Either the Cincinnati Bengals view multitasking as a complicated endeavor in the world of free agency, or we've reached the conclusion of the "first phase" -- where the big contracts and the most recognizable names move around... sorry Marvel, you weren't first.
Earlier this week, Cincinnati signed A.J. Hawk on Tuesday but remained inwardly focused on their own house, re-signing guard Clint Boling, tackle Eric Winston and cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris while linebacker Rey Maualuga and placekicker Mike Nugent were secured on the eve of free agency.
Despite Marvin Lewis' unexpected proclamation in February that Cincinnati would be aggressive this offseason -- which everyone bought (hook, line and sinker) -- the Bengals aggressively signed one linebacker who just wanted to come home. As fans, we poorly translated Lewis' ramblings last month as a guide toward roster building, when in reality it was a tactic designed to increase excitement, which would address the team's uninspiring season-ticket numbers.
Free agent defensive tackle Nick Fairley visited Cincinnati on Wednesday but left without a contract after the Bengals learned that Tampa Bay had released defensive end Michael Johnson. If you're going to walk... spit out your gum. Fairley arrived in St. Louis for a visit on Thursday and stayed the night. Johnson is scheduled to arrive in Minnesota on Friday morning. According to most reports, Johnson wants to come back to Cincinnati and his former teammates are ready to embrace this reunion, if it comes to pass.
On the other hand, could Cincinnati lose Johnson and Fairley? Those of us who have navigated the minefield of Bengals' fandom (for many years/decades) would not be shocked if neither player signed with the team.
In fact, we're Spinal Tap'ing our whining to level 11 that Jermaine Gresham, who literally fell into Oakland's black hole, could return with a favorable market deal that would be too cheap for Cincinnati to ignore. Unless reports that the Bengals coaches REALLY don't want him back are applied -- but how much of that is favorable opinion or the word of a coach that's exhausted from Gresham's immaturity? Is this "coach" a whistleblower or just tired of Gresham?
What's mind-boggling, is that once the Michael Johnson and Nick Fairley issues are resolved, the Bengals are expected to go into free agency hibernation with Geoff Hobson writing "With about $17 million counting against the salary cap in their five off-season deals, the Bengals are believed to be near their free-agency budget." You'll get the Cedric Peerman's and Dane Sanzenbacher's of the world, sure. But, free agency acquisitions that could be starters? That aspect appears to be nearing its completion. With the veteran combine coming later this month, there could be a second-wind brewing but we're also entering the "role player" and contributor stage of free agency -- which is very important, but not as sexy.
There's always the who should they have signed crowd, and there is logic to that perspective. Cincinnati's core is far stronger than anything a free agent would bring. But you mean to tell me that Cincinnati couldn't afford Jabaal Sheard's two-year deal worth $11 million or Terrance Knighton's $4 million? Maybe scheme was an issue here and thus, there was no serious consideration.
According to Spotrac.com (the contractual website that's taken for absolute gospel), the Bengals have $23.356 million of cap space (offseason salary cap doesn't account for the entire team, only the top 51 contracts). If we're including the second-round tender that Emmanuel Lamur hasn't signed yet, the Bengals have added $19 million to their cap space.
|Rey Maualuga||$7.137 million|
|Clint Boling||$5.1 million|
|Emmanuel Lamur||$2.356 (not signed)|
|Mike Nugent||$1.95 million|
|A.J. Hawk||$1.875 million|
It also doesn't help that cornerback Leon Hall and wide receiver A.J. Green account for $19.776 million of the team's salary cap on their own, more than the six players that Cincinnati signed since March combined . Green carries a $10.176 million cap number due to his fifth-year option (which pays a transition-tag level salary) and Leon Hall, carries a cap number of $9.6 million -- imagine if the team saved $7.8 million by releasing him... and you could:
1) Navigate through the team's fear concerning their 2016 free agents (more on that in a second);
2) Sign Johnson and Fairley -- if that's even what they want.
But, cutting Hall to save cap money is a troubling development with fandom over the years, where your loyalty to the team is absolute but loyalty to the players is nothing more than pressing an A button while playing another regurgitated version of Madden. It's also an argument for why player contracts shouldn't be public -- what and who does it serve to know how much someone is getting paid? Extend Hall. Save the cap number and preserve some concerns regarding next year's free agency class.
Look at it this way:
1) Both starting safeties will be free agents next year.
2) The only cornerbacks signed in 2016 (Darqueze Dennard, Onterrio McCaleeb) have made no starts in their careers.
3) Cincinnati's best two offensive linemen (Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler) need to be re-upped.
4) Wide receivers A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones will become free agents -- with Green expected to get the costly franchise tag.
Yep -- this is Bengals free agency.