The Bengals are dealing with a unique situation in this upcoming NFL offseason. 15 players on the Bengals' roster will be entering free agency in March. And, with 14 of those 15 players as unrestricted free agents, it's an ugly fact that a decent number of players won't be returning for the 2016 season. Of those 15 players, eight were consistent starters and six saw significant playing time this season. With all the talk surrounding which players the team should focus on resigning, let's take a look at the players who the team should move on from.
Brandon Tate's biggest asset to the Bengals is his ability to pull both kick returner and wide receiver duties. However, even though he's had a few great plays here and there at both positions, those plays don't come frequently enough to make up for his typical mediocrity. In 2015, he caught one 55 yard touchdown pass against the Chiefs in Week 4 and a four yarder in Week 9 against the Browns. But, he was completely absent the rest of the season out wide.
He also had a bad habit of hesitating before returning kicks out of the back of the end zone, leading to frequent, bad field position for the Bengals, and only a handful of good returns. His best return went for 58 yards, but it didn't do much more than make him seem serviceable. With so many potential kick/punt returners on the team like Adam Jones, Mario Alford and Giovani Bernard, and plenty of receiver talent - it's hard to find a reason to resign Tate.
Emmanuel Lamur's season ended a bit early this year with a torn ACL in Week 17 against the Baltimore Ravens. Before that, he was playing the role of outside linebacker opposite Vontaze Burfict in the starting lineup, although not particularly effectively. He ranked 307th in the NFL in terms of combined tackles (40). That's less than half of the total put up by the Bengals' leading tackler this year, Vincent Rey (98).
Lamur consistently missed tackles, despite possessing incredible athleticism. The injury that ended his season was not something that anyone wanted to see, but you could make the argument that A.J. Hawk and Vincent Rey were both upgrades, giving the Bengals more of a chance to win in the playoffs. Lamur played the role of backup well in parts of 2012 and 2014, but he's too unreliable to be given the kind of money that he can probably ask for from a more desperate team. If the Bengals can get him for the right price, signing him becomes a more attractive idea, but, it's unlikely he would accept backup pay.
Brandon Thompson first joined the Bengals as a third round draft pick out of Clemson. Like Lamur, he worked himself into the starting lineup in 2014. Also like Lamur, he hasn't been very effective when he gets starting reps. After 2014, Pro Football Focus named him as just the 57th ranked defensive tackle in the NFL. To be fair, Domata Peko was ranked No. 66, but he rebounded to have a better season this year and Thompson wasn't even always on the 47-man active roster.
Interestingly, Thompson was the Bengals' third round pick in the same year that they took Devon Still in the second round. It was clear that the team was targeting defensive line talent, but neither pick ended up working out. Still had one of the best stories of the year in 2014 as the Bengals elected to keep him on the team, while his daughter Leah, was battling cancer. But, on the field, he never produced. On the field, the same has been true for Thompson, although his ability to commit to the team has given him more opportunity to show the value he possess. But, I don't think it's enough to secure him a new contract.
This one hurts to say. Leon Hall has been one of the hardest working members of the Bengals and you just really want to see him succeed. And he did, for a long time. The problem is, injuries and age have caught up with him. He's been generally ineffective when on the field since 2011, although he did experience a bit of a revival in 2015. In only four starts he recorded eight pass deflections, two interceptions, and returned one of those interceptions for a touchdown.
Unfortunately, he's been taking up a huge percentage of the salary cap ($9.6 million in 2015). For the amount of production the Bengals are getting from him, he should be getting paid much less. There's a chance that Hall accepts a team-friendly deal and the Bengals keep him around to mentor the young cornerbacks (and maybe balance out Adam Jones's craziness), but there's no way the Bengals can justify continuing to pay him at his current salary. As it currently stands, Leon Hall's contract is a liability.
It's a shame that the Bengals didn't trade Andre Smith when they had the opportunity. As athletic and strong as he can be, he has a huge problem with disappearing at the worst times and committing stupid, momentum killing penalties. Smith finished the season with the third most penalties committed on the team (9), and the most pre-snap penalties of any player (5). He was graded poorly by Pro Football Focus on a regular basis in games and rarely graded particularly well.
He was part of an overall good Bengals offensive line this season, but he tended to be the culprit on many of the most critical quarterback pressures and sacks for the Bengals throughout the year. Smith could have brought a decent ransom on the trading block, but the team is on the verge of letting his contract expire and it's time to move on without him, especially with Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher waiting to become starters. Smith will be one of the top right tackles on the open market and it's likely he'll be on another team in 2016.