It's been a heavy couple of days Cincinnati. The team, characteristic of their traditions, are causing fans to feel unsettled in the first week of free agency.
With a little help from former Bengals defensive linemen Clinton McDonald and Michael Johnson, offensive tackle Anthony Collins signed a five-year deal to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Cincinnati also released linebacker James Harrison and the feeling is that Cleveland's improved offer may have finally dissuaded the Bengals from retaining Andrew Hawkins.
Are we caught up?
First, a summary.
S Taylor Mays (not announced)
WR Brandon Tate
OG Mike Pollak
DE Michael Johnson (Buccaneers)
OT Anthony Collins (Buccaneers)
C Kyle Cook (released)
LB James Harrison (released)
CB Brandon Ghee (Chargers)
WR Andrew Hawkins (Browns - not official and Bengals could still match)
OG Uche Nwaneri
C Phil Costa (signed with the Colts before visit)
RELEASE OF JAMES HARRISON: Two points here. The Bengals save $1.434 million against the cap by releasing Harrison, who turns 36 years old this May. The release also gives Emmanuel Lamur a place to call home as one of the team's starting linebackers -- a path that was supposed to begin last year as a nickel linebacker. Despite the locker room presence and mentorship that Harrison provided with the team's younger linebackers, there wasn't much on-field production that outweighed the benefit of releasing him (cap, playing time for Lamur).
Regardless, we'll never forget this play against the Browns.
UNLIKELY TO MATCH BROWNS OFFER
Strange. At first the Cleveland Browns offered a four-year deal worth $12.2 million (which could reached $13.1 million with incentives). The deal also included $5.3 million. Not long after that, the Bengals said that they'd match the offer.
Our suspicion of that problem? Hawkins actually never signed the deal and when the Bengals announced their intentions, it caused the Browns to add more money to the deal with a significant cap number in the first two years. Cincinnati now has until Tuesday to match a four-year deal worth $13.6 million, with $10.8 million in the first two years. The cap hit is $5.8 million and $5 million in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
Cincinnati could match; but they probably won't (nor shouldn't).
CAP SAVINGS AND AVOIDANCE
If they choose not to match Cleveland's deal for Hawkins, the Bengals avoid his $5.8 million cap number in 2014, plus save $4.285 million when including the release of Kyle Cook ($2.1 cap number), James Harrison ($1.434 million cap number) and ditching the tender that they had placed on Hawkins.
Had Cincinnati matched Cleveland's offer sheet for Hawkins, and subsequently Anthony Collins' deal, those moves alone would have added another $14.8 million on the team's cap -- Hawkins at $5.8 million and $9 million for Collins (averaging $6 million per season, plus $15 million signing bonus prorated over five seasons). NOTE: Collins actual cap number will likely be less than $9 million in 2014 because the base salary will in the first-year will probably be smaller and will exponentially grow throughout the life of the deal.
If the Cincinnati Bengals are looking at veteran quarterbacks to back up Andy Dalton, their options are starting to dwindle. Matt Cassel, Josh McCown and Chad Henne have already signed contracts. Michael Vick is vying for a starting gig. Kellen Clemens signed with the Chargers. Charlie Whitehurst is checking out the Tennessee Titans. Yes, I noticed it too. Maybe if I drink enough alcohol, this year's free agency class at quarterback will generate some appeal.
Former Browns quarterback Jason Campbell was released on Wednesday, promoting talk that a connection between Campbell and his former head coach Hue Jackson may generate interest for a reunion. Wait... did we completely forget his performance last year against the Bengals (27/56, 248 yards, TD, 3 INT, fumble). Ryan Fitzpatrick, who might be released in Tennessee, would be another option due to his former connection with the team earlier in his career.
Either way, there's really nothing out there for the Bengals to hang their hat on. The draft remains the best possible destination for a backup quarterback.
BENGALS WILL HAVE MORE FROM LAST YEAR
It might sound disingenuous, but while NFL teams are purchasing talent to help them win games, the Bengals have an impressive list of players returning this season that finished last year on Injured Reserve. Cornerback Leon Hall and defensive tackle Geno Atkins headline the band, with left guard Clint Boling, defensive end Robert Geathers, defensive tackle Devon Still, and safety Taylor Mays adding depth.
Then you have players like Sean Porter and Emmanuel Lamur, who suffered training camp/preseason injuries, that we simply don't know much about. The team also likes defensive tackle Larry Black. None of those three are household names, but neither were many of the players signing new deals this week.
Maybe it's an optimistic point of reference. A coach clapping his hands to keep the community positive. Whatever the case, the Bengals will have those players, all of whom didn't participate during the playoffs, or, in most cases, the second half of the season -- and they still won.