In the Bengals’ 2016 offseason, things got a bit crazy. Quite a few players and coaches departed while new faces were brought in at so many positions that the team clearly experienced quite a few chemistry issues throughout most of the year. One of the biggest events of the offseason was the Bengals losing No. 2 wide receiver Marvin Jones to the Detroit Lions and No. 3 wide receiver Mohamed Sanu to the Atlanta Falcons. In response, the Bengals, for the most part, did what they usually do and looked to the depths of their roster, the draft, and college free agency to fill the voids. But, they also stepped a bit out of character to sign a fairly well-known veteran free agent in Brandon LaFell, a six-year veteran formerly of the Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots.
The Bengals only signed LaFell to a low-risk $2.5 million contract for one year. That way, they could move on if he turned out like the majority of the team’s free agent signings at the wide receiver position in recent history. Arguably, his production in 2016 was more than enough to justify bringing him back. But, he will almost definitely require a much more significant fiscal commitment from the team this time around, so there is definitely reason for debate as to whether he should return.
103 games played: 342 catches, 4,715 yards, 26 touchdowns; 11 runs for 130 yards.
2016 season stats
16 games played: 64 catches, 862 yards, 6 touchdowns; 1 run for -2 yards.
Case against re-signing LaFell
Did LaFell have a good season? Sure. But, he had a good enough season that he is probably going to get plenty of looks from other teams if he decides to test free agency. Due to his age (30), he probably won’t see the massive contract that Jones got with the Lions (5 years, $40 million), despite similar numbers. But, he is most likely going to require a sizable financial commitment in addition to a multiple year deal from the team who signs him.
If the Bengals don’t give him what he or his agent thinks he can get, he will almost definitely test the waters. The Bengals are his third NFL team, so any team that signs him gets the added benefit of him being used to the relocation process and knowing how things work when joining a new team. Furthermore, a big reason he came to the Bengals was to play for a contender. But, Cincinnati absolutely did not live up to those expectations in 2016. So, he might have less reason to listen to a conservative offer this time around from the Bengals.
In short, the Bengals don’t want to spend too much money on a player who is on the wrong side of 30. That is especially true when they already have so much talent at the position and are already impressively good at finding new talent when the need arises.
Argument for re-signing LaFell
There's a solid and relatively obvious reason for re-signing LaFell. He was brought in to help replace the production of the players the Bengals lost in free agency. Through training camp and the preseason, he secured the No. 2 spot at wide receiver, so there is no doubt that he will be compared to Jones. Everyone (myself included) was so worried about losing Jones’ production (65 catches for 816 yards and four touchdowns in 2016), that we didn’t consider the possibility that the Bengals could find someone who could replicate that production.
Compared to Jones’ production last year, LaFell caught one less pass but put up 46 more yards and two more touchdowns in the process. Granted, he arguably had more of an opportunity this year as A.J. Green went from a full 16-game season in 2015 to only a 10 game season this year. More was certainly asked of LaFell this year than of Jones last year. But, that doesn’t change the fact that LaFell’s numbers were better.
Sure, he’s 30, but wide receivers are not running backs. Remember when Terrell Owens spent a season in Cincinnati and was the team’s top receiver? He was 37 and on the brink of retirement, but still produced at a high level. LaFell has plenty of time left to continue to be great so the Bengals might as well take advantage of his skillset and experience with the team while they already have his foot in the door. The Bengals wouldn’t want to re-sign him if it impedes their ability to re-sign someone like Kevin Zeitler or Rex Burkhead. But, he and Green should make a great veteran tandem for at least a few more years, helping mentor young guys like Tyler Boyd, Cody Core, and Alex Erickson.
Priority to re-sign: Medium.