After resigning starting safety George Iloka for the next five seasons and losing wide receiver Marvin Jones to the Lions, the Bengals managed to keep their other key free agent, Pro-Bowl cornerback Adam Jones, and their utility man at linebacker, Vincent Rey, for three more years. They also let Swiss Army knife Mohamed Sanu go on to greener pastures, but so far, and for now, there's nothing to hold against the team in the early free agency period.
With Jones leaving for a bigger role and a chance to become a great player in Detroit, there was nothing the Bengals could do about it. They reportedly offered him a deal in range with the Lions' offer, but he wanted to be more than Cincinnati's third or fourth option on offense. As a talented, young player, it made sense for the Bengals to try to keep him, but he wanted something the team could never give him. Without him, Sanu's situation did not change. Cincy needed a reliable number two receiver who could play outside and take advantage of the double-teams that A.J. Green often draws. The former Rutgers player is a solid jack of all trades and was valuable to the Bengals offense because of his ability as a slot receiver with sharp route-running skills, but there was no way the Bengals were going to pay him what other franchises would be willing to offer him as a number two. Now, Cincinnati needs another wideout opposite of Green, but they can get that via the draft or a veteran free agent.
Adam Jones was the free agent I was most prepared to see leave. His contract didn't break the bank, though, and the Bengals were not going to find anyone as talented for that money. A bit of continuity in the secondary is also nice, given Vance Joseph's departure and all the question marks beyond the starters. This allows the Bengals to look elsewhere with their first round pick in the draft as well, and maybe they can get the defensive lineman of the future to pair with Geno Atkins, or a wide receiver to pair with Green.
Vinny Rey is the kind of guy coaches want on their teams, and he has been a nice role player with the Bengals over the years I'm only concerned that this deal means the Bengals are not looking for an upgrade at the weakest position they have, but Rey is a good complementary player who can help any team, so I'm fine with having him back, even though I'd love Cincy to gain some athleticism at linebacker.
It seems like they have done their homework in the early part of free agency, re-signing the young solid players who hit the market or at least trying their best to do so. They weren't complacent, letting Iloka go just because Shawn Williams is cheaper and ready to step into a bigger role. Jones left, but that is a good sign of the depth the team has. As good as he is, Green and Eifert are better at their respective positions. However Cincinnati tried to keep him because they were better with him on the roster.
There are a couple of key veterans still unsigned, like Reggie Nelson and Leon Hall. I'd love to see them back, but letting them go, or failing to bring them back, is not like losing a 25-year-old starter entering his prime years. It is time for the young guys they drafted to play in the secondary, like Darqueze Dennard, Josh Shaw and Shawn Williams. So, if Nelson and Hall play somewhere else next season, the Bengals will have prospects lined up to replace them. Iloka said as much last week, telling Cincy Jungle, "We have depth and that will never change. If they don’t get Reggie [Nelson] back it’ll be me and Shawn [Williams] and we’ll pick up where things left off."
Of course there are some holes to plug in the current roster, such as that number two receiver, another defensive tackle, more rotation at defensive end or an athletic linebacker, but I think Cincinnati has done its best in the market for now. There will be more chances for some young players and they will try to restock with the draft. But, they are in as good a position now as they were last season before Andy Dalton's injury.