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Duke Tobin talks Bengals free agency, NFL Scouting Combine and supporting Vontaze Burfict

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"We always believe in our philosophy, which is draft, develop and retain." - Duke Tobin

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Marvin Lewis, Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Geno Atkins, and Andrew Whitworth.

Those are the names most often heard when talking about the Cincinnati Bengals and their unprecedented amount of recent regular season success. Few NFL franchises can say they've ever been to five straight postseasons at any point in their history since the league expanded to 32 teams.

Only two current clubs have a streak longer than Cincy's current one, and since 2000, only three franchises have had longer streaks.

While the aforementioned games have played a major part in that, so too has Duke Tobin, the man whose name you've heard far less of during that span. The current Bengals Director of Player Personnel has been instrumental in constructing a roster capable of withstanding five straight 16-game seasons to make it into the NFL's second season.

The key to that success has been drafting, developing and retaining the team's best players. Green, Dalton, Atkins, Whitworth and plenty of other impact players have been drafted, developed and retained under Tobin's watch, and now he's facing another offseason of ensuring step 3 occurs.

As we've harped on for much of this offseason, wide receiver is a big question mark heading into next season, and Tobin admitted as much during his Thursday meeting with the media at the NFL Scouting Combine.

"We've got some uncertainty there. We felt good about our group during the year but we've got three guys that are up and we want to get them back. So we'll see. It takes two. We always think it's better for the player to go, if all things are equal, back to where he's had some success. We always believe in our philosophy, which is draft, develop and retain.

"Well, we're at the retain point with some of these guys. And that's going to be our focus. We're going to spend our resources on the known quantities that we've developed and we know how they fit with our club and we know they're backgrounds and their personalities. It's been working with them, so we're going to spend our resources and our time trying to lock those guys up."

When asked specifically about Marvin Jones, who may be the team's most important free agent, Tobin couldn't offer an update as the team wants to re-sign him.

"No. There's nothing to report there. We're working through that. If something breaks we'll let you guys know but there's nothing there yet."

Frankly, this is a time of the year when it's hard to negotiate contracts since NFL teams don't even know what the exact cap figure is for the upcoming season. It's why you usually don't see much, if any movement with teams and impending free agents going into the Scouting Combine, but Tobin has faith that the Bengals will do their best to re-sign guys like Jones.

"It's always a challenge because it's a two-way street. The players have to want to come back and you've got to have enough room under the cap. Katie and Troy (Blackburn) have done a fantastic job keeping us in a position to retain guys.

"We're very low on dead money. We don't have a lot of pending issues with lack of cap room. We're not cutting guys for the wrong reasons. So, we're in a position, a very good position, and it's because of the management that we've had with our contracts going through this point."

While Jones may be the most important free agent to the Bengals, safeties George Iloka and Reggie Nelson had a bigger impact on the Bengals this past season and figure to do so for whatever team they're playing for in 2016. Tobin would love nothing more than for that to be in Cincinnati.

"We want to do deals with both those guys. We'll see if we can get it done. There are no guarantees in free agency. There may be teams out there thinking about them at maybe a little different level than we are and we'll see where that goes.

"I do think a large majority of our players welcome the idea of coming back. It is a business decision for them and we'll see what their true league value is when it kicks off. We are trying to be proactive to get things done with some of our guys, yes.

Speaking of Iloka, he seems to be the only viable candidate for the franchise tag, but Tobin isn't letting on to if that's something the Bengals may do.

"I don't think I'm going to get into whether I'm going to use the franchise tag or whether we are not going to use the franchise tag for obvious reasons. It just doesn't benefit the club to discuss that," he said.

While the 2016 free agents are currently the focus, the Bengals have several key 2017 free agents who Tobin would like to get extensions for this summer.

"What we do with a lot of our carryover (cap) room is we look at guys that are coming up into the future and we normally start those discussions in the summertime and we'll see if we can get some things done in advance with any of the players who are coming up, whether that's Tyler (Eifert) or (Kevin) Zeitler or (Dre) Kirkpatrick or Gio (Bernard) or whoever that might be.

"We do reserve a portion of our carryover room just for that and so we can minimize the number of UFAs that we have. We've got a large number this year and it's going to be a challenge for us. We'll be proactive with some of the young players that will be coming up in the next year or two."

Tobin was also asked about what makes the NFL so hard for college receivers to assimilate and have success as rookies, and he admitted it's one of the harder positions to grasp early in a player's career.

"There are positions that are harder to assimilate. There's maybe more to learn. Formation-ally, these guys are often going from real basic stuff to where they are lining up on the right side on the outside all the time and going fast and don't have to worry about the formations, the motions, the shifts, the check-with-me's that NFL teams do.

"This game is about passion and passionate players are the best players in the league and so we're not going to tell him not to be a passionate football player. That's what he is. That's what makes him good."
-Duke Tobin on Vontaze Burfict


"Lot of times it's just learning the formations and knowing the multiple spots that he fits in each one of those formations. Certainly route running in the NFL is different. The level of talent in the defensive backfield is different for these guys. It's a position that is hard to come in and take off right away. It can be done but you normally need a guy that's had a little bit more experience with more of a pro-style attack in college."

As for the Scouting Combine, Tobin reiterated the belief that what goes on the field isn't nearly as important as what goes on off of it and behind the scenes.

"The single most important thing we get is the medical assessment on these guys to see where they are and if they have some concerns we can follow up on those. That would be the single biggest thing. In terms of the interviews, those are valuable, we like to get to know the guys.

"We don't get them long enough to really get to know them but you get a quick glimpse at what makes them tick. That's valuable to us. Obviously the measurables are valuable. Bigger, faster, stronger, we are all looking for the same things. It's good to get verified measurables on these guys, too. We take value on almost every element."

Another big offseason focus for the Bengals has been on linebacker Vontaze Burfict. He's set to miss the first three games of 2016 due to repeated safety rules violations, though Tobin believes Tez's heart is in the right place and he'll make the necessary changes.

"I think that's right. He's come out and said that that he needs to change some elements of it. But this game is about passion and passionate players are the best players in the league and so we're not going to tell him not to be a passionate football player. That's what he is. That's what makes him good.

"Obviously there are some things that maybe at the end of the plays or some decisions he makes in a fraction of second that he'll start to do a little differently, but he's an important part of what we do and we're not going to restrict him to the point where he's ineffective."

Now that he's done talking with the media, Tobin is hopefully finding the future Bengals who will help this team keep winning and competing for a Lombardi Trophy. Given his recent success, there's no one the Bengals would rather have in Tobin's role.