The Cincinnati Bengals have officially signed wide receiver Brandon LaFell, the team announced Thursday.
This has been in the works for over two weeks after LaFell originally visited Cincinnati on March 16th, but did not immediately agree to a deal. It's likely he was gauging his market and looking for the best fit before finally signing with the Bengals on the final day of March.
This could turn into one of the better value signings any team makes this offseason as LaFell is still theoretically in the prime of his career. At just 29 years of age with six years of NFL experience under his belt, LaFell should still be able to play at a high level if he's healthy and able to learn the Bengals' offensive system.
New offensive coordinator Ken Zampese is certainly happy about the Bengals landing LaFell.
"I am fired up, excited to have Brandon on our team," said Zampese in a press release. "We had a great visit when he came in, and I think he’s a really good player who’s going to fit right in for us. I like his style, his work ethic and his consistency, both on the field and just as a person. He’s got great experience, and a lot of toughness, too."
LaFell was cut earlier this offseason by the New England Patriots after an up-and-down two years in Foxborough. The high point featured a win in Super Bowl 49 when he caught a touchdown in a 28-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks. That year, LaFell caught 74 balls for 953 yards and seven touchdowns while becoming a focal point in the Pats' offense.
But offseason foot surgery last year led to LaFell missing the entire offseason and opening the season on PUP. That led to LaFell playing in just 11 games with 37 catches for 515 yards and no touchdowns this past season.
Pro Football Focus ranked him as their third-worst wide receiver among qualified players. Speaking of, PFF gave this signing a 'meh' type of assessment, noting he's not going to be a stud, but should be a nice contributor to the Bengals and should put up numbers resembling a No. 3 receiver.
LaFell was a major disappointment for the Patriots in 2015, and he finished the season as our 119th-ranked wideout, earning a 47.0 overall grade (out of 100). He played in 11 games, catching 37 passes for 515 yards and no touchdowns.
LaFell is primed for a bounce-back season with the Bengals. He fills a void in Cincinnati’s receiving corps, as the team lost Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu to free agency. As of now, LaFell is in line to be second on the team’s depth chart behind stud A.J. Green, but he will have to compete for targets — particularly valuable red zone targets — with tight end Tyler Eifert. Cincinnati might also spend a high draft pick on a wide receiver, so this remains a fluid situation.
Before signing with New England in 2014, LaFell enjoyed a productive four-year career with the Carolina Panthers. Originally a third-round pick out of LSU in the 2010 NFL Draft, LaFell went on to become a reliable No. 2 and 3 receiver for Carolina, but never had more than 677 receiving yards and five scores in a season.
LaFell would top both marks in his first year in New England, even though he was often the third or fourth passing option behind Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.
In 87 career games played with the Patriots and Panthers, LaFell has 278 catches for 3,853 and 20 touchdowns through six seasons. It's unclear where he fits in among the Bengals' offense as the NFL draft has yet to take place, and Cincy could spend one or two high picks on receivers.
For now, LaFell should be penciled in as the No. 2 boundary receiver as Marvin Jones' replacement. Ideally, the Bengals will be able to land a good slot receiver since that's the biggest question mark now. It's possible they draft a high-ranking boundary receiver, but they don't need to force that now that LaFell is with the Bengals.
Whatever happens, LaFell should have a positive impact on the Bengals this coming season as they look to contend for a Super Bowl. While losing guys like Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu hurts, LaFell has shown he can put up similar production to what Sanu offered, at a minimum.
But more importantly, LaFell offers the Bengals another veteran presence with Super Bowl experience, something they've severely lacked.