for free agents and that he'll revert to having drafted talent because their cheap. "I think we all know Mikey Boy isn't going to explode onto the scene Friday with a big name signing. We can hope for it, staying up late at night fantasizing about Brandon Marshall wearing the stripes, but we all know deep down that the Matt Jones signing will be the only one at WR." History supports their argument.
The biggest problem in their logic is that free agency is going to be a complete bust for most teams. There's less unrestricted free agents out there because players with only four and five years worth of experience, who were schedule to be unrestricted free agents, are restricted. And of the unrestricted free agents, those of whom are not tagged, the cost for that player will be dramatically inflated based on increased demand and lesser supply. How much do you think Julius Peppers will get? The bidding war will be nuts. Karlos Dansby? We have our linebackers.
Most of the "top flight" restricted free agents are already being tendered. Look at the San Diego Chargers, who plan on giving the maximum tender to Vincent Jackson, Shawne Merriman, Malcom Floyd and Marcus McNeill. Will the Bengals sign a restricted free agent if they have to give up a first and third round pick, as well as high financial compensation? Probably not. But I don't think the Bengals have a monopoly there.
"If there's no cap, the unrestricted market is going to be really diluted," said former NFL executive Andrew Brandt, who lectures at the University of Pennsylvania on sports law and sports business. "You're going to see less top-level players become unrestricted free agents this year than ever before."
"The key issue in 2010 free agency is going to be what's going to happen with the RFA market," Brandt said. "Is there going to be an active restricted free-agent market? This is where the talent is in the free-agent pool in 2010."
Now, what positions do you believe that the Bengals will upgrade? Re-signing Roy Williams seems very possible; more like status quo than upgrade. Our linebackers are nearly set, as our defensive ends and tackles -- save for a role/depth player or two. We're looking at wide receiver; but the more you hear Marvin Lewis, the more you believe that they're going to work Jerome Simpson into the mix. Running back? Set. Offensive line. Not set, but options are limited among unrestricted free agents. Quarterback? Tight End? Should we look towards the draft or go after veterans like L.J. Smith, Ben Watson, Randy McMichael -- and are any of those tight ends the "top flight" free agents were talking about here, or simply a list of an aging veterans that will sign cheaper contracts as they get older? And you better believe that the Bengals will make play on Reggie Kelly, if not J.P. Foschi also.
That's not to say that the Bengals won't sign guys. I'm sure they'll make a play for role players that will be key on special teams, or to help build their depth -- something they could have used last season during their playoff run. Will they make a run on top flight free agents? No. And that's not because they're typically "cheaper" than most NFL teams. It's because unrestricted free agents are thinner than ever before and making a play on the best talent will mean sacrificing your first round, if not third round, draft pick(s).
So don't be surprised if the Bengals front office is sleeping through March 5.