ESPN Free Agency Grades: Bengals Earn Low Marks

Paul Frederiksen-US PRESSWIRE

Less than three weeks into the new free agency period, ESPN is already assigning grades. The Bengals did not fare well.

If you weren't aware yet, today is April Fools' Day, a holiday dedicated to shenanigans, capers, tomfoolery, and all other varieties of roguish monkeyshines under the sun. Essentially, it's the one day per year where you can't be quite certain that what you are reading on the internet is real or merely a mischievous prank.

Which is exactly why I was forced to do a double-take after reading through ESPN's latest blog post, which handed out free agency grades to each team in the AFC North.Surely, three weeks isn't enough time to get an accurate sense of an overall free agency strategy. Free agency is a long, drawn out process, and the ultimate success or failure of a free-agent class is impossible to tell until the product actually reaches the field, months and sometimes even years after the fact.

But logic has never been a strong cultivator of page views.

So, armed with three weeks of data and the attention span of a goldfish, ESPN set out to grade the AFC North and the results were nothing if not predictable. Here is what they had to say about the Bengals' efforts so far.

Williamson's grade: D. I understand the theory that re-signing your own and cultivating talent through the draft is a great way to build a winner, but Cincinnati opened the free-agency period with a ton of money to spend -- and really has very little to show for it right now.

Hensley's comment: The Bengals could have certainly been more aggressive in free agency, especially when addressing needs at safety, outside linebacker and right tackle. But it's hard to give the Bengals something lower than a "C" if they end up re-signing Andre Smith and reaching extensions with defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap.

That's right. Despite re-signing 13 of their own players and losing only five others (and only one regular starter) from a playoff caliber roster, the Bengals haven't been flashy enough to cater to the single-minded, money-focused talking heads at ESPN. To them, the only way to win football games is to close your eyes, grab fistfuls of salary cap dollars, and wildly throw it at out-of-work NFL players. It doesn't matter who they are, or why they might be a free agent. Nope. Just give them contracts and things will work themselves out.

For the sake of comparison, the duo of writers awarded the Browns a solid "B" for their busy spending and the Ravens a "C+/B-" for their balance of losing and gaining players. You heard correct. A team that has already lost eight starters from 2012 and is dealing with serious cap issues received a higher grade than the Bengals. Face, meet palm. Palm, meet face. Only the Steelers fared worse from the AFC North, garnering a "D/F" from the graders for their heavy loses and modest gains.

Ignoring for a second that the Bengals plan on using the upcoming summer months to try and strike long-term deals with some of their star players like Atkins and Dunlap, the team's free agency strategy of re-signing their own players has only left three remaining holes to be filled on the roster; two if Andre Smith re-signs. So why do they need to spend their cap space on dubious free agents when they can find better players to fill those holes through the draft?

The Bengals have four draft selections in the first three rounds. They have ample cap space for extensions on key players. And they return most of their roster from back-to-back playoff seasons. Does that really sound like a failing free agency to you? Me neither.

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