With one week of free agency in the books, to say the Bengals have been quite is an understatement. But, if you expected otherwise, you just don't know this franchise. I for one agree with their approach to free agency and am not unhappy at all with the moves/lack of moves so far. The first week of free agency is filled with out of control spending (generally by unsuccessful franchises), which turn into salary cap casualties 2-3 years down the road. As things quiet down, look for the Bengals to pick up some solid veteran role players as they have in the past. Here is a review of who they have gained/lost over the past week and what it means:
Lost in Free Agency:
Good for him. If you thought Johnson was staying in Cincinnati you simply were hiding your head in the sand. The writing was on the wall since last year when Johnson turned down a big extension and Dunlap signed it. Johnson is a good player and a great person, but a team cannot have 3 guys on their D-Line making huge money. Atkins and Dunlap signed big extensions last year and that left Johnson as the odd man out. Plus, as much as I like Johnson (and there is not a guy I could be happier for), the stats don't lie. He had 1 season with more than 6 sacks - $8M+ for that kind of production is not financially responsible for a team wanting sustained success. In 2012, Johnson had 3 sacks against Washington and 2 against the finale against Baltimore - those are the only multiple sack games in his career. In fact, in his other 77 games, Johnson has 21.5 sacks, or .28 sacks/game - that works out to an average of 4 sacks per year, or by Tampa math, $2M per sack.
Another good player that I couldn't be happier for and another contract that didn't make sense for the Bengals. Did Collins earn a $6M per year deal? Probably. But with two $6M+ per year tackles already on the roster (Whit and Smith), another $6M tackle just wouldn't be good business. Also, don't forget that Collins, as good as he played last year, has been a backup for all but about 8 games in his career. The Bengals have an All-Pro left tackle with a few years left (Whitworth) and young players that can play guard (Boling, Hankerson, Pollak). Collins received a fair market deal that the Bengals could have paid, but letting him go was the best move. Keep Whitworth at LT, Boling at LG and draft a potential LT for 2-3 years down the road.
Yawn. All the coaches raved about his ability but the guy could never stay healthy. I thought he would stay with the Bengals simply because no other team could possibly have seen anything they like out of him - since he is never on the field - and the Bengals coaches thought highly of him. However, apparently the Chargers saw enough good things about him on the injury report to sign him to a 2 year deal. While losing Johnson and Collins was disappointed, it was expected. Losing Ghee is not disappointing, but highly unexpected.
Let him walk. I love Hawkins and the added dimension he CAN bring to an offense, but let's face it, he is the 4th best receiver on this team. If there was a "How to Build a Successful NFL Franchise Guidebook" one of the rules would have to be that no matter the player, a team cannot/should never pay $5M to their 4th receiver. Hawkins can provide matchup problems for a defense, but he is also 5'6", 28 years old and has career totals of 86 catches, 995 yards and 4 touchdowns - not in a year, in his entire career. Hawkins for $1-1.5M is a nice player to have. Hawkins for $5M is a bad idea. Let Cleveland find that out - along with their other overpriced signings of the past two years (see Karlos Dansby, Paul Kruger, etc).
All offseason I have been optimistically hoping the Bengals would cut Cook and pursue Alex Mack, and while it sounds unlikely they will pursue Mack, the releasing of Cook does rid the Bengals line of their weakest link. That being said, this move still shocked me because it was very un-Bengal like. It sounds like Mike Pollak is going to get first crack at the starting center position and while that is not an exciting move or the big name signing fans wanted, Pollak should be an upgrade over Cook.
If you have been paying close attention, this move shouldn't have come as a shock. Harrison never seemed to fit in the Bengals scheme and in his one year with the Bengals, he didn't provide much. While Cutting Harrison doesn't save the Bengals a ton of cap space ($1.4M), what it does is free up playing time for the young line backers the Bengals have coming off injury (Lamur, Porter, etc). Take into account the fact that the Bengals may very well draft a DE/LB hybrid type player in the first round of May's draft and it becomes easy to see why the Bengals made this move. At 35 years old, Harrison doesn't look to have much left in the tank and is not the best option for the Bengals.
Not a sexy signing, but a good football signing. When Zeitler went down, Pollak stepped in and performed well - and the offensive line as a whole seemed to improve with Pollak in there. With the release of Cook, it sounds like Pollak will be the starting center and that makes the line stronger in 2014 than it was in 2013.
Few have banged on Taylor Mays the way I have banged on Mays in the past, but he seemed to catch on as a hybrid SS/coverage LB last year and his injury did hurt the defense. While Mays was not a great cover safety, he was very effective covering TE's from a linebacker position. Also, keep in mind, regardless of whether you like this signing or not, just because they signed Mays in March does not mean he will make the team come next August. With the return of Lamur and the possibility of drafting another safety and/or linebacker, Mays will spend his second year in a row on the cut down bubble.
I don't like Tate and did not like this signing. This was the type of signing Bengals fans were waiting on so they could laugh at the Bengals management. The one thing I will say is that Tate did have some big returns in 2013 and like Mays, just because they signed Tate does not mean he will make the team.
Another signing Bengals fans laugh at, but don't forget how upset we were back in August when they released Moch. A third round pick in 2011, he has speed and the ability to get to the quarterback. In the last two preseasons, Moch has 6.5 sacks in limited playing time. Like Mays and Tate, he may not make the team come August, but with the departure of Johnson and Harrison, there may be a niche role which Moch can fill. Personally, I have always liked Moch and would have liked to see him get more playing time, so I really like this signing.
I just don't get this extension. First off, if you are sold on a coach, you give him a 3 or 4 year extension, not 1 year. If you are not sold on a coach, just let him coach out his contract and if you want him back, address it next year. Why add one year? The Bengals opened themselves up for ridicule with this extension and I cannot defend them. These are the type of moves, whether management wants to believe it or not, make it hard for them to sell season tickets (and tickets in general).