As March rolls on, there's still no question what the Bengals' biggest area of need is.
Wide receiver is still a position that will likely be addressed at several points this offseason, whether it's signing a guy in free agency and drafting another, or spending multiple draft picks on pass-catchers. But while the Bengals need help at receiver, they're not going to sign a big free agent who will keep them from getting compensatory picks for losing Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu.
Enter former Patriots receiver Brandon LaFell, who is reportedly set to visit Cincinnati.
I'm told WR Brandon LaFell will be visiting the #Bengals.— Rand Getlin (@Rand_Getlin) March 16, 2016
Because he was released this offseason, signing LaFell to a contract wouldn't factor into the Bengals' 2017 compensatory picks, where Cincy figures to get several quality picks thanks to Jones and Sanu signing big free agent deals elsewhere.
LaFell, now 29-years-old, entered this offseason in the final year of his three-year, $9-million deal and was set to make a base salary of $2.4 million for the 2016 season when the Patriots cut him loose less than a week before the start of free agency. Injuries plagued LaFell in 2015 and led to him opening the year on PUP after offseason foot surgery.
That led to LaFell playing in just 11 games for the Patriots and recording 37 catches for 515 yards and no touchdowns. Pro Football Focus has him rated as the No. 119 receiver out of 121 qualifying players. Despite his struggles, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick praised LaFell for his work ethic and battling back from his injury.
In 87 career games played with the Patriots and Panthers, LaFell has caught 278 passes for 3,853 and 20 scores across six seasons. While he probably won't be a big impact player for any offense, he's certainly capable of making up for the lost production of Sanu.
LaFell is one season removed from a 74 catch, 953 yard and 7 touchdown season so there's good reason to believe after an offseason of training rather than recovering, he could get back to that level of production. We all saw how much an offseason of working rather than rehabbing impacted Geno Atkins from 2014 to 2015.
LaFell is likely one of the best free agent options at wide receiver the Bengals could snatch up so it will be interesting to see how his visit goes.