The offseason is a great time to fantasize about what we hope our favorite NFL teams will do, even if we know it’s highly unlikely.
That’s definitely true of NFL free agency, where Bengals fans are always dreaming of what big-name player the team could sign and possibly get the Bengals over the hump. While it’s rare to see a big-name signing push a team from a 6-9-1 record to a legit Super Bowl contender, it’s certainly possible and a positive step.
After all, just getting healthy will be a huge addition to this team next season, so adding an impact free agent on top of that could actually propel this team into title contention.
That was the case last year when a young and rising Falcons team signed Alex Mack in free agency. That ended up being among the missing pieces in Atlanta’s offense that helped make it the best in the NFL and pushed them into the Super Bowl. The Falcons also added former Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu in last year’s free agency, too.
For the Bengals, there are several players hitting free agency that could have a Mack-like impact. Among them is Dontari Poe, one of the game’s best nose tackles and someone who could be the missing piece to making Cincinnati's defense elite.
As much as the Chiefs might want to retain Poe, they won't have the funds to pay him, Berry and Charles this offseason. In fact, given that they are near the bottom of the barbecue pit in available cap dollars (according to OverTheCap.com), the Chiefs might only be able to pay Berry.
Staying in the AFC, the Bengals need to replace long-time veteran Domata Peko in the middle of that defense. Poe would be an instant upgrade, allowing Vontaze Burfict to run free and make plays.
Unfortunately, the Bengals aren’t going to pay out the kind of contract Poe is projected to land, which could pay him around $12 million annually. The Bengals would rather re-sign Domata Peko and see what Andrew Billings could do next season, but it’s still fun to think about Poe in this defense.
The same is also true of Jason Pierre-Paul, who Pro Football Focus (via ESPN) thinks Cincinnati should add to their enigmatic pass rush.
The Bengals are not without pass-rushing threats on defense, with end Carlos Dunlap and tackle Geno Atkins ranking among the top-15 players at their respective positions in terms of their pass-rushing productivity ratings. Still, the opportunity to add another top edge defender to make the Bengals' defensive front even tougher to stop should be enticing for Cincinnati. Pierre-Paul is coming off one of his most productive seasons with the Giants as a pass-rusher, registering 54 total pressures before his season came to an end in Week 13. A fully healthy trio of Dunlap, Atkins and Pierre-Paul could vault the Bengals back to the playoffs in 2017.
You probably know by now that, despite Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap having Pro Bowl-level seasons, the Bengals still were among the league’s worst at rushing the passer, registering just 33 sacks last year while having a five-game stretch in which they had just seven sacks from Weeks 8-13. They went 1-3-1 in those games, and that stretch was effectively what knocked them out of the playoff hunt.
Even more painful was that those four non-wins were decided by a grand total of 10 points. Just having a little more pass rush could have been the difference in all four games, and a guy like JPP could help turn potential losses of that magnitude into wins.
The Giants defensive end has 50 career sacks in 95 games, including 37.5 in 59 games from 2011-14 before his hand injury from a fireworks accident limited him to one sack in eight games in 2015. He rebounded with seven sacks in 12 games last year, but his market is very hard to project. It’s possible a team like Cincinnati could sign him for a manageable deal if they pursue him, but, he surely wants big-time money.
It’s highly unlikely JPP, Poe or any big-name free agent signs with the Bengals this offseason, but that won’t keep us from at least dreaming about it.