There are several simple truths in the National Football League, and this is one of them: the best teams in the league build in the draft, not in free agency.
Sure, good free agents are signed every year and every year they go on to contribute and make the team that signed them better than before. However, for the most part a team's early round draft picks do much more for any team, especially in the long run, than a free agent every could.
While the Bengals signed several free agents over the past few years that have made them a better team, including Adam Jones, Terence Newman, Nate Clements, Thomas Howard, Manny Lawson, Cedric Benson, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Terrell Owens and many others, it's always the players they drafted that make the biggest impact.
That's not just a Bengals thing. It's an NFL thing.
Players that are selected in the first few rounds in the draft that don't end up as busts and take their team closer to the Super Bowl than they were before aren't let go. They remain with their teams until they retire, they're injured or if they Carson Palmer their way out of their contract. The players who have a history of injury, are too old to receive the kind of pay they've demanded or haven't produced to the level of their paycheck become free agents. Some of these players sign to new teams and revitalize their careers. Many, though, even if they're payed a small fortune, become the same players they were before they became free agents in the first place.
Watching the Bengals let every free agent with a big name pass through Cincinnati as if there isn't a professional team in the city is frustrating. Actually, it's beyond frustrating. However, considering the way the Bengals have drafted over the last few years, they're better off bringing in a fresh batch of former college players.
Last year the Bengals waited a few days before they announced the signings of guys like Newman, and even during the regular season with gem like Wallace Gilberry. Both players made the Bengals better as Newman started the majority of the season opposite Leon Hall and Gilberry finished third on the team in sacks with 6.5. Neither of those players were on the radars of the majority of other teams, even the ones without a ton of money to spend. There's no reason to think the Bengals would need to break character now to sign someone like Elvis Dumervil, Ed Reed or some of the other big-money free agents left on the market.
The Bengals have four picks in the first three rounds of the draft every one of those first four picks, No. 21, No. 37, No. 53 and No. 84, possibly represents a future starter on the team's roster, or a future Dumervil or Reed. If the Bengals do things right in New York City, there's no reason to throw sweaty wads of cash at big-name players now.
That's how the good teams build. The '90s are over. The Bengals are a good team.
They're doing things right.