Only the NFL draft could have done it.
Chaos winds with the intrusion of a tree-bending hurricane inches our gluteus maximus closer to the edges of our chairs. How will the Bengals use their first second-round selection? Will it be running back Bernard (first name, Giovani), who the team had expressed interest with? Eddie Lacy was a wild card but ultimately not a serious one. Linebacker. Defensive end. Safety. Every position except quarterback and tight end applied at this point. Pressed below the horizon, the sun's hue fought the coming darkness and the digital clock drew closer to triple zeros.
We were you. You were us. We justified arguments for one player. Discounted others. Laughed at possibilities, cringed as probabilities and cried with fond memories of disasters dating over ten years. Older folk with scarred memories felt it. Always do. Always have. During the 2013 SB Nation mock draft, we selected Alex Okafor at No. 37. He went to the Arizona Cardinals in the fourth round. A miss. At No. 53 we grabbed Giovani. We had hoped for Jonathan Cyprien on Friday and Kenny Vaccaro the previous night. Both were gone within minutes of the second round.
Waiting for Cincinnati to announce their second-round selection, the biggest non-draft news lashed out from a hardened shell made of valyrian. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported (out of nowhere) that the Cincinnati Bengals reached a three-year agreement worth $18 million with offensive tackle Andre Smith. Eyebrows were raised. Hacked account? An inside joke? NFL Network began reporting it.
This changed everything... yet nothing. Suspected that Cincinnati would draft an offensive tackle if no agreement was struck by the NFL draft, we believed that if an agreement was at least close enough, the team would disregard a need to draft a replacement. Similarly Cincinnati couldn't risk it.
Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander described the situation after Smith signed, showing how close the Bengals were to selecting an offensive tackle.
"Yeah it was nice. He waited until the last possible second. Mike (Brown) brought him in the draft room and showed him we had (Menelik) Watson on the top of our board. He said, 'It's a good thing you signed.'"
Good thing for Smith, we suspect. Not married to Smith's contractual demand for $9 million per season that was eventually reduced by $3 million, Cincinnati had options. They'd risk losing Giovani Bernard, despite Le'Veon Bell being the only running back selected before Cincinnati was on the clock later in the second. Yet why risk the way? Hindsight can be a beautiful thing and what's to say another team doesn't draft Giovani? Cincinnati successfully signed their starting right tackle and drafted the running back that they wanted. Win, win.
Andre Smith absorbed the message of patience. His mother preached that God would take care of everything. Andrew Whitworth reached out and advised patience, as did Adam Jones. Moving from Alvin Keels to Ben Dogra with CAA helped the six-week process (though some would stay stalled).
"The process has been pretty good," said Smith. "Switching agents and being with Ben Dogra has been a great success. All those guys communicate extremely well. There wasn't a time we weren't talking during the free agency time. He just kept me informed and let me know what teams were in it and everything that was going on; I enjoyed it."
According to Zach Wells with Fox 19, the San Diego Chargers, Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles were reportedly interested.
Money was important -- perhaps the most important. Just as important was the situation, as well as the support structure he has from the team. Whitworth, Jones, Lewis and even Carlos Dunlap.
"The last two years here have been tremendous, going to the playoffs both years, and it was time for me to make the decision to be back," Smith said Friday. "I think I've fully bought into what Coach Lewis wanted me to do, doing all the little things that make a great pro, and I've never enjoyed football more."
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis isn't just happy, but takes Smith's agreement as a sign that he's matured.
"Andre has for the last week taken the bull by the horns," Lewis said. "I think he's grown up a little bit. He thinks he's a smart businessman who knows what's going on and in some ways he had to be educated about it. But he had to take control and I think he grew into that and that's a good thing."
"The people that know him say he's been the biggest guy, the best kid on the block for so long that sometimes he takes it for granted," Lewis said. "Don't relax … sometimes he relaxes a hair. That's our fault. As coaches we have to keep pushing Andre to never relax. To always get the most out of his ability; he has a lot. That's my responsibility."What happened after Smith signed?
The Bengals selected Giovani.
+ BREAKING DOWN THE CONTRACT
Details regarding Andre Smith's contract were released on Monday, worth $18 million over three years. Only $5 million is guaranteed, with a $3 million signing bonus and $2 million worth of roster bonuses.
Per Joe Reedy with the Cincinnati Enquirer, there's $500,000 worth of workout bonuses, and a game-by-game roster bonus of $62,500, which totals $1 million per 16-game season. Smith's cap number for all three years is $6 million, $5.2 million and $6.8 million respectively.
+ ANDY DALTON, THE REALIST
Weapons, toys, call it what you like. Last year Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton went through month-long struggles. His quarterback rating for October was 71.2, generating only five touchdowns against six interceptions. In December it was a 71.3. Other months, he thrives, posting a quarterback rating above 100 in September and November, scoring 18 touchdowns and only five interceptions in both months combined.
"Well, there shouldn't be any excuses," Dalton said after his Monday workout. "The players we already have and adding these guys is just going to make the offense better. So I expect us to take the next step, I expect us to improve from where we were last year. Time will tell, but we've got the right attitude going in and the way we've been working, I don't expect any less."
Dalton's third season is significant. Though not facing pressure to win, due to the fact Cincinnati has made the postseason in consecutive years, at some point the team will want to see more when it counts. During Cincinnati's wild card weekend last season, Dalton completed less than 50 percent of his passes, while throwing an interception.
That's not to say it's all on him. Once Mohamed Sanu's season ended prematurely, Cincinnati's offense broke down. There was no consistent red zone threat, opposing defenses successfully minimized A.J. Green, and the offensive line struggled towards the end.
+ CONFIDENCE STILL ELUDES REY MAUALUGA
Critical points were being made by Cincinnati's coaching staff during the offseason that centered around Rey Maualuga's frame of mind. After his poor performance against the Houston Texans in the playoffs, Maualuga wasn't sure that the Bengals wanted him. The coaching staff articulated that Maualuga's play was often affected by a bad one.
Confidence still eludes him.
"Although they signed me back, it’s still early on. I’ve still got to go out in OTAs and show our coaches that I’m better than I was last year, better than my previous four years here," Maualuga said. "I had a lot to think about this offseason. I understand what I need to work on. I understand what my role is coming in. I just want to make sure that since I’ve been given this second chance to work on the things that need work and try to make sure I’m a better person than I was last year."
We appreciate the soul-searching, the deep inner-thoughts of a human being in conflict. But there's a time for reflection and there's a time to enact what one has learned. Nothing can be changed about last year, or the year before that. History is history. Not only does Maualuga need to take the bull by the horns, he needs to believe in himself. He's a talented kid that's being given a chance that many don't believe he should have. It's entirely up to him.