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The Review: Bengals compensatory picks and free agents

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Josh Kirkendall makes an appearance as he attempts to get caught up with the Cincinnati Bengals.

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Cincinnati Bengals Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Wait, what are you doing here? What am I doing here?

My life has become a constant turn of specific events, causing my focus to shift toward real-life subjects, such as work, eliminating the abundance of time I banked for a habit that eventually became CJ. Thanks to the warm leadership currently kicking ass at CJ, I’m getting my feet wet again to get back into the swing of things; such as literally researching what the Bengals are up to these days (and you’re more than welcome to correct me as I stumble back into a routine of all things orange and black).

Here we go (deep breath).

Cincinnati was awarded four compensatory picks last week by the NFL Management Council, giving the Bengals an extra pick in the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh rounds respectively. Obviously, most of you are familiar with this. I only learned about it while waiting for a table at “The Eagle” on Saturday night. This Management Council, a “non-profit” group assembled with NFL owners (including Bengals Executive Vice President Katie Blackburn as a “Super Bowl Advisory”), addresses an array of complex issues, including how compensatory picks are awarded.

It’s hardly a secret that the league’s compensatory formula is a Hardy Boys mystery with an explanation that’s so famously generic you question why they need to use in the word “formula” in the first place. Per the NFL:

Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. The formula was developed by the NFL Management Council. Not every free agent lost or signed by a club is covered by this formula.

Cool.

Obviously the over-simplistic explanation relies on a reader’s logical (if not practical) perspective; if a team has a net loss of free agents during free agency, they will be compensated through draft picks the following year. Aside from, “not every free agent lost or signed by a club is covered by this formula” being a humorous footnote, you tend to accept this as law and move on.

OverTheCap.com, a fantastic website designed around the finances of the league (mostly player contracts) breaks down as much as possible, but even they failed to accurately predict compensatory picks for 2017, forecasting two fourth-round picks and two sixth rounders for Cincinnati. We’re not criticizing; only showing how difficult it is to predict a system that even the National Security Agency has failed to penetrate.

Why is it so important to protect this formula when its sole purpose, for fans and the media, would generate harmless offseason fodder? Are there more political ramifications with a committee full of NFL owners? Is there even a formula to begin with? Should we really care?

“Eh, Andre Smith is worth a seventh-round pick.”

But why?

After signing a one-year deal worth $3.5 million with the Minnesota Vikings, Smith was placed on Injured Reserve in mid-October when he suffered a triceps injury during week four. He only played four games. Now there’s talk about Smith possibly returning; because nothing says Cincinnati Bengals like recycling. However, there were no comparable signings by the Bengals that would have offset Smith’s departure in 2016, giving the Bengals a compensatory pick that presumably became a seventh-round pick.

While we’re at it, why weren’t Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu graded as third-round compensatory selections? Marvin Jones signed a five-year deal worth $40 million with the Detroit Lions, posting a career-high 930 yards receiving in 15 games, and made a postseason appearance against the Seattle Seahawks. Mohamed Sanu signed a five-year deal worth $32.5 million with the Atlanta Falcons, setting a career-high with 59 receptions in 15 games, and actually played in the Super Bowl. Every generic marker is checked (significantly I might add) for both players: money, playing time, postseason.

When we contacted the NFL via SatansSpermBank@nfl.com for an explanation, we received no response. And it’s unlike the NFL to conduct themselves shrouded by so much mystery.

Regardless, the Bengals obtained a fourth (No. 138), fifth (No. 178), sixth (No. 219), and seventh-round compensatory pick (No. 253), giving Cincinnati multiple selections during the conclusive four rounds during the 2017 NFL Draft.

Compensatory picks, subject to trade for the first time in 2017, provides Cincinnati with added ammunition to move up into the draft. And there are plenty of examples of Cincinnati conducting trades during the draft to support this belief:

  • In 2014, Cincinnati swapped fourth round picks with Seattle, while shipping a sixth-round selection to the Seahawks because the team really, really, really wanted center Russell Bodine.
  • In 2012, the Bengals swapped first-round picks with the New England Patriots, acquiring an additional third-round pick, eventually drafting Kevin Zeitler when the entire region was salivating for David DeCastro.
  • In 2004, the Bengals made multiple trades with the Denver Broncos and St. Louis Rams, acquiring Deltha O’Neal from the Broncos and selecting running back Chris Perry.

Obviously those examples do not apply compensatory selections as trade ammunition due to league rules (while, I’m convinced the NFL generates rules because 1) they’re bored, or 2) need to prove relevancy… you know, like Congress). With the ability to trade compensatory selections, it adds a level of intrigue during the NFL draft.

Moving on. Free agency.

During my extended absence, there are several aspects of the Bengals that have disappeared from my radar, including free agency. My priority of players to re-sign and why:

1) Dre Kirkpatrick: My view of Kirkpatrick isn’t favorable; he’s a player who could become a Pro Bowl player one day, but would never, based on his current production, be described as a Pro Bowler. He's a solid starter who will succeed but also concede his share of big plays. Yet, his possible return (or my belief that he should return) is structured around Adam Jones, who unleashed his Pacman persona last month (not to mention his on-field production dropped last season). There’s a feeling that the Bengals won’t move on Jones until they have Kirkpatrick locked down.

There are additional variables at play. Will William Jackson III (remember him?) and Darqueze Dennard (remember him too?) remain healthy and become significant role-players as former first-round prospects?

If Kirkpatrick is demanding significant money, he doesn’t have that much leverage. Cincinnati still has Jackson and Dennard around, with Josh Shaw in the background while free agency and the NFL draft offer additional avenues to caulk those gaps.

2) Andrew Whitworth: Not the dominating left tackle he once was (yet he allowed only 15 pressures on 637 pass protection snaps and ranked second among all left tackles last year, per Pro Football Focus), Whitworth adds plenty to the proverbial table.

Cedric Ogbuehi, who massively struggled, allowed “nine sacks and 40 total QB pressures in 11 games” before he was benched, according to Pro Football Focus, and is a concern. Should he be given a benefit of the doubt, coming off his first full season after a significant knee injury in college? Are we delaying a conclusive analysis that he’s not that good? Eric Winston is a free agent (though he probably returns), as is offensive guard Kevin Zeitler.

However, we have to face another reality: The Bengals offensive line sucked last year. Two starters (Zeitler, Whitworth) and a backup (Winston), unrestricted free agents, had significant contributions last year so they can’t be completely ignored. Factor that Russell Bodine, the place-setter for Nick Mangold’s hopeful return to southwest Ohio, was the 33rd-best pass blocker among all centers in 2016, per PFF.

Marvin Lewis isn’t concerned:

“(The line is) not a concern,” Lewis said. “We know all areas of our team, particularly the offensive group, have to do a better job of protecting our quarterback and that comes from every person and every position group on the offense,” Lewis said. “(Protecting the passer) is always a priority. It’s never changed. It just doesn’t fall on the line. It falls on everybody.”

What (the fuck) are you talking about? Lewis’s approach toward “saying things” is masterful when he speaks from both sides of his mouth. It’s not a concern but it is a concern is like saying: “Of course I keep my door unlocked at night. My family simply has to do a better job of defending themselves against invaders and drunken naked Steelers fans.”

It’s this indifferent bullshit from Lewis that continues to turn fans against him.

3) Rex Burkhead: Not only should Cincinnati re-sign Rex Burkhead, the coaches need to give him a realistic shot at becoming a feature back. In addition to being the only Bengals running back (with 50 carries or more in 2016) with a yard/rush average greater than four, he had half as many 100-yard performances (1) as Jeremy Hill (2) had last season. That’s not to say Hill doesn’t have a purpose, but I envision the Bengals running back system as follows: Burkhead to be the feature back between the 20s, Hill as the power back in short yardage situations, and Giovani Bernard serving as a contributor on third down and passing situations. Am I being too generous after only one game?

The “Why Not” list: Brandon LaFell (had his moments and the Bengals need depth and experience at receiver), Winston (depth), Wallace Gilberry (he’s a great spark on defense).

The “Meh” list: Margus Hunt (blocked kicks are great), Cedric Peerman (indifferent if he stays or goes).

The “Moving On” list: Karlos Dansby (I expected more),

The “Hope He Retires and Becomes a Bengals Coach” list: Domata Peko. Mad love, brother. Just stay in Cincinnati.

Wait, no Kevin Zeitler?

There’s a bit of conflict here because Zeitler exemplifies the best and worst in the NFL. Zeitler has generated PFF grades that usually rank in the top-10 and was the only right guard in 2015 with 500 or more pass-blocks without allowing a quarterback sack.

Aggressively stated, the Bengals would be idiotic not to invest into Zeitler. The question is: Has he peaked yet or is he still growing? Of course that’s the type of indeterminate question that drives me crazy; who can answer that? In Zeitler’s case, it’s a factor of risk and reward.

If Zeitler’s career continues to trend upward, and according to Pro Football Focus, 2016 was his best season, then a contract worth $40 million over five years isn’t a bad investment (note: we don’t care about guarantees in Cincinnati because mostly all contracts are completed to conclusion with “star” players).

It might even be a steal.

According to Spotrac, only three guards in the NFL make an average of $10 million or more, all of whom signed their current contracts in 2016. However, something in the $8 million/year range (his salary in 2016) snuggles just under the league’s highest-paid guards. But, a more accurate comparison, could be Pittsburgh Steelers offensive guard David DeCastro, who, like Zeitler, entered the league in 2012. DeCastro signed a five-year extension worth $50 million with $16 million guaranteed prior to the 2016 season. Regardless, Zeitler clearly isn’t going to sign a deal averaging out at $5.5 million, which is what the Bengals offered last year, according to Dave Lapham.

Now you have to start asking yourself, how much are you willing to invest in an offensive guard. And remember, you still have Russell Bodine on the line.