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A choice between Clint Boling and a pass-rushing free agent

The Bengals could be making a choice between Clint Boling and a prominent pass-rushing outside free agent...or maybe neither will be signed.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

After the release of Robert Geathers and Greg Little, the Bengals had $39.9 million in cap space. Their first re-signings of the offseason have been Rey Maualuga at a 2015 cap hit of $7.2M, and Emmanuel Lamur at a 2015 cap hit of $2.4M. They have also re-signed Mike Nugent at a likely hit of about $2M. This drops the Bengals' cap space to about $28.3M.

According to Spotrac, the 2015 Bengals rookie pool (excluding compensatory picks) is projected to be $4.77M. In the 2014 draft, the Green Bay Packers were picking at #21 overall. They had nine overall draft picks, including one extra third rounder and one extra fifth rounder, which the Bengals might also have after the losses of Michael Johnson and Anthony Collins. According to Over The Cap, the 2014 Packers rookie pool was projected to be $5.67M. If we include hypothetical comp picks with Spotrac's projection, then it comes very close to Over The Cap's projection.

However, Over The Cap explains that there's a difference between the rookie pool and the actual rookie cost. That's because each rookie is displacing someone on the roster whose cap cost is at least league-minimum salary, $435K according to Spotrac. For example, the 2014 pool number of Darqueze Dennard was $1.45M, but his true cost was about $1M. Taking the projected rookie pool and subtracting the product of $435K and nine draft picks, the real rookie cost is only about $1.8M. That reduces the Bengals' cap to about $26.5M.

The Bengals have many players entering their primes who will be unrestricted FA in 2016, including A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Andre Smith, Dre Kirkpatrick, Kevin Zeitler, and George Iloka. They might extend one or two of them now. The Bengals will re-sign a handful of their own backup FA, potentially Eric Winston and Cedric Peerman, among a few others. They'll sign a few low-caliber outside FA, including "pass-rushers" similar to Derrick Harvey and Aaron Maybin. They may or may not sign a mid-level FA, such as Johnson or Collins if released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If they spend about $8-10M on all of this, then the cap will drop to about $16-18M.

Each of the past three years, the Bengals have kept about $8M in reserve cap space, which they mainly see as an emergency fund if many players go on injured reserve (it would take about one-third of the roster to go on IR for them to use it up). That reserve space may even increase this year, depending if the team wants to keep extra for re-signing a few of their unrestricted FA in 2016.

If it holds at $8M, then subtracting that from the $16-18M, the Bengals are projected to have, at most, about $8-10 million remaining for a major FA signing. If the Bengals want to roll over more than usual, then that range would drop. (I realize there are many boring details above, but I just want to show where the $8-10 million is coming from.)

Clint Boling has been a top-10 LG for two consecutive seasons according to Pro Football Focus. Teams are lining up for his services, so he will get his payday, likely in the $5-7M range. According to Joe Goodberry, a prominent FA pass-rusher like Brandon Graham looks to command a salary of about $7-8M, a little less than what Jerry Hughes has received. A truly premium player like Greg Hardy could be $10M or more. An older one like Trent Cole could be $6-7M.

Cincy Jungle user NastyNati513 originally brought up this topic here:

We still need to resign Boling, and upgrade the pass rush. It can be assumed that Boling will command at least the same amount as Rey (especially since other teams actually want Boling), which limits us to less than $10M away from our self-imposed cap. Because we know the Bengals, they’ll use that for a few "Newhouse" agents and to extend a few guys. Meaning we don’t have the space to upgrade the pass rush. IF we do get a passrusher, we won’t have the space for Boling.

The Bengals vastly overpaid Rey Maualuga at a $7.2M cap hit for no valid reason, even though no one else was offering nearly that much for the 28-year-old role player.

The Bengals should have signed Maualuga at a much less expensive price, or moved on. That would have allowed them to sign both Clint Boling and a prominent pass-rusher, and still not be very close to the cap. Unfortunately, they fought a phantom bidding war with no one but themselves, over a below-average role player who is replaceable through the draft. It's the Bengal Way. As a result, the only way to sign both Boling and a pass-rusher this offseason is to spend very close or all the way to the cap. That has no realistic chance of happening, not only because of their perpetual IR fund, but also because of anticipating for 2016.

The Bengals still have a chance to sign one of them, but now there is also a real possibility they let Boling walk and not sign a pass-rusher either. What do you predict the Bengals front office will do?