It's been a roller coaster of an offseason for the Cincinnati Bengals, who did a lot of work this spring--both in retaining some of their better impending free agents, and engaging in fierce negotiations with those who ended up leaving. The team faced losing both of their high-quality starting safeties from 2015 in George Iloka and Reggie Nelson, but they were able to retain the former on a five-year deal.
Cincinnati couldn't hang on to Nelson though, but it wasn't due to a lack of effort on their end. Some reports had the Bengals offering Nelson similar money to what Iloka ended up taking, but he eventually signed a two-year, $8.5 million deal to bolt to the Oakland Raiders. Apparently, while the Bengals worked for almost a month into the official onset of free agency to sign Nelson, his agent didn't seem agreeable on what terms the Bengals were throwing out there, per former Bengals offensive lineman and current team radio analyst, Dave Lapham.
Lap says he's been told Reggie Nelson's agent was problematic in negotiations. #Bengals— Lance McAlister (@LanceMcAlister) April 21, 2016
While this could definitely be the case, Cincinnati's front office has a bit of a reputation for playing hardball in contract talks. Perhaps the most obvious case of such tactics were on display in 2009 with the team's first stint on HBO's "Hard Knocks". Just-drafted first round pick Andre Smith was in the middle of a nasty holdout, mostly stemming from a lack of a rookie wage scale at the time, and Bengals Executive Vice President Katie Blackburn wasn't bending on much from what we saw from the cameras.
It was a tough year for Nelson and safeties in general, in terms of getting lucrative deals. Though Nelson was coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he co-led the NFL with eight interceptions in 2015, Nelson is going to be 33-years-old early in the regular season, and teams were largely scared away from him. MMQB's Andy Benoit recently had insight on the lack of interest by teams in the position, as proven by Nelson's month on the open market.
Nelson is represented by Enter Sports Management, and its been said that at least one of the major sticking points was guaranteed money. It's an area where the Bengals have lost out on other high-profile internal free agents such as Johnathan Joseph, and Lapham referenced the length of the agreement and amount of guaranteed money in another recent interview.
While Nelson's agent may have been difficult to deal with, contract negotiations are always a two-sided affair. Only Nelson's play in 2016 will show how much he's really worth.