The Bengals top priority, when a collective bargaining agreement is signed and free agency kicks off, is re-signing the team's top three free agents, according to the Mothership. Those top three agents, according to Geoff Hobson are cornerback Johnathan Joseph, running back Cedric Benson and defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene. Joseph, along with outside linebacker Brandon Johnson and offensive guard Nate Livings, were offered restricted free agent tenders -- something that will likely dissolve when a new collective bargaining agreement is struck between the league and players.
Signing Joseph will be expensive. Darrelle Revis, considered by most as the best coverage cornerback in the game, is only due $6 million in 2011 with a $1 million roster bonus. His annual salary, after 2011, declines from $4.5 million in 2012, to $3 million in 2013 with a $3 million roster bonus in each of the final two seasons of the contract. On the other hand, his four-year contract comes with $32.5 million guaranteed and $46 million total.
Champ Bailey recently signed a four-year deal before the owners locked out the players, worth $43 million with $15 million guaranteed. A majority of Bailey's guaranteed money comes in the form of roster bonuses with a $5 million roster bonus this year and a $7 million roster bonus in 2012 -- which makes us believe the contract is really only a one-year deal.
Stanford Routt, cornerback opposite of free agent Nnamdi Asomugha with the Oakland Raiders, signed a three-year deal worth $31.5 million and $20 million guaranteed.
No matter how you look at it, signing Joseph will likely average $10 million per season, with at least $20 million guaranteed -- something in the neighborhood of a four-year deal worth $45 million and at least $20 million guaranteed we suspect. And this comes after Leon Hall will see a significant jump in his base salary, expecting to earn $3.307 million in 2011; the final year of his contract.
How does this change the team's draft plans? Long term, not much. The Bengals are unlikely to sign both Joseph and Hall to contracts beyond 2011. The team will still need a cornerback to play one-on-one, which allows the defense to implement blitzes, heavily dependant on not supporting a cornerback with a safety over the top or a linebacker underneath. But if the team manages to sign Joseph, they'll still have the same offseason discussions next year when Hall's contract expires. At the very least the necessity lowers this year and the Bengals can focus on another position in the first round.
As for Jonathan Fanene and Cedric Benson. Both players played well in 2009 with Benson recording nearly 100 yards/rushing per game and Fanene posting over six quarterbacks sacks -- ranking second on the team. However, in 2010, their contract seasons, Benson was remarkably average with a propensity to fumble in critical situations while Fanene missed 14 games with an injury. We can't believe either will be that expensive to sign. The Bengals do view Benson with a certain need for a power running back that could be utilized in Jay Gruden's west coast offense while Fanene fills a roll as a versatile backup defensive lineman.