The receiving trio of A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu may go down as one of the most productive and well-liked receiving groups the Cincinnati Bengals have ever had. Sure, the early and mid-2000s brought us the trio of Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and the late Chris Henry, but off-field incidents and a clashing with the organization at times were also part of their Bengals tenures.
Unfortunately for the Bengals, 2016 brings them a search for a new pair of wide receivers. Green will still headline the group, but the speedy Jones took an $8 million a year deal with the Lions, while Sanu took a $6.5 million per year deal to go to Atlanta. While the Bengals reportedly offered Jones a similar deal to what he received in Detroit, both deals were eyebrow-raisers for players who still have question marks, in terms of their ability to take on bigger roles than what they had in Cincinnati.
While the Lions and Falcons are excited about their recent signings, the national scope of the contracts have largely been critical of the amount of money thrown at the two respective wideouts. "If (Marvin) Jones plays at his current level, the Lions simply overpaid for an additional complementary receiver," writes Kristopher Knox of Bleacher Report. "If, however, Jones regresses in the production department without A.J. Green playing opposite him, this could end up looking like one of the worst deals of the entire offseason,"
As for Sanu, Knox writes: "Given Sanu's past production, it feels like the Falcons overpaid in a big way. According to OverTheCap.com, Sanu's new deal is for five years and $32.5 million with $14 million fully guaranteed. If Sanu cannot establish himself as an upper-tier player, $6.5 million a year is going to feel like a lot."
Mike Clay of ESPN agrees with the sentiment.
Bengals Mailbag: Obsessing over wide receivers after loss of Sanu and Jones
The Bengals retained a number of key players once free agency hit, but lost arguably their best guy on the list in Marvin Jones. What are the Bengals going to do with the remainder of free agency, and is an answer to Jones' departure already in their possession?
If the Bengals were to sign Jones at a similar contract to what he received in Detroit, they would have about $20 million in cap hits to their top-two wide receivers on the roster. If they dealt one to Sanu and structured it similarly to how the Falcons did, the Bengals would still be looking at about a $15.4 million hit in 2016. While both were valued and productive members of the offense, it's hard to see the team making decisions like that--especially for one player who has battled injuries and another, inconsistencies in their young careers.
With the projected 2016 cap hit for the No. 24 pick in the draft hovering around the $2 million mark, and the No. 55 pick looking to have a sub-$1 million cap hit this year, the Bengals could get a talented receiver high in the draft for much cheaper. Of course, there is the risk of him not being as good one-the-field, or in the locker room as Sanu and Jones, as well as the possibility of having difficulty in grasping the offense or being an NFL bust.
Really, the Sanu and Jones deals show the bittersweet nature of free agency and player development. The Bengals made two solid draft choices in 2012, brought them along and they left for big paydays when the time came. While they save money and rely on their draft process for replacements, Cincinnati still has to completely re-tool the position group and see two likable, productive players leave.
Detroit and Atlanta have likely excited their fan bases with the signings, but they also made slight moves of desperation because of the departures of Calvin Johnson and Roddy White, respectively. While it was wise of them to make moves to remedy the losses, the consensus seems to be that they overpaid for two players who fit the Bengals' system and thrived in it.