The first 48 hours of free agency have brought a lot of activity for the Bengals free agents.
The Bengals have already had to watch some key players sign elsewhere, such as Mohamed Sanu heading to the Atlanta Falcons, Emmanuel Lamur signing with the Minnesota Vikings, and Marvin Jones going to the Detroit Lions. These have been hurtful blows to the team, but we have seen some great re-signings as well. Cincinnati was able to lock up Vincent Rey, Adam Jones, Eric Winston, Brandon Tate (who had already re-signed prior to Wednesday), and George Iloka. However, Iloka's signing likely means the end of Reggie Nelson's time in Cincinnati. We'll get into that more later, but it is surely going to hurt their defense not having Nelson there. With all that has gone on thus far, let's put all these signings together and see how the Bengals' free agency has gone as a whole.
We'll start with the players that the Bengals have managed to retain. First, the re-signing of the man who will almost certainly be the number one corner next season, Adam "Pacman" Jones, is arguably the most important signing the Bengals will make this offseason. We've already done an in-depth grading of this signing here, but Jones had three interceptions and 62 tackles last season, a year in which he showed not only how hard he works but also how intelligent he has become on the field. He prepares as well as anyone, watches tons of tape on his opponents, and knows all too well what he will see from the opposing offense each week. While he has struggled with self-discipline issues at times, there is no doubt that he works just as hard or harder than anyone else on the team, and comes into every game prepared. Hopefully the 32-year old veteran does not decline significantly before we reach the third year of the deal. If he stays healthy and well-conditioned, this will be an outstanding deal for the Bengals.
Another major re-signing for the Bengals is linebacker Vinny Rey. Rey signed a three-year, $11.5 million contract with Cincinnati on Thursday. Rey started eight games last season, so he has had experience as a starter and can be relied on to be on the field for a lot of snaps next year. This will be especially necessary with Emmanuel Lamur's signing with the Minnesota Vikings and Vontaze Burfict's three game suspension to start of the 2016 season. All-in-all, this is a good signing for the Bengals, as they get a linebacker back who is not yet 30-years-old after losing another linebacker in this free agency period.
A signing that not many are happy with is the one year re-signing of wide receiver Brandon Tate. Tate has been quite underwhelming in his time in Cincinnati. He isn't as good of a punt returner as Jones, and he has contributed very little to the receiving game as of late, as he only had one touchdown catch in 2015. The signing does not help the Bengals much, but it's not a major deal at all and likely isn't changing the free agent landscape for the Bengals.
T.J. Johnson was another player to get a one-year deal, as the exclusive rights free agent agreed to a deal worth less than $1 million for the 2016 season. If he makes the team, he should be right behind Russell Bodine at the center position. This deal, like Tate's, is a deal that does not too greatly impact the free agency outlook for the team.
One signing that may be overlooked by many is the signing of offensive lineman Eric Winston. Winston has been a crucial factor off the bench for the Bengals' o-line. Being 32, it would not have been smart to sign him to a multi-year deal. He will likely continue to get one-year contracts as long as the Bengals see fit. It was certainly smart for the Bengals to sign Winston as a veteran presence and experienced leader, and a one year deal makes it an even better signing.
The last signing to look at that the Bengals have made this week is the re-signing of safety George Iloka. Iloka, who will turn 26 this summer, is now going to be the Bengals' top safety for the foreseeable future, and his is a signing that keeps at least one star free agent in Cincinnati after they lost both Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. The deal is good, but it also will likely bring the end of Reggie Nelson's time in stripes, which will hurt the defense next season.
Nelson picked off eight passes last year, which was tied for the league lead, and tacked on two fumble recoveries, which made him the number one defender in takeaways in 2015. Nelson turns 33 in September, and while he still has some good years left in him, he does not have the longevity that Iloka has when comparing the two at this moment.
Nelson would be an instant star on defense and would likely be a top defender for the Bengals. If forced to choose between the two, Iloka would be the smarter choice when trying to build a team to contend for years. However, you do have to account for the fact that the Bengals' championship window is open right now. With a quarterback who proved to have MVP-like capabilities last season combined with A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert as receiving options, multiple dangerous running backs, and a stout defense that is hoping to stay together through this free agency period, the Bengals need to be looking to win now.
You can't dispute that the Iloka deal is a great one, but losing Nelson is a side effect that could harm the team. If they can somehow manage to bring both of them back, this becomes a huge win for the Bengals and their defense in 2016.
The two major losses are the wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. Sanu signed with the Atlanta Falcons to replace Roddy White, and Jones signed with the Detroit Lions to try to fill the void left by the retirement of Calvin Johnson.
The losses of these two will certainly hurt the Bengals' receiving corps. This could be brutal for Cincinnati's passing game in 2016, but they'll likely look to rebuild in the draft and potentially pick up a wide receiver in free agency down the line. However, that does not mean that the loss of these two is 100 percent a negative for the Bengals. They saved quite a bit of cap space by not signing either receiver, as Sanu is earning an average of $6.5 million over five years in Atlanta, and Jones will get an average of $9 million through the first three years of his contract with the Lions. That would be a lot of money to pay for #2 and #3 receivers behind A.J. Green, and it would be questionable to offer that much money to one position group. This gives the Bengals some extra room to go after an outside free agent receiver or two who may be able to keep the Bengals' receivers just as much of a threat as they were last season.
Losing the second and third receivers from last season certainly hurts, but the money saved can help the Bengals bounce back.
The last signing by a now-former Bengal is linebacker Emmanuel Lamur. Lamur is linking back up with Mike Zimmer in Minnesota, signing a two-year, $6 million deal. This is a loss to the depth Cincinnati had at linebacker, but Vincent Rey's signing assures that they don't lose too much depth at the position. Losing Lamur could become an opportunity for P.J. Dawson to shine in the coming years.
How do the Bengals' first few days of free agency look as a whole?
Grade: B. I give the Bengals a B on the first 48 hours of free agency. The players they have lost (or will lose in Nelson's case) could hurt them badly in 2016. It will be difficult to replace both Jones and Sanu this offseason, and not having Nelson will hurt them in terms of shutting down opposing offenses by forcing turnovers. However, they have locked down some vital pieces of their team for the future. Jones is going to be a starting cornerback for the foreseeable future, and George Iloka will be their #1 safety. Vinny Rey's signing saves Cincinnati from feeling the loss of Lamur, and Winston's signing improves depth on the offensive line for 2016. As for losing their 2nd and 3rd-best receivers, they could potentially make up for it in the money they save, and could find receiving prospects through the draft like they have done before. Signing Jones and Sanu at the prices they received from other teams would have been costly, and perhaps not worth it in the long run.
The Bengals signed some key players, helped maintain depth, and cut their losses in order to prepare to make other moves in the first two days of free agency.