The 2016 offseason was a rough one for the Bengals. With more than a dozen unrestricted free agents to deal with, the team made the best of a bad situation and tried to retain as many players as possible. Unfortunately, the Bengals were unable to retain Reggie Nelson, Andre Smith, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Leon Hall, Wallace Gilberry and Emmanuel Lamur. Each player held a key role for the Bengals and, save for Lamur and Gilberry, all held down key starting roles in 2015.
However, in losing these key players, the Bengals were able to re-sign Pat Sims, Vincent Rey, Adam Jones, Eric Winston, George Iloka, and T.J. Johnson. Brandon Thompson and Brandon Tate were re-signed as well, but the former lost his entire season to an ACL injury suffered at the end of the 2015 season and the latter was cut due to the unexpected emergence of undrafted rookie receiver/returner Alex Erickson. In some cases, the Bengals made decisions that worked out last offseason, but other decisions were clear mistakes.
Cutting Brandon Tate
Tate was useful as both a low-end receiver and a reliable kick returner for years, although by the 2016 offseason it was painfully apparent that his lackluster performance just wasn’t cutting it anymore. The Bengals made a fantastic decision to replace Tate with Erickson, who finished the season as the AFC’s leader in average kick return yards and the NFL’s kick return yardage leader. It was a great rookie year on special teams for Erickson who looks to have his job locked up for next season. Cutting Tate and Erickson’s emergence also worked out well as Adam Jones had a very poor season as a returner after long excelling in that area for the Bengals.
Re-signing George Iloka
Although it was unfortunate that the Bengals had to choose between Nelson and Iloka, the Bengals made a great decision here. Re-signing Iloka and allowing Nelson to walk allowed the Bengals to give Shawn Williams his shot as a starting free safety, a role in which he performed well enough as a first time starter. The results weren’t anything spectacular, but they were solid and now the Bengals’ safety position looks secure through at least 2020.
Re-signing Vincent Rey
In a season where the Bengals’ linebacker corps generally struggled, the presence of a solid player like Vincent Rey was critical. He filled in while Vontaze Burfict was suspended and started a total of 12 games during the course of the season. The Bengals gave him a sizable three year, $10.5 million contract after proving himself with the team for six years and the results (12 starts: 48 tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery) were worth every penny. He’s the No. 1 backup among the linebacking group and a great presence on the unit. He’s reliable and Pro Football Focus actually ranked Rey as the 14th best linebacker in the NFL this year with a 84.9 grade, a career high.
Parting ways with Marvin Jones
The Bengals did a very good job of retooling their receiving corps in 2016 after losing both Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, but losing Jones was a huge blow regardless. He left the Bengals for an opportunity to be the No. 1 receiver with the Detroit Lions. He was for the first few weeks of the year, but then, his play fell off and Matthew Stafford seemed to find other receivers he preferred. Jones’ results in Detroit were up and down, but the Bengals clearly missed his impact. Brandon LaFell did a decent job of filling in with similar production in the passing game, but was not as effective as a runner, blocker, or distraction from A.J. Green.
Re-signing Brandon Thompson
It might not be entirely fair to criticize Thompson for being injured in 2016. But, on the Bengals’ end, it is impossible to deny that his contract extension paid off very little. He spent most of the 2016 season on the Physically Unable to Perform list and eventually was transferred to Injured Reserve. Because he lost all of the 2016 season on a one-year contract, it rolled over into 2017 because of the way the deal was structured. Still, the decision to re-sign him did nothing for the team but raise more questions. Now, he’ll have a chance to prove himself in 2017 and see if he can crack the 53-man roster.
Re-signing Adam Jones
After a stellar 2015 season, even considering his playoff meltdown, re-signing Jones seemed like a no-brainer. Even verging on 33-years-old, he was seen as the player who would help hold down a cornerback position in major transition for at least a few more years. A Pro Bowl berth in 2015 added to the push to re-sign the veteran cornerback. Unfortunately, his renewed contract brought uninspiring play at cornerback and punt returner and a felony assault arrest last month adds many questions to his future with the team. With the injury to William Jackson III, the Bengals needed some extra help at cornerback last season, but you would have Jones would have turned in better results after his contract extension, especially considering his standout 2015 season. Jones finished 2016 as PFF's 37th ranked cornerback. He logged 66 tackles, 7 passes defended and 1 interception.
Jury still out: Andre Smith
Smith was always inconsistent as the Bengals’ starting right tackle, but the position absolutely fell to pieces when the team allowed him to make the move to Minnesota. In the long run, the Bengals moving on from Smith will probably be a good thing, but the results in the first season just weren’t there. The right tackle position was arguably the Bengals’ biggest issue in 2016 and there doesn’t seem to be a suitable solution in place for 2017. Could Smith return to Cincinnati this season? It is possible...