The Bengals rarely rely on external free agents to fill their roster. They like continuity and want to keep their own guys around. It's been awhile since the Bengals made a big splash in free agency. Last year, they added a few key pieces with players like Michael Johnson and Pat Sims, but most of the work they did in the offseason revolved around resigning their own players and finding solid additions from the draft to round out the roster.
In a recent interview with The Cincinnati Enquirer, Bengals Director of Player Personnel, Duke Tobin, talked about free agency in the same terms:
"We want our guys back. That’s no secret. People know that we want the players who have done well for us to come back."
"It’s no secret we’re going to focus on our guys and we’re going to focus on our young guys, developing them into those positions, and this crop of new guys. That’s going to be our focus. Then if we have to fill in with somebody else’s free agents, that’s the last component that we normally look at it. But if we were lose a lot of our guys, there’s going to be a point where we start looking maybe at some other veteran-type guys and we’ll see if they’re going to be a fit for us. We don’t swear that off. It’s just not our main source of players."
As Tobin mentions, free agency is, "just not our main source of players," which is fine because the team has been pretty good for the past few years and they really have tons of good, young players on the roster waiting for a chance to shine.
Cincinnati also has a pretty long list of unrestricted free agents and some of them are going to be highly coveted by other teams, like, let's say, Cleveland. And while some of those holes could be plugged in the draft, Tobin also hinted that it's not the best case scenario to rely on rookies.
"It’s not ideal when you’re reliant on first year players, young players, coming in and producing for you right away. Now, if they come in and show that they can produce, we’ll let them produce, but it’s not ideal saying oh, OK, we’ve got to draft a guy that’s got to come in and fill this position immediately. So we’ve gotten our team to the point where our young guys can come in, learn, develop at the pace that they can learn and develop at and then move into the role. That’s kind of the ideal situation. So, we’re not really wanting to get into a situation where we’re saying well, we’ve got to pick a guy here and he’s got to come in and start immediately."
So there may be a couple of players, like Michael Johnson and A.J. Hawk last season, who are brought in to play a role on next year's Bengals squad.
With all of this in mind, let's look at Cincinnati's needs come 2016: nose tackle, athletic linebacker, wide receiver, defensive end. Some of these positions will be addressed via the draft, but I'm creating a wish list, and it's a fun game to play. So let's see which pending free agents from other teams could be realistic options for the Bengals to target:
Ahtyba Rubin: He could be what the doctor ordered for the run defense, as he's been pretty good in Seattle's 4-3 scheme.
Ian Williams: He has experience as 4-3 defensive tackle, despite spending his whole career in San Francisco.
Zach Brown: He lost his job as starter in Tennessee last season, so his value could be right where the Bengals could make a play for him.
Mike Morgan: He won't be the next Malcolm Smith, but playing for the Seahawks has given him good experience in the league.
Keenan Robinson: Will Jay Gruden let Robinson leave via free agency? He is only 26-years-old and would come with a reputation for missing tackles. He lost his job in the middle of last season, but he has great size and athleticism.
Jamari Lattimore: His one-year deal with the Jets did not pan out but he was serviceable with the Packers before that and looked like a leader on the field in Green Bay.
Travis Benjamin: Now, this could be an awesome coup. He's not a number one receiver, sorry Cleveland, but he could fit in nicely on the Bengals.
Ricardo Lockette: Lockette played only eight games in 2015, recording 4 receptions for 69 yards, but he would likely come at a low cost if the Seahawks part ways with the backup wide receiver.
Rishard Matthews: Depending on his price tag, Matthews could be a good option, too. The Dolphins wide receiver records 662 yards and 4 touchdowns this season.
Andre Branch: After four solid years of production in Jacksonville, he might be hitting the market at the wrong time - for him, not the team that may look to claim him.
Adrian Clayborn: Clayborn had a somewhat bounce back season as a backup in Atlanta but doesn't have high upside.
George Selvie: He had a solid season three years ago with Dallas and is still only 28. I know he could not earn a starting job with the Giants, though
Which players would you like to see the Bengals explore externally in free agency?