Bengals Free Agency Period Shows A Possible Culture Change

USA TODAY Sports

In years past, the Bengals were an afterthought in free agency and were primarily used by players for negotiation leverage. A few coveted players on the open market made it known that they wanted to come and/or remain in Cincinnati. Is the team finally revitalizing its image?

The Cincinnati Bengals are not prominent free agent dealers--never have been and likely never will be. Never more so was there evidence of that than this offseason where the team had piles of money to spend and elected to go with an inward and future-focused approach. Even with this somewhat-unpopular approach, the team attracted some players that might have been attainable in years past.

Let's have a closer look.

Example one--cornerback Terence Newman. The former Dallas Cowboys 2003 first round pick had a renaissance in Cincinnati last year. Though he wasn't spectacular last year, he played above-average football for a team in desperate need of help at the position. Newman helped ease the loss of 2012 first round selection, Dre Kirkpatrick and earned himself a shot to start again next season--be it in Cincinnati or elsewhere.

Though he wasn't a high-profile player on the free agent market, Newman attracted more attention than he did as a 2012 free agent. He was heavily courted by the Oakland Raiders and mulled over offers by them and the Bengals. Ultimately, he decided on the Bengals, a team that is headed in a better direction and said that defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was a big reason for his return as well. The kicker? Newman said that he took less money to return to Cincinnati than what Oakland offered. How often do we hear that phrase? It has been reported that Newman's contract with the Bengals is for two years, $5 million. Now he just needs to live up to the deal.

There is also the case of Newman's cornerback counterpart, Adam Jones. Here is another guy that has enjoyed a total re-birth in Cincinnati, both professionally and personally. Though the interest level around the league for Jones wasn't totally known, he made it clear that he wanted to return to the Queen City to play for Zimmer and Marvin Lewis. A player coming off of one of the most productive years in his career openly expressing a desire to return to the Bengals is another rarity. Jones signed a three-year deal with the club back in late March.

Now we have to come to the most difficult contract that the Bengals got done this offseason in their big offensive tackle, Andre Smith. Negotiations between the two parties stalled and there were rumors of Smith asking for about $9 million per year. The Bengals (rightfully so with a player like Smith) played hardball and the issue went unresolved all the way into the second day of the draft. Right before the Bengals made the decision to take running back Giovani Bernard at No.37 overall, media outlets began reporting that the Bengals signed Smith to the team-friendly tune of three years, $18 million.

The thing with the Smith situation is that even though the Bengals weren't caving into his demands, it was well-known that Smith wanted to return. We all assumed that that desire was rooted in the fact that there wasn't much interest in his services, however we later found out that the Eagles, Raiders and Chargers were all talking with Smith's camp.

It's easy to point at in-house free agents as examples to my point, but the list wouldn't be complete without an outside free agent. The Bengals stole signed linebacker James Harrison, making him arguably the biggest name that they have brought onto the team from the outside. What's more, Harrison wanted to be in Cincinnati for a variety of reasons.

Could one of those reasons have been that Harrison wants to face the Pittsburgh Steelers twice a year? Sure--even though he denies any ill will towards his former team. It's true that Harrison was courted and slighted by the Ravens before landing in Cincinnati, but in fairness to the Bengals, he wasn't really on their radar at that point. He then signed a two-year deal in which the total of the contract will pay him less than what he could have made for 2013 had he taken a pay cut in Pittsburgh. Wow--how often have we heard that happening here? A Steeler leaving that club and landing with the Bengals for significantly less money? Yeah, that would be never.

When the Bengals were pursuing Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp in free agency back before the 2004 season and became one of the finalists for his services, the boisterous big man notoriously said that the Cincinnati Bengals were "afterthoughts" in free agency and on Sundays. With a semblance of some sustained success recently and increased respect for their coaching staff, coupled with the continuing accolades for their drafting, the Bengals might be changing their stripes a bit.

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