Thearon W. Henderson
The Bengals silence in free agency speaks volumes to the confidence they have in their current roster.
Many of us knew the Bengals wouldn't be major players in free agency this season because they were more interested in locking up many of their younger stars long term. Their outright disregard of just about anyone available, however, feels like an almost snobby approach to team building.
In a sense, one can gauge the desperation of a team by their involvement in free agency. Some teams are forced to plug in multiple veterans in starting spots to assist the rebuilding phase they find their franchise in. In places like Kansas City, Cleveland and Philadelphia, stopgaps have been acquired at multiple positions to afford the time needed to develop their draft picks and future starters. Second-year coaches in Miami and St. Louis are also heavily tinkering with their rosters in order to discover a team identity they can live with. Then there is the old, upper-echelon teams like New England and Denver who have made some splashy moves early on to hopefully remain relevant for a few more years before their aged star quarterbacks call it quits.
Then there are teams who wish they could be more involved. Oakland would do something rash and borderline illegal for an additional $10M in cap room if they could, but as it is, they are strapped and forced to negotiate with second-tier guys like...Pat Sims? Closer to home, but in the same boat, is Baltimore who opened the doors of its facilities only to watch a plethora of its starters wander off to either retirement or to other teams. After winning the Super Bowl and pouring cash all over their quarterback, Joe Flacco, they simply do not have the loot to keep much else right now. General manager, Ozzie Newsome, has been forced to rebuild, like it or not.
Then there are the Bengals who have only invited perhaps third-tier players in for visits and haven't signed anyone who has never worn their helmet in the past. Before I go on to claim that Cincinnati is satisfied with their own roster more than the rest of the league, it's important to remember the modus operandi of one Mike Brown when making off-season moves. Typically, the man is not all that interested in the hoopla big-named free-agents come with. Win or lose, he never tosses money at players just for the sake of being "active" in March. He has always believed, like most sage football executives would repeat, that the best teams build their foundation through the draft and that free agency is simply expensive window shopping.
In Cincinnati's case, no team has drafted better in the last four years. It has homegrown talent brimming at its edges and all that cap-space they have squirreled away over the years will help secure them seeing the fruits of their recent drafts bloom into full harvest. In other words: they like their own players more than anyone else's, and that, as Marvin Lewis would say, is a good thing.
If one were to read into the limited interest in the players they have hosted for visits, one might be able to catch but a glimpse of the team's thinking. First and foremost is the lowly caliber of these players. Beanie Wells stopped in and presumably didn't pass his physical. He has since been described as having "a bad wheel" and his football future appears in doubt. Next was Mike Goodson who peaked the Bengals' interest but was lost to them when the despondent New York Jets gave him the Champaign treatment and signed with Gang Green. Then Ted Ginn Jr. was sought to have "chats" with Bengals management about taking over as the new return specialist in town though nothing official has yet to materialize there either.
Hardly headline maneuvering but action nonetheless.
Jay Gruden admitted to the media he wished for a speed back that could be mixed in for big plays in the running game. To see the Bengals bringing in potential compliments to BenJarvus Green-Ellis is hardly surprising, but like everything else in stripes, they aren't going to pay a lot for that muffler. Despite murmurings of interest, Steven Jackson and Rashard Mendenhall never really appeared on their radar. A few veterans with higher mileage remain like Ahmad Bradshaw and Felix Jones, but it's that clear Cincinnati doesn't just want a recognizable name, they want a specific type of player and is more than willing to let the market come to them. The Bernard Scott experiment seems to have concluded with disappointing results. He had his explosive moments to be sure, but the pro game proved to be too grueling for the little guy as he was unable to remain consistently healthy. It is certainly not impossible to see him return to the Bengals in a pinch, but it seems obvious that he isn't their first choice as a complimentary back anymore. Also in the discussion remains Cedric Peerman who the team did re-sign to a few more years this offseason, indicating the offensive brain trust may picture him with an expanded role in the ground attack, but his solid special-teams play is more likely the reason for his extension.
The position of kick-returner has been historically a secondary priority when assembling a team. There have been a few individuals who bring notoriety to the position in the pro game, but by and large it is performed by players operating in an ephemeral role. Either it has been young prospects yet to crack more meaningful snaps at their natural position, or it is expendable fast guys who don't bring the required skill set to ever be handed a larger role on either offense or defense. Last year in Baltimore, however, Jacoby Jones made a real impact for the Ravens as returner, typified by a kick-return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl. His speed did allow him a minor role in the passing game and he scored big there too in the post-season, as he tied the game late on a Hail-Mary to send it into overtime during the Divisional round in Denver.
Ginn has similar abilities to Jones and could give the Bengals a real weapon as a returner. While Brandon Tate put up solid stats for the Bengals in his time here, he didn't pose quite the same threat Ginn and Jones do. Ginn can also be another speedy receiver that defenses have trouble containing on deeper routes. Anyone lined up opposite of A.J. Green will find a bit more space to run their routes in, and someone with world-class speed could make a cornerback on an island nervous in man-to-man coverage.
There will likely be a few other players the Bengals will examine, but they too are expected to be of the manager-special variety. A linebacker or two appear to be on the shopping list and the safety position requires attention of some kind. If they were to sit back and do nothing, though, would any of us assume they aren't doing their due diligence? Another draft is coming up and Cincinnati has a bonus second-rounder this year. They have a big wad of cap-space to lock up the Greens and Daltons and Dunlaps and Atkins' for the next era. They have arguably been the most effective front-office in the past four seasons. They have a young roster that improves more every day and requires limited to no maintenance in its current form. The future is gleaming in Cincinnati these days and the lack of money on the table for outsiders is a strong indicator that the Bengals wholeheartedly agree.
Mojokong-out like a lamb.