NFL free agency hasn’t been very kind to the Bengals this year.
The franchise lost its two best offensive linemen as Kevin Zeitler left for the division-rival Browns, while Andrew Whitworth departed for the Rams. Those were made out to be massive losses, but not everyone shares that sentiment.
ESPN’s Mike Sando gathered the thoughts of several NFL executives regarding the biggest moves made by all 32 teams. On the Bengals, an NFL exec did not seem too worried about the decisions made by the Bengals.
Losing top tackle Andrew Whitworth and top guard Kevin Zeitler precipitated the Bengals' decision to re-sign Andre Smith. A pro director thought Whitworth's departure was overrated by fans and media who mistook him for an elite tackle instead of simply a competent tackle. Then again, finding even competent tackles can seem impossible, explaining why the Los Angeles Rams paid Whitworth as though he were not 35 years old.
The Bengals ideally would have re-signed Zeitler long ago, at least.
"They just handle things totally differently from a lot of teams," an exec said. "They really do say, 'Here is the number we want to pay a player and we are not going to show any urgency to get it done earlier than that. If they want to come back at that number, fine, and if they don't, we want to move on.' I think philosophically they do not feel comfortable paying a guard $11 million-plus. I understand that."
It’s surprising to see the exec doesn’t think Whitworth was the player we’ve made him out to be, but then again, it’s fair to think the 35-year-old’s play will rapidly decline very soon. And it’s not like the Bengals didn’t offer him what most teams would have paid an aging lineman.
Bengals owner Mike Brown often gets criticized for being too cheap, even with his own players, but in reality, all he does is determine what he believes is a fair value for his guys. Then, if another team is willing to overspend for them, Brown lets them walk. He doesn’t want to let the Bengals become the Browns or Jaguars, teams that are often forced to overpay to keep their own free agents and bring new ones in.
That’s why you’ll rarely, if ever, see the Bengals give out deals that are above market value. Whether it’s Andy Dalton, Dre Kirkpatrick or A.J. Green, the deals to which the Bengals signs their players often reflect what their true value is on the open market, not what some bottom-feeder is willing to overpay them for. Even though Green was the highest paid NFL wide receiver for a year (and now is the second highest paid receiver), he completely deserves to be paid the amount he’s getting, which is why the Bengals forked over the cash.
That does have its downside, which we saw this offseason when Whitworth and Zeitler left. It would have been nice to keep at least one of them, but Brown stood by his principles, whether fans agree with them or not.