One Month Into Free Agency, The Bengals Are Where They Expected To Be

Rob Carr

The Cincinnati Bengals are not big-name spenders in free agency, taking a "their own" approach this year. One month after the start of free agency, they've done exactly that.

Following Bernard Scott's reported return on Friday, four free agents that played with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2012 remain unsigned. Negotiations (and a difference of opinions regarding value) continue with offensive tackle Andre Smith. Linebacker Thomas Howard visited with the Miami Dolphins several weeks ago, but left without a contract. We suspect that his knee is minimizing interest around the NFL, including the Bengals. Defensive backs Nate Clements and Chris Crocker remain unsigned, and who knows if both 33 year olds will find anything prior to the NFL draft -- or at all.

With the NFL reaching the one month mark in free agency, enough players remain to sustain interest. Many teams will continue filling gaps on their roster, perhaps even viewed as an upgrade here or there. But don't expect the major contracts that exploded within the first three days of free agency in mid-March.

Yet veterans are scratching their heads about the lack of interest while observing the overwhelming number of restructured contracts, asking if it's related to a flat salary cap or collusion.

"Finally, we have heard reports of a concern that teams are working in concert to 'peg', 'rig' or 'set' market prices on player contracts," said NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith. "If you believe or have information that the teams have been colluding during this free agency period, you have a responsibility as an agent of the NFLPA to come forward and share that information with us."

Veterans defensive lineman Sedrick Ellis called the current Collective Bargaining Agreement "buyer's remorse" earlier this week, designed to add a little more to veterans' pockets.

"I think from talking to a lot of other guys... the players in free agency are not quite seeing the money that was promised by cutting down the rookie salaries when they came into the league," free-agent defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis told SiriusXM NFL Radio on Thursday night. "A lot of the big deals have been cut down, and a lot of the players who are going to be expecting big money either got cut or let go in some manner.

"And I think that’s what you’re seeing when people are saying [there's] a little buyer’s remorse. It's because we’re expecting a lot more money on the veteran end, and it’s just been hard. We haven’t seen as much of it as we thought we would have."

Free agent offensive tackle Eric Winston called it frustrating "in the sense that there are still a lot of teams with money to spend, but it doesn't seem like anyone wants to spend it."

Cincinnati aren't big-name spenders, but they've addressed their roster with a philosophy of keeping their own. They've already re-signed 15 of their own free agents, including Bernard Scott, who the team will reportedly re-sign to a one-year deal. Jeromy Miles and Andrew Hawkins are unsigned, but have been tendered as restricted and exclusive rights free agents respectively.

Backup quarterback Josh Johnson and backup interior lineman Mike Pollak are the team's lone free agents that played for different teams in 2012, while quarterback John Skelton was claimed through waivers on April 3. Cincinnati has released cornerback Jason Allen and waived wide receiver Lavasier Tuinei.

“Everyone wants you to go out and sign someone else’s player. How many guys have made an impact in their first year of signing?" Lewis said at the NFL owners meetings. "We are better served to continue with our guys and are not sitting there with a particular huge void and go forward with our players and keep getting them better as much as we can. Literally, had the timeline on some of these things gone different, we would have been able to do other things."

That's not to say that the Bengals haven't spun the tires with available free agents. Clearly looking for a tight end, the Bengals have hosted Matt Spaeth, Kellen Davis, re-signed Richard Quinn and are reportedly close to signing Alex Smith. In the past week Cincinnati hosted free agent linebackers Akeem Jordan, Karlos Dansby and James Harrison, who appears to be the closest to signing. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw is on the team's radar, but it might be nothing more than "cursory mulling".

Not "upgrading" their roster through free agency hasn't encouraged a belief that the Bengals have declined, but some question if there's been enough improvement to avoid another one-and-done postseason appearance.

Six free agents have left for new teams. Linebacker Manny Lawson signed a surprising four-year deal with the Buffalo Bills. Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski departed to Pittsburgh. Defensive tackle Pat Sims signed a one-year deal with the Oakland Raiders. Running back Brian Leonard heads south to Tampa Bay while Josh Brown (Giants) and Dan Skuta (49ers) moved to the NFC.

Cincinnati will make their biggest splash of the offseason during the NFL draft, with projected needs at safety, linebacker, running back, defensive end and offensive tackle (based on Smith). Some would suggest cornerback, wide receiver and middle linebacker, but we're not seeing that as much.

Like it or not, the Bengals address free agency exactly how they planned.

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