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Cincy Jungle Roundtable: Thoughts on Bengals signing Brandon LaFell and Karlos Dansby

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Rebecca Toback, Anthony Cosenza, Jason Marcum and Connor Howe discuss the Bengals' recent free agent acquisitions.

The Bengals made two signings this week, bringing in a veteran linebackerKarlos Dansby and veteran wide receiver, Brandon LaFell. We gathered some of our staff to discuss the Bengals' latest free agency moves and how they impact the team going forward this offseason.

Rebecca Toback: Two signings in one day! Did the Bengals wake up thinking today was March 9th and free agency was just starting!?

Anthony Cosenza: It's been a weird free agency period by the team, to be sure. Unlike their usual method, they were very active right before and immediately after the onset of free agency, only with their own, subsequently laid low and then grabbed two previously-released veterans a couple of weeks later. The moves this week are more akin to what they have been doing in free agency in previous years, but I think they are solid signings nonetheless.

RT: Yeah, I would agree, and totally kidding about the first comment :) I think Dansby and LaFell are actually quality pickups at this point in free agency and they both should be big contributors in 2016. You can't say that about every (or maybe even most) free agency signings over the past few years.

AC: It's been one of their most active periods in recent memory, even though they lost a couple of starters. If they re-sign Reggie Nelson though, it will still be a pretty productive spring. How well do you think LaFell fits in to this offense, though? I worry expectations might be closer to what Jones brought, but I don't know that his numbers will reflect that.

Connor Howe: LaFell now gives the Bengals an offensive player with a Super Bowl ring, to match with A.J. Hawk on defense. Dansby's 2009 Super Bowl run with the Cardinals surely left a bitter taste in his mouth, and I'm certain he wants to help Cincinnati get over that hump just as much as any player who has been on the roster since 2011. But the Bengals aren't just adding experience; they're adding players who can be difference-makers on both sides of the ball. LaFell is a year removed from 953 yards and 7 touchdowns, while Dansby has tallied 100+ tackles in 4 of the last 5 seasons.

Jason Marcum: Nah. They always do this, sign guys who were cut and won't count against compensatory picks. They work the system well. You spend a third and fifth-round pick on Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, they have good but not great careers, then sign big contracts that will probably net them two 4th-round picks at least.

So the Bengals aren't going to sign normal free agents who count against that. But when guys like Brandon LaFell and Karlos Dansby are cut, they don't want to just sign with a team as soon as free agency starts. They wait a few weeks hoping teams miss out and/or lose guys at their position and can end up getting a nice deal.

The Bengals know this, so they're willing to wait and sign guys like LaFell and Dansby once they realize they're not getting bigger deals elsewhere. The Bengals would rather draft well and supplmenet their team with good role players like those two than sign big guys early in free agency who may end up giving their teams not much more production.

AC: Yeah. I think their goal is to go into the draft without any obvious glaring needs, even if Dansby and LaFell are stop-gap options. Opens things up for the best player available.

RT: Definitely. And, while LaFell's 2015 wasn't good, his 2014 really was. And the only glaring reason for that was his injury. We all saw in 2014 how an amazing player (Geno Atkins) can be impacted by not getting to train during the offseason. So, I'm really willing to give him the benefit of the doubt here.

CH: Personally, I think LaFell is an upgrade over Mohamed Sanu. He dropped a lot of passes last season, but he was playing through injury. Our receiving corps will definitely take a step back from last year, but I don't necessarily think that makes our offense worse. Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard will likely have expanded roles, and we could start seeing Ryan Hewitt on the field more. Do you guys think the personnel changes will change the way Ken Zampese pieces together the offense? I'd like to see some more I-formation and two tight end sets in 2016.

RT: think it's hard to know what to expect from the offense under Zampese, but I'd have to assume more two tight end sets would be a part of it.

AC: Things could change a little. I do like LaFell's size and with he, Green and Eifert, it provides a lot of size mismatches.

RT: Tyler Kroft showed some good potential and obviously with Tyler Eifert the sky is the limit. It should be really fun having Tyler squared on the field together.

AC: The key for Zampese is to not have LaFell try and be Marvin Jones or Mohamed Sanu, per se, but to use him to his respective strengths. He's a different player than those two.

CH: With Dansby at LB, do you guys still think the Bengals need to/will draft a linebacker in the upcoming draft? If so, what type of linebacker should the team be looking at? (MLB, coverage LB, etc.)

AC: I think they draft both a linebacker and receiver pretty high, regardless of the signings. Especially receiver.

JM: They may if it's a good value, but won't draft one until Round 4 in my opinion.

RT: I honestly don't think they should draft a linebacker. If you go through the current roster, it seems there are 6 guys competing for 1 job and then 5 un-cuttable players in addition to those 5 guys competing for the 6th job.

Un-cuttable: Burfict, Rey, Maualuga, Dansby, Dawson.

Competition: Hawk, Flowers, Mays, Jeff Luc, Trevor Roach, Jayson DiManche.

AC: True. I'd like to see them add an edge guy, though. An outside linebacker/"'tweener" who can get to the passer and play a little bit in space. Those are always valuable commodities to have, regardless of the defensive scheme.

CH: Haha I knew you were going to go there, AC. But I totally agree. We definitely need edge guys, especially considering Will Clarke is our current top rotational edge player.

AC: Haha yep. I've been on that train for years now. It never hurts to have a lot of able pass-rushers Back to LaFell though, I almost wonder if "their type" of wide receiver they covet in the draft changes with this signing. At 6'3", LaFell might be more of an outside option opposite Green. Will they be looking at more of a slot-type like a Sterling Shepard et al?

CH: I agree, it could definitely switch things up. I know they love Michael Thomas, but I find it hard to see how we'd be able to utilize Green, Thomas and LaFell at the same time. I think it should open up doors for the team to consider guys like Shepard, Will Fuller, Corey Coleman and Pharoh Cooper. Even a guy like Bralon Addison in Round 4 could be a huge fit, leaving the first three rounds to address players who could help out long-term, like a defensive lineman or corner.

JM: They should. I'd love to see them get Sterling in Round 2. There's not that many slot guys I like in this draft, but he's a good one. I'm high on Pharoh Cooper too since he really played a lot like Mo Sanu in that they'd use him in multiple ways, but he'd be an upgrade in terms of his actual receiver skills IMO. 
Bralon Addison is another quality guy. who actually could help on the return unit and may end up being an upgrade over Brandon Tate.

RT: I feel like regardless of the LaFell signing, a wide receiver who is ready to play on day 1 is necessary. LaFell shouldn't be relied on as a No. 2 WR so if he needs to be for a few weeks fine, but for the whole season, that's probably less fine (in my book, at least).

AC: Yeah, I agree. I think he can be productive for the Bengals, but Marvin Jones commanded attention from opposing defenses because of his big-play ability. It's why A.J. Green had arguably the best overall season in his career last year. I'm not sure LaFell strikes the same type of fear in defensive coordinators as Jones, so they might need to get one of the more complete wideouts in the draft. I'm still not counting a slot option out, though. J

CH: Also a really fair point. Man, things are so complicated. Hopefully Katie Blackburn and co. will continue to work the magic, continuing into the draft.

RT: I think this actually has to be the best (from a March perspective) Bengals free agency period in the last 5 years. What do you think?

AC: Hm. I'd probably need to re-review, but it's up there. I really liked both Sanu and Jones though--they had a great thing going on offense with those guys, so losing both knocks it down a couple of pegs for me. But, they kept other of their own key guys and the additions of Dansby and LaFell are solid.

RT: That's true. But, not overpaying for them also is a positive. How pissed would you be if the Bengals keeping Jones meant paying him $7 million a year?

AC: I mean, it's a lot, but they reportedly offered it to him, right? They felt he was worth it, as did another team, and I've learned to trust the front office ( I can't believe I just said that). It would stink to have $20 million in cap tied up in your two top wideouts, but Jones has been productive, the offense was clicking well with him in the lineup and the team always seems to have ample cap space every year. It would make me slightly uneasy, but if they viewed him as a "core guy", which they seem to have with the reported contract offer to him, I'd go with it.

RT: I can't believe YOU just said that either!

AC: Of all people, right?

RT: The Bengals must really be coming around if they earned your trust!

CH: I'm not sure where I stand on the issue, but I can see why the team was willing to pay the price. Teams like New England, Seattle and Denver have taken a star player-oriented approach, signing their top guys to big contracts and filling out the rest of the roster will filler players. Looking back at film, Marvin Jones was wide open on such a frequent basis. I hope LaFell can get open, because it's going to be hard to replace Jones' production. And the Bengals are great with the cap; I'm sure they could make it work. I mean they won't be paying Andrew Whitworth $9 million/season every year.

JM: I do think this signing, if it does nothing else, allows the Bengals to be a little more flexible in the draft and not feel forced to take a wide receiver at any point, instead picking the best one they can get that's good value where they're picking.

AC: It's easy to try and put a grade on the signing right now, but the truth is, we won't know how truly effective the signing is until the draft is over and we see LaFell on the field (obviously). It's kind of a mixed bag--I have relatively high expectations for him, but also think he might be lower on the pecking order, in terms of the team's receiving/tight end options in the passing game.

RT: I hope he ends up being lower in the pecking order because that would mean other Bengals receivers are stepping up and doing good work.... So, here's to guys like Kumerow, Alford and Wright showing up LaFell!

CH: Dansby will be 35 in November. I think Bengals fans are too quick to anoint him as the greatest signing of the past five years, but I also think he's better than A.J. Hawk. I don't think the LaFell signing is an A.J. Hawk-like signing, but I definitely don't think it will be a long-term solution if LaFell is expected to be more than the team's third-best wide receiver. Let's run more I-formation and two TE sets in 2016 and prove to the world that Andy Dalton isn't just a product of Hue Jackson or the weapons around him!

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