The Cincinnati Bengals appear to have completed hiring the bulk of their coaching staff for next season, which means they can now really focus on free agency beginning in just over a month.
4:00 p.m. EST on March 1 is the deadline for clubs to designate franchise or transition players, but it doesn't look like there's a good chance the Bengals use the tag.
Wide receiver Marvin Jones quietly caught a career-high 65 passes for 816 yards to go with four touchdowns this past season.
Jones did so while often being the third or fourth option in the Bengals' offense, so there's no telling what he could do as the No. 2 or even top pass-catcher for a team. That is, if one of the other 31 teams in the NFL think Jones is someone they want to offer a big contract to this offseason.
Spotrac did a projection of how they see Jones' next contract working out.
Marvin Jones, CIN
Calculated: 4 years, $22M ($5.5M AAV)
Likely: 4 years, $20M ($5M AAV)
Jones has flown under the radar behind A.J. Green and to some degree Mohamed Sanu's shadows over his past four years in Cincy. But when targeted he's been extremely reliable, including reeling in 70% of his opportunities in 2015. He scored 10 TDs in 2013 before missing all of 2014 with injury. He potentially heads to free agency as the second best available WR.
A contract paying out $5 million annually is far from No. 1 receiver money, especially with the salary cap set to be around $154 million this offseason.
And as Spotrac points out, receivers of the same caliber don't always get deals even close to each other. Here's a look at the deals four similar receivers received in recent years, per Spotrac.
|PLAYER||LENGTH||VALUE||AVG. SALARY||AGE WHEN SIGNED|
Of those four, I would compare Jones' level of play to that of Golden Tate. Like Jones, Tate has spent most of his career as either a No. 2 pass-catcher, or a No. 1 guy in a run-heavy offense (as was the case when he was in Seattle). That's why Tate has just one season with more than 898 yards receiving in his six years in the NFL.
But then you see a guy like Riley Cooper, who has done far less (21 grabs for 327 yards and 2 scores in 2015) getting a deal like he did. Teams will overpay for guys they want, and no team may be a better example of that than the Cleveland Browns.
Just this past offseason, the Browns signed Dwayne Bowe to a two-year, $13 million contract with a $3.5 million signing bonus and $9 million in guarantees. Bowe went on to catch a whopping five passes for 53 yards, and was a healthy scratch in many games this season. That means, he earned $900,000 per catch in 2015.
Oh, and did I mention Hue Jackson is Cleveland's head coach now? You can bet he'd love nothing more than to bring Jones with him and give that offense a reliable pass-catcher. And as Spotrac wrote, Jones may end up being the second-best receiver to hit free agency this offseason, meaning the chances of him being overpaid by another team looking to make a splash only increase.
That's why the Bengals should be worried, but also be smart about re-signing Jones this offseason. While he's a valuable commodity, they don't need to break the bank for him with guys like George Iloka, Reggie Nelson and Adam Jones also set to hit the open market.
That doesn't even include the 2017 free agency class, which will see Andrew Whitworth, Kevin Zeitler, Dre Kirkpatrick, Giovani Bernard and Shawn Williams have their contracts expire. If the Bengals overpay for Jones, it could cost them another key player down the road.
The good news is, the Bengals have a projected $30 million in cap space this offseason, whereas the Browns have just $17 million. That means Cincy can easily offer Jones that four-year deal worth around $22 million that Spotrac is projecting.
In the end, I do think the Bengals will offer Jones a deal close to that amount, but the key will be what other teams, including Cleveland, end up offering him.