NFL Free Agency: Things To Keep In Mind For Bengals Fans

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 07: Andre Johnson #80 of the Houston Texans makes a reception against Reggie Nelson #20 of the Cincinnati Bengals during their 2012 AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Reliant Stadium on January 7, 2012 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)

When the clock strikes 4 PM on this muggy Tuesday in Ohio, the NFL's new league year begins. Throw away those desktop calendars, print out new schedules in Publisher. All that has happened in 2011 starts fading in the distance, like Nicolas Cage's acting after Raising Arizona. With that comes an all-out blitz by some teams, signing the best free agents to exorbitant contracts, often more than their value. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind as we approach free agency.

+ Bengals Won't Be Major Players This Week. Don't expect the Bengals to be major players when free agency kicks off this afternoon like the usual suspects, who traditionally shower players with years and guarantees, making it rain with Monopoly-like money. Based on this team's history, Cincinnati is much more likely to sit quietly at Benihaha, allowing the market to settle down before joining the party.

Tuesday and Wednesday will be days that guys like Carl Nicks and Mario Williams sign new deals, whereas next week, where we figure that the Bengals will finally become more active, the team will start signing players to strengthen their roster while remaining focused on the 2012 NFL Draft.

If you're currently groaning, consider that it was after the free agency blitz last year when the Bengals signed Thomas Howard, Manny Lawson and Nate Clements to reasonable contracts. All of whom were significant contributors on the league's seventh-ranked defense last season.

+ Tons Of Cap Space Means Nothing. The Bengals have over $50 million available in cap space, after the crazy-cap distribution story out of Washington and Dallas on Monday. That being said, the $50 million isn't some Brewster's Millions quota, nor is it a number that you should be obsessive about. They won't spend it just because they can.

At best they'll use their money addressing their own players that they want to keep. Such as Jonathan Fanene, Frostee Rucker, Pat Sims, Anthony Collins and perhaps a guard or two. Though we can't expect them to keep their best free agents, those players will command much of Cincinnati's attention.

Additionally expect the team to consider extensions with other players because guys like Andre Smith, Bernard Scott, Mike Nugent, Rey Maualuga, Brian Leonard, Michael Johnson, Kevin Huber, Thomas Howard and Nate Clements are just a handful of contributors that will be free agents this time next year.

We could be wrong. They've surprised us before and why not an early Christmas present this year? But we feel it's delusional thinking, setting one's self up for perpetual disappointment. If that's how you want to spend this week, by all means. But don't say we didn't warn you.

+ Reggie Nelson Will/Won't Be Back. If wide-spread suspicion holds true, then Bengals safety Reggie Nelson will command anywhere north of $5 million per season, with a good chunk guaranteed. With that much money, we suspect Cincinnati has already moved on. Hell, we do think that they've moved on. Rather than franchising Nelson for $6.2 million, they tagged place-kicker Mike Nugent. And based on the overall lack of reports suggesting otherwise, the best we can determine is that the most both sides have done thus far is feel each other out.

And we don't think it's because they aren't willing to use the money. Much of his NFL career has been spent as a disappointing first round draft pick. We suspect that 2011 isn't enough for the team to justify such a significant raise after one good season. Cincinnati was paying Nelson $957,500 in base salary in 2011. Though he played his best season to date in his career, the increase of $5 million-plus seems a bit much on a player that was considered another first round bust only a year ago. It's not like the team would be losing a Pro Bowler.

Does that mean he won't be back? Of course not. Anything can happen. Perhaps Nelson and his representatives have over-valued his worth. Or perhaps the Bengals simply want to see what the market is for Nelson before making any serious attempt towards discussions. Or maybe everything is true and the new-age safety combination of Taylor Mays and Robert Sands will be ready to take over this season.

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