One of the less glamorous parts of the NFL year is the lengthy six month offseason in which teams re-tune their rosters. This period exists primarily so teams can get a chance to both rest and focus on the business aspects of football.
In the popular Madden NFL video game franchise, there are five separate stages to each offseason period that a player must complete to successfully simulate an offseason. Those stages are retiring players, re-signing players, free agency, the Draft, and roster adjustments. In the spirit of having to wait until September for the next regular season to start, here's a little simulation for how the Bengals should go about each stage of the offseason:
This is a fairly unpredictable thing to take account of. As far as I'm aware, no Bengals players are going to retire before the start of next season. Furthermore, none have so far. Therefore, we can probably leave this section alone for the sake of simplicity. It's possible a Bengals free agent or two could retire based on how their offseason plays out, but, that's not evident right now.
There are two parts to free agency: re-signing your players and acquiring outside free agents. Seeing as the Bengals typically don't make much of a splash for veteran talent in free agency, let's just focus on the re-signing aspect for now.
There's been a lot of talk about this aspect of the Bengals' offseason, given the 15 impending free agents, but here are the rumors we know of right now:
Mohamed Sanu: 'Virtually no chance' he will re-sign.
Reggie Nelson: 'Would love' to re-sign.
Vincent Rey: Bengals will push hard to re-sign.
Now, that's three free agency reports that we've heard about but there are 15 total contracts to deal with this offseason. Here's a quick breakdown on how I think they should approach the other 12 contracts:
Leon Hall - The team could benefit from having guys who are familiar with returning defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle to stick around and help mentor the young guys. Hall is a special case, but as long as he is willing to accept a more team friendly deal than he's been receiving and agree to the proper roster adjustments (see below), he could be one of the best re-signings of the offseason. The biggest issue with him last year was the fact that he took up $9.6 million in salary cap, but his on field production didn't match nearly that level of pay.
Andre Smith - Given the fact that the Bengals drafted two offensive tackles in the first two rounds of last year's draft, it doesn't really make much sense to re-sign Smith. He has been a constant thorn in the team's side for years. He's good enough at blocking to maintain his job while under contract and even receive a contract extension, but an array of costly penalties indicate he's just not worth the kind of money that he'll probably be able to get on the open market. The Bengals should definitely move on this offseason.
Adam Jones - Much like Hall, the experience factor and the previous playing experience with Kevin Coyle is huge here. Let's not forget, Jones had an incredible 2015 season and he might be 32, but he's a talented and productive 32 with the kind of passion that the Bengals don't want to lose. He could stand to clean up his game a bit, but I don't see any reason why the Bengals shouldn't pay him what he's worth.
Emmanuel Lamur - We're probably looking at Lamur's last few weeks with the team. A season ending knee injury last year hurt his stock, especially with so many free agents to consider this offseason. It's not his fault that he was injured, but he just wasn't productive enough when he was playing to really look past it.
Wallace Gilberry - Gilberry's upcoming contract talks might be the hardest to project without any reports surfacing regarding how the Bengals or Gilberry feel about the situation. Between his first two years with the Bengals (2011-12), he put up a total of 14.0 sacks. But, he's fallen off since then, only putting up 3.5 over the past two seasons. He's a good backup, but he could attract interest on the open market.
George Iloka - It would just be excellent if the Bengals could re-sign both Reggie Nelson and George Iloka heading into the offseason, and maybe they can. But Iloka is going to receive big offers if he hits the market and the Bengals may not be willing to match what he receives. With Nelson so eager to re-sign and Shawn Williams proving himself as a viable starting option at points last season, Bengals fans might have to get used to life after Iloka.
Eric Winston - The president of the NFLPA is probably one of the best investments the Bengals have ever made. He's by no means a star offensive lineman, but he's a reliable enough backup that the $950,000 he took up in salary cap last year seemed negligible. Resigning Winston is a must.
Brandon Thompson - The former 2012 third round pick hasn't exactly lit the NFL up in his opportunities on the field against inside offensive linemen. But, he also had one of the lowest cap casualties on the team - roughly $800,000 in 2015. Plenty of fans don't want to see the Bengals bring Thompson back this season, but it might make sense given his history of reliability.
Marvin Jones - I'm ordering these players based on how much salary cap they took up in 2015 and last season, Jones was still on his rookie contract and as a fifth round pick, he only took up about $700,000 in cap space last year. Given his production and talent, that's bordering on a miracle for the Bengals. They're going to have to pay him a hefty sum if they want to keep him in the future, and I think he's priority No. 1 this offseason. The Bengals should pay him what he wants.
Brandon Tate - Every year, many people who predict Tate won't have a chance at making the roster again that year. Even so, he sneaks his way back onto the team every year because he's versatile and (very) occasionally explosive. I don't think there's any room left for him on this roster, especially given the number of other free agents, but honestly, who knows with him?
Pat Sims - The team will probably be able to re-sign him for roughly the $665,000 cap hit that he took up last year, but it's no sure bet that Sims is retained, and if he is, it could be on a deal that allows the team to cut him before the season begins. Sims was an effective backup and occasional starter in his hey-day with Mike Zimmer's defenses. However, he was barely used last year and wasn't particularly effective when he was. This one's a toss up, but I'm guessing he doesn't come back.
T.J. Johnson - Johnson is a three year backup who hasn't started a single game and only played in 16 games over the past three years, often in garbage time. He's a restricted free agent, so without much game film to show other teams, the Bengals will probably be able to name their price with him.
It's a little early to be projecting what exactly the Bengals will be doing in the draft or who exactly they'll be looking at. But, the fact of the matter is they've got seven picks to make up for whichever free agents leave. Based on my predictions for free agency, this is how the Bengals should approach the draft:
Round 1, pick 24
The Bengals could be hurting at a lot of positions following the free agency period, but one to note in particular is wide receiver. Based on Mike Mayock's rankings, the Bengals are in the range that Corey Coleman (Baylor) and Josh Doctson (TCU) are expected to be selected..
Round 2, pick 56
If Coleman is off the board at 24, the Bengals might be able to wait until this spot to get Doctson. If not, Will Fuller out of Notre Dame could be a good prospect at this spot. It's also possible the Bengals could look to restock their secondary with a safety like Darian Thompson (Boise State).
Round 3, pick 88
Given the struggles of Russell Bodine, it might be a good idea to invest in a reliable center or versatile guard in the third round. There's a chance that Nick Martin could still be available this late. But, if not, Evan Boehm might be a decent pick here. It would be seen as a bit of a reach right now, but I only see his draft stock rising as the draft approaches.
Round 4, pick 120
With the team dealing with two cornerback deals in free agency this offseason, a mid-draft investment at cornerback might be necessary. Cyrus Jones out of Alabama fits the Bengals' defensive scheme and should be available in the fourth round.
Round 5, pick 152
As good as the Bengals' defensive line seems, a unit like that needs constant maintenance. The starting lineup of Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, and Michael Johnson seems effective enough to stick with, but a fifth round flier on someone like Ronald Blair out of Appalachian State wouldn't be a bad idea to help brace for the unknown future.
Round 6, pick 184
Another wide receiver might not be a bad idea this late in the draft. Potentially taking someone with the ability to return kicks and/or punts would help. But, in my view, taking a flier on a guy with elite level size but some technique problems like Thomas Duarte out of UCLA would be the right kind of gamble in the sixth round.
Round 7, pick 216
Finding a hidden gem in the seventh round is always one of the most exciting parts of mocking a full draft. One guy I like right now is Travis Freeny, an OLB from Washington. Teams might be scared off given how lean and gangly his frame is. But, as a potential backup or occasional nickle player, there's potential to be had.
In the Madden series, this is the part where you change players' positions to potentially get a bit more out of them, given their size and attributes at the time. Leon Hall is one player the Bengals should consider giving a positions change. Given all of the injuries throughout his career and his increasing age, he could be potentially rendered as a little used backup at cornerback.
When other formerly great cornerbacks get to this point in their careers, some switch to one of the safety positions so they can focus more on timing, zones, and angles rather than the pure speed of keeping up with some of today's quicker receivers. One of the more famous examples of this is Charles Woodson, but I think the move would suit Hall particularly well too.
Ultimately, some of these aspects of the offseason are pretty far away and it's hard to put together accurate predictions on that basis alone. Still, there's a lot to analyze as the Bengals' offseason wears on and we learn more about how things play out.