In light of the $120M deal of Joe Flacco, $67M deal of Percy Havin, $60M deal of Mike Wallace, etc. I thought it would be interesting to see how a team viewed as being cheap has paid its players over the years.
Among active players, Leon Hall ranks highest in career earnings ($50.116M*) followed by Whitworth ($46.782M*), Geathers ($42.183M*), Peko ($29.792M*) and Nelson ($21.003M*). I didn't expect Hall to be at the top give that he's only been with the team since 2007 compared to 2004 for Geathers and 2006 for Whitworth, but with a deal that averages $8.6M he's far ahead of the other players under contract.
Looking back further, the player with the highest career earnings with the Bengals since 2003 is - no surprise - Carson Palmer ($98.420M). Chad Johnson took home $46.716M over the same time period. Willie Anderson ($37.709M), Levi Jones ($28.846M), Justin Smith ($26.016M), Rudi Johnson ($25.775M), John Thornton ($24.250M), Bobbie Williams ($22.274M) and Andre Smith ($20.376M) complete the rest of the "+$20M group".
Palmer's earnings stands out given how old the deal was (signed in 2005). At the time and for several years after, it was the richest deal a QB had ever received. So it's not like the Bengals don't spend money, it's just not typically on players that they didn't develop themselves. Of the group above only Nelson, Thornton and Bobbie Williams weren't drafted by the team. That's 3 out of 14! So as long as the current management is in place (which will be until Katie's grandkids decide they'd rather fly their lunar hover scooters than own a football team), don't expect the team to be big players on the free agent market - unless it's their own guy.
*Note: includes future years of current contract as well