Since the Bengals season is officially over (it may truly sink in for the first time this weekend), we now have the offseason to look forward to. With many pundits proclaiming that the Bengals have built a solid foundation for the future, the 2012 free agency period and NFL Draft will be a critical step in the direction that this franchise will go over the next couple of years.
Many of our readers have posted "mock offseasons" in our "FanPosts" (and they are quite good), stating which free agents and rookies they would like to see land in Cincinnati. Earlier today, our own Jason Garrison had some thoughts on free agency and how the Bengals could fill their roster holes with various veterans.
And while Jason gave us shortened lists of free agent possibilities, Evan Silva of Rotoworld Fantasy Sports has given everyone the complete 2012 free agent class. It shows all players whose contracts expire after the season, and Silva even goes as far as to denote who he believes will be franchise tagged.
There's a lot of names to sift through on this list, but it's really worth a look. The Bengals have traditionally been slow movers in free agency, usually starting with their own free agents they'd like to retain and then scouring the scraps after the first 48-72 chaotic hours following March 1st. When they have made big splashes, it has usually ended up biting them in the rear--most notably Antwan Odom and Antonio Bryant.
Rather than spend a fortune on outside free agents, management has preferred to horde their draft picks, rarely trading them, and attempt to build the team through the draft. While this has been a seemingly successful strategy over the past three seasons or so, it was not a smart route for the team to take in the years prior to that.
This can't be the case in the 2012 offseason for the Bengals. They need to be proactive in free agency, really picking up quality names that can come in and start right away and plug those roster holes. They did a pretty good job of that last season with Johnathan Joseph being the only major exception. Many names on Jason's list would work nicely in Cincinnati and I hope that they pursue some of those players.
There is a fine art to building a team in the offseason, however. While it's always great to see a team make numerous big splashes in free agency, it can also be disastrous. The 2011 Philadelphia Eagles, AKA "The Dream Team", is a perfect example as are the Washington Redskins and their annual forays into free agency. Josh Kirkendall here at Cincy Jungle reminded us of that earlier today. A team needs to get the right mix of outside veterans and incoming rookies to fill holes and gel in the locker room. The Bengals did a pretty good job of this last season, but need to do even better this season to build on their strong foundation of 2011.