The Bengals typically have for a quality under-the-radar signing each year, and in 2016, that turned out to be wide receiver Brandon LaFell.
Released by the Patriots after a poor, injury-plauged 2015 season, LaFell had a surprisingly good season for the Bengals in 2016, both when he played next to A.J. Green and when he was forced to be the No. 1 receiver due to Green’s hamstring injury.
In his seventh NFL season, LaFell finished second on the team in both receptions (64) and receiving yards (862), while leading the team in touchdown receptions with six. He was arguably the MVP of the offense during the last two months of the season when Green and Tyler Eifert missed time down the stretch.
LaFell was targeted 43 times during the final five regular-season games, and he caught 28 of those passes, good for a 65-percent catch rate. He also finished with a respectable ranking as the 42nd best receiver among 115 eligible receivers in Pro Football Focus’ ranking.
All of this is why re-signing with the Bengals is something LaFell would love to do this offseason as he enters free agency.
“I’d definitely like to be back but it’s out of my hands, man,” LaFell told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Whatever happens, happens. But hopefully I’ll be able to come back because I feel like in the second year within the offense with Andy (Dalton), I think I’ll be even better.”
While LaFell would love to be back with the team that helped revive his career after it appeared to be falling off, he also knows he’s earned the security of a multi-year deal, and that’s what he’s after this offseason.
“Everybody wants that security, that multi-year deal with a little security, but hey man, at the end of the day free agency is free agency,” LaFell said. “You never get what you want, you get what you deserve. I’m a firm believer of that. So whatever I get that’s what the man upstairs feels like I deserve.
“Whatever happens, it happens. Me coming in playing on a one-year deal, that was pretty a much a prove it deal. I proved I could stay healthy, I proved I could catch the ball consistently. I felt like I did that. So whatever happens in March or whenever it happens, it’ll be a blessing.”
At this stage, it’s hard to project what LaFell will command on the open market, which the Bengals should probably let him test. It’s possible he doesn’t command anything more than what he got last year, a one-year incentive-heavy deal, which the Bengals ultimately gave him.
LaFell is 30 and will turn 31 in November during what will be his eighth NFL season. His age will likely keep his market from being big, though a receiver-needy team with a ton of cap space could offer him a nice deal.
Ultimately, I think LaFell will end up re-signing with the Bengals.