As the NFL casts off into uncapped waters, the way teams will operate in this strange new environment remains a guessing game. If your team’s name isn’t the Saints and your team also made it to the divisional round or further in last year's Playoffs, then you have little to be excited about this offseason—aside from the obvious fact that you root for a good team.
The Final Eight Rule makes sense to some degree. The idea is to limit the free agent activity of the best eight teams from a season ago to keep scores of veterans from signing on with only the winners, devastating the parity the league has enjoyed for the past decade or so. The rules get pretty complicated and you can read them for yourself, but in general the Final Eight teams cannot sign a free agent unless they lose one of their own. That means that losing in the Wild-Card Round to the Jets actually does have a bright side for the Bengals.
Even with the free agent restrictions, I don't see any huge signings this year because on paper this is a very flimsy free agent class—it's a good thing the draft is so good to make up the difference. Outside of Julius Peppers and maybe Carlos Dansby, there are no sure things out there to simply sign and announce as a new starter.
Still, there are a few intriguing vets out there who could help Marvin Lewis and the Bengals "move forward" even deeper in next year's Playoffs.
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Terrell Owens: You've heard this before but here it goes again: TO is a big target with a few crumbs of big-play ability left. The fact that he still wants to play indicates that he's after a championship, because he is unlikely to score a hefty contract. He stays in excellent shape, which is sign of a hard worker. He appears to have a healthy relationship with Chad, and he could surely help with the development of the team's younger receivers. Yes, he is mouthy. He kept his frustrations mostly to himself last year in Buffalo, however. If he does complain, I think it to be an example of his desire to win. Lastly, he is a good blocker—which always scores points in Marvin's camp—and has the size to take hits running across the middle. I think that physically speaking, he fits in well with the Bengals offense.
Kevin Mawae: This is an old lineman with tons of mileage, but he did make yet another Pro Bowl last year. He wouldn't need much time to learn the offense and doesn't bring about any concerns with his technique or toughness. Mawae seems like the model-citizen of any locker room, is a major NFLPA rep, and can pass on knowledge and wisdom to the youngsters of the team. He would also challenge Kyle Cook to step up his game, and every coach will tell you that competition for starting spots is a good thing for the team.
Ben Watson: Here is another grizzly bear that's been around for a while, but Watson can still do many things well across the board. I see him as a slightly more dynamic Reggie Kelly with less blocking prowess—Kelly was, and likely still is, a hard-nosed blocker—and more receiving yardage on passing downs. Just imagine Carson Palmer throwing to Watson last year instead of Coats, Foschi or Jeremi Johnson; there's at least two more touchdowns and likely 200 to 400 more yards in an offense which definitely could have used those stats. Plus, if Chase Coffman continues to be an unused commodity and the Bengals are unable to draft a tight end that brings much to the table, Watson would become a crucial addition rather than someone who may be able to help the team a little.
Stephen Neal: Neal would be a cheap veteran to add depth at guard if Bobbie Williams walks and there happenes to be no lock as his replacement. No one would go out and buy a Stephen Neal jersey if he signed here, but like Mawae at center he would force more competition at guard and could turn out to be valuable if injuries surface at that spot.
Kassim Osgood: Darren Simmons had a rugged year in 2009 as the Bengals’ special teams coach. He had to live with a spotty kicker, a rookie punter, a long-snapper gone mad, countless holding calls on returns, and a ruinous fumble in Oakland. Bringing in another special-team maven like Osgood makes that phase of the game immediately stronger and would likely lower Simmons' stress level. Osgood can join Kyries Hebert and give the unit two excellent gunners on the return team. Additionally, Osgood is likely to come at a low price.
Adewale Ogunleye: Last year Ogunleye managed to collect 6.5 sacks on a non-threatening defensive line (that's more than Robert Geathers has posted in the last two seasons combined). Ogunleye is a lighter defensive end than the Bengals typically employ and there may be questions on how he can stop the run, but as a third-down pass-rush specialist he could be particularly useful.
Sure I want Brandon Marshall and/or Vincent Jackson, but I don't see their (or many other) teams allowing their restricted free-agents to leave the yard. I also wouldn't mind the aforementioned Peppers or Dansby, but names such as those will command large contracts that I can't imagine Mike Brown will offer. Everyone now knows that teams are built through the draft and that free agency is a place to fill in the gaps and add veteran depth—especially for small-market teams like Cincinnati. Like every year, I wouldn't expect the Bengals to end up with any free agent headliners this March if I were you. Instead, they will probably look at second-tier players finishing out their careers for a bargain price in exchange to play for a contender. A smart, solid draft mixed with a sprinkling of free agent veterans could ensure that the Bengals become just that—a contender.
Mojokong—I have tendered my dog's contract for another year in this uncapped scenario, but have elected to allow my goldfish to test the open market. Also, the cat has been cut outright for a string of off-the-field incidents.