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Bengals maintaining draft-first philosophy while improving in free agency

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The Cincinnati Bengals are not known for being active during the first day of free agency. Look at their history -- there have been seasons where it takes a week (sometimes more) for the team to sign their first non-Bengals free agent. Tuesday changed that.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

"Oh yeah, (Mike Brown) is the one leading the charge," Lewis said to the Cincinnati Enquirer and Bengals.com during senior bowl week in Mobile Alabama. "He doesn't want to hear, 'We will be better when we get these guys back.' No, we need to get better. He knows we need to get better. He's pushing people to identify players that will make us a better football team in free agency. It's a different feel than where we have been. It's not a status quo. There has not been a status quo conversation or 'Oh, we'll be OK, we'll just get these guys back.' No, no, no, that's bull. We got to be better."

These words have been immortalized on mount Who Dey (OK, that was corny), generating a euphoric avalanche among Bengals fans. Ndamokung Suh was now a possibility in Cincinnati, who were pennies shy of having $40 million in cap space. Sigh. Everyone. Trade for Jimmy Graham, Sam Bradford and Haloti Ngata... wait, actually that DID happen. Right? It was a weird day in free agency.

In reality, Lewis' comments never took the dramatic meaning of irresponsible spending (and if you thought they would, that's on you because Mike Brown still has history moving against us). Cincinnati maintains a draft-first philosophy, which leads into a genuine effort to re-signing most of those players while filling in the gaps via free agency. The difference from this year and previous years is that the team is filling the gaps with much better players.

Comparatively speaking, this was Cincinnati's biggest moment in free agency -- not because of whom they signed, rather because they actually did something (and in each case, it made sense).

Relatively speaking, it was a busy day.

Let's compare.

Free agency began in 2014 on March 11. Cincinnati's first (non-Bengals) free agent signing was quarterback Jason Campbell on March 20, that's nine days later if you didn't want to do the math. Marshall Newhouse joined the team a day later. Free agency began in 2013 on March 12. Cincinnati's first free agent signing was quarterback Josh Johnson.

Four days after free agency started in 2012, the Bengals signed offensive guard Travelle Wharton -- who suffered a season-ending injury during the preseason and never played a regular season snap. Wide receiver Antonio Bryant was signed on March 12, eight days after free agency began in 2010. You know how that played out. Wide receiver Lavernaues Coles signed with the Bengals six days after free agency began in 2009 -- at least he played. Antwan Odom was brought in four days after free agency started in 2008.

Cincinnati's activity on Tuesday shattered this tend. The Bengals reached a two-year agreement with former Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk and hours after that, reportedly reached an agreement with offensive guard Clint Boling -- whom the Bengals selected in the fourth-round of the 2011 NFL draft. If you monitored other team sites, read the reactions from those fans, you'd know that Boling was a big name to them. To Bengals fans... he's the team's third-best offensive lineman studying at the university of cohesion. Eric Winston announced on twitter that he's returning too.

Cincinnati's starting offensive line will return in 2015.

The Bengals will also host defensive tackle Nick Fairley on Wednesday, according to ESPN reports. The idea of pairing Fairley with a healthy Geno Atkins and a growing Carlos Dunlap is fantastical. Behold. The Bengals still need to make corresponding moves -- such as finding another pass rusher at defensive end (if Michael Johnson isn't available) and probably releasing Domata Peko. Regardless, Fairley is in for a visit (nothing more). Let's not broadcast too much fantasy yet.

+ Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham is still a favorite to sign with the Oakland Raiders -- it's just interesting that he hasn't yet. Is there trepidation among the parties? 
+ Outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard, who the Bengals have an interest with, spent the night in New England on Tuesday.