Outside Free Agents: 1, Bengals' Free Agents: 10.
The Bengals finally got on the board late Thursday, signing their first outside free agent in QB Josh Johnson. But outside of Johnson, the Bengals have decided to turn their sight inward, seeking to re-sign many of their own players, rather than adding external talent. While frustrating to some, the logic behind this strategy is simple. The Bengals have made the playoffs in three out of the last four seasons, so why upset the apple cart?
Because playoff appearance are one thing, and playoff wins are another. But I digress.
Like it or not, Mike Brown isn't about to wake up one morning and decide to completely alter the plan he's used to run the franchise for the last couple of decades. Thankfully, he and head coach Marvin Lewis have immensely improved their drafting ability in recent years, which makes their humdrum free agency strategy far more palatable. In his press conference at the spring NFL meeting, Marvin Lewis echoed this sentiment.
We’re going to end up with three, likely four, starting-caliber players early in the draft... We’re going to add those guys (through the draft). We’re going to add to the talent pool and it’s going to be exciting.
With four picks in the first 100 (21, 37, 53, and 84), Lewis is clearly confident that the team will be able to identify difference makers somewhere in the first few rounds. Going by recent draft history, this idea isn't too far-fetched. Between hitting on A.J. Green in the first and finding a diamond in the rough with Geno Atkins in the fourth, the early rounds have been very productive for the Bengals over the last few years. Of course, they aren't without their misses either. Yet, a team can also miss in free agency, and missing through the draft is at least a much cheaper affair.
This is why the offseason is so misleading. The tedium of inactivity encourages a narrow tunnel vision that promotes short-term gratification over long-term success. The Bengals are already on record saying they are waiting until the summer to spend the bulk of their cap space on extensions for some of their young, core players. Many fans, however, are still impatient for the front office to do more now. With media outlets prematurely crowning "winners" and "losers" less than two weeks into free agency, it's easy to see where the average sports fans gets their need for instant gratification.
It's a horrible cliche, but championships aren't won or lost in the offseason, and they certainly aren't decided less than a fortnight (a word that definitely needs to make a comeback) into the new league year. So as the Bengals set their sights on the draft to add new talent to the team, let's all take a collective breath and step away from the ledge.
It might be boring, even frustrating, but the Bengals' strategy is solid. At the very least, let's wait until we see the product on the field before we pronounce this offseason a success or a failure.