Hours before free agency kicked off the new league year on March 13, we prepared a posting that largely detailed what you should expect. It wasn't expansive, rather hoping fans cling onto some patience knowing how the Bengals would approach free agency. We wrote on the morning of March 13:
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.
Did we know what the team would do? No. Have we always known what the team would do? Yes. Contradiction. It's true that there's a growing feeling amongst outsiders that the front office is gradually becoming more like the modern NFL team. Is this Marvin Lewis' influence? Perhaps. Is this Katie Blackburn's growing role within the organization's daily operations? It's hard to dispute. Yet for any fan that's spent any amount of time backing this team during the Mike Brown era, how this year's free agency wasn't expected like any other year is beyond us.
That still didn't stop nuclear reactions from overtaking Bengals fans with cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan or Brandon Carr signing $50 million deals, Carl Nicks signing the richest contract (annual and guaranteed money) for an offensive guard in NFL history or Vincent Jackson receiving $55 million with $26 million guaranteed over five years. This was clearly money that Cincinnati was never expected to dish out -- they'll draft a prospect cornerback first, have never valued guards that much and why offer that much money for a No. 2 wide receiver behind A.J. Green?
But then the Bengals started getting more involved. After signing offensive guard Travelle Wharton and cornerback Jason Allen last Saturday, they inked running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis to a three-year deal. Both Wharton and Green-Ellis will make $4 million each during the first year of their respective three-year contracts, assigning $12.1 million to 2012 on those three deals alone.
Cincinnati went quiet yet again before announcing four signings on Friday, bringing back cornerback Adam Jones and offensive tackle Anthony Collins, while signing a pair of former first-round defensive ends in Derrick Harvey and Jamaal Anderson.
Are these moves that help the team? It's a matter of perspective.
We're not willing to say that the signings of Jamaal Anderson and Derrick Harvey constitutes a better combination compared to Jonathan Fanene and Frostee Rucker. But we're fine acknowledging that both players will make this roster better than what it was on Thursday. Keeping guys like Anthony Collins and Adam Jones simply keeps the depth stronger, as opposed to the team going out and finding their replacements. Collins is as solid a backup tackle as any in the NFL and Jones is talented enough to make plays both on defense and special teams.
Are we here to tell you that this free agency has completely reversed itself, signing starters across the board that will become eventual Pro Bowlers? No. That was never their intention and expecting otherwise would be similar to bone-headed self-inflicted wounds. Is Cincinnati's roster better today than it was on Tuesday? Absolutely.
This is a gradual process, acquiring players to help strengthen the roster, which continues through the 2012 NFL Draft. Additionally you have players with limited production in the past that could have a big influence this year, like Roddrick Muckelroy, Dontay Moch, Armon Binns, Bernard Scott, Robert Sands, Clint Boling, Otis Hudson and Taylor Mays. Are these the sexy names of free agency? No. Are these the names of players that could have a huge impact in 2012? Sure.
And that's not all.
We have the continuing evolution of Jay Gruden's offensive philosophy, finally given a calm offseason to further implement. The growth of players like Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham, Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, Jordan Shipley, Chris Pressley and dare I say Rey Maualuga.
Sure Cincinnati's free agency period hasn't been something designed to fill seats at Paul Brown Stadium. But it's hard not to be excited about this team's continued development, which started with the 2010 NFL Draft with foundation players that have a significant influence not only with the Cincinnati Bengals, but maybe in the NFL as a whole.
Players that the Bengals signed (no matter what team they were on last year) or tendered (in respect to RFA, ER-FA and Franchise Tags).
|Reggie Nelson||S||Four||$18M, $2.5M Signing Bonus and $3.5M in Roster Bonuses|
|Mike Nugent||PK||One||$2.654M Franchise Tag (unsigned)|
|Travelle Wharton||OG||Three||$10M with $4M in the first season|
|Jason Allen||CB||Two||$8.2 Million|
|BenJarvus Green-Ellis||RB||Three||$9 Million, $4 Million in first year, $1.6 million through incentives|
|Chris Pressley||FB||Two||$2.1 Million|
|Dan Skuta||LB||One||$1.26 Million|
|Clark Harris||LS||One||$1.26 Million|