As March has quickly turned to April and the frenzied portion of NFL free agency has come and gone, it's time to utilize the age-old practice of hindsight. For whatever reason, I've been labeled as "the free agency guy" here at Cincy Jungle and on our podcast, so questions tend to come my way on the Bengals' plan of attack in the spring months. I welcome it because this offseason has been a bit polarizing among Bengals fans to this point.
Many questions from readers and Twitter followers have come my way over the past few weeks asking what I personally would have done in free agency. In short, there are moves that I liked and others that I didn't. Bringing back so many old faces, including ones who haven't been great contributors, didn't really make sense to me.
Michael Johnson, DE: He won't be a double-digit sack guy, but will assist in run defense and will still boost an ailing pass-rush from last season. They get him much cheaper in 2015 than they would have in 2014 and still get a compensatory pick in the third round this year.
Pat Sims, DT: Getting this guy on the cheap was a great move. The Bengals needed bulk and run defense help up the middle and Sims could provide that by bringing back the line rotation that made the unit successful under Mike Zimmer.
A Plethora Of Visits: Tight end Rob Housler, defensive tackle Nick Fairley, wide receiver Denarius Moore and others have all come to speak with the Bengals brain trust. Though they lost out on Fairley and Housler was offered a deal with Baltimore and might take it, the Bengals are much more active this year than last.
Re-Signing Clint Boling: It was a fair deal for both sides and showed that one of the better players on the market wanted to stay with Cincinnati. That in itself is a refreshing change from years past with this franchise.
Waiting On Gresham: It's wise of the Bengals to not have jumped to give Gresham a deal, for a number of reasons. The health of his back is the big kicker right now and he could be available for cheap after the draft if they really want him back.
Opening Up The Draft: By addressing defensive end, defensive tackle, cornerback, linebacker, offensive guard, kicker, and even kick returner (despite your opinions on Brandon Tate), the team has completely opened up options in the draft. With six picks in the first four rounds and four in the first three rounds, I'd expect a tackle, wide receiver and tight end in some fashion.
Things That Make You Go "Hmmm":
Rewinding Back To 2013: Sims and Johnson are one thing, but bringing back Brandon Ghee, Brandon Tate, Mike Nugent and others all could be called into question. Tate and Ghee have had minimal contributions while here and these type of moves don't exactly scream "change".
Letting Nick Fairley Walk: There are a lot of criticisms with Fairley, but he is talented and showed he can have an impact, especially with talent around him on the line. Getting Johnson and Fairley would have been exciting and I really feel that the former Lions defensive tackle would have thrived here. The Bengals lost out on his services and Fairley took a deal where he'll see limited playing time on a stacked Rams line. Just weird.
The Linebacker Deals: Bringing in A.J. Hawk has its positives, especially at the price he came at. Still, he is coming off of one of his worst professional seasons and appears to be over the hill. He could contribute as a rotational guy, but it reeks of a typical Bengals bargain-bin contract. The team also seems to value Rey Maualuga far more than other teams and gave him an inexplicable deal where the 2015 salary cap hit is borderline outrageous. Still, it appears that the game plan by the team is getting and keeping guys that they are familiar with--especially on defense.
Josh Johnson Returns: The guy can run like the wind, but he can't really throw the ball accurately for an NFL quarterback. It's not a big deal if they just want three quarterbacks in camp, but this move confuses me when Marvin Lewis and Co. have been gushing about A.J. McCarron and various reports saying he might have the inside track as the backup. Furthermore, is Johnson an improvement over Jason Campbell?
Differences In Approach:
As I said earlier, I liked certain moves the Bengals made and questioned others. Here is a list of players that I would have taken a harder look at, if I was calling the shots, as well as moves I wouldn't have made. In the list of players that I would have made a harder run at, it isn't to say the team should have brought them all in, but some combination of names could have contributed nicely.
Make A Harder Run At: Nick Fairley (DT), Sean Weatherspoon (LB), Jabaal Sheard (LB/DE), Virgil Green (TE)
A Reunion Not Necessary: Brandon Ghee (CB), Brandon Tate (WR/KR), Mike Nugent (K), Josh Johnson (QB)
Still Time To Make A Move: Rob Housler (TE), Zach Miller (TE), Denarius Moore (WR), A Fullback
I still wonder if the team could move Ryan Hewitt from the H-Back role and make him a tight end while grabbing a true thumper fullback. That wouldn't be an indictment of Hewitt as a blocking fullback, but actually more of an endorsement of his versatility and the need at tight end. That's one move I'd explore if the cards fall into place.