The Cincinnati Bengals have re-signed wide receiver Brandon LaFell, according to his agent.
This is the Bengals’ first move in free agency, other than re-signing kicker Randy Bullock back in February.
The deal is reportedly for two years and totals up to $10 million, per Bengals.com’s Geoff Hobson (update below).
LaFell joined the Bengals on a one-year deal last offseason after being cut by the New England Patriots. 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 A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert missed time down the stretch. That’s why the team made him re-signing him a big priority this offseason.
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.
But LaFell is 30 and will turn 31 in November, during what will be his eighth NFL season. That is why his market wasn’t expected to be too big as free agency approached. The Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers were reportedly interested. However, the Bears have a decent group of receivers, and the Niners are reportedly signing Pierre Garcon to a nice deal, so neither team was probably offering him much money.
That said, the Bengals needed to keep LaFell, so getting this deal done before the official start of free agency is big. They can now focus more of their efforts on guys like Kevin Zeitler, Andrew Whitworth and Dre Kirkpatrick as they’re set to hit the open market on Thursday.
As for 2017, LaFell should be the second boundary receiver next to Green with Tyler Boyd manning the slot. Cody Core showed promise on the boundary, but not enough that the Bengals were ready to enter next season without a more established presence there. It’s possible Core, or maybe a 2017 draft pick, could overtake Boyd at some point during the season.
This also should end any discussion of taking a wide receiver with the ninth-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. While there should be some great receiver prospects on the board, defense or running back is where Cincinnati will find better value at that pick. Though, this doesn’t change the Bengals’ need to find a receiver who can stretch the field at some point during the draft. It just likely won’t be in the first round.
If the Bengals had lost LaFell, taking a guy like Western Michigan’s Corey Davis or Clemson’s Mike Williams would have been tempting, but now the team doesn’t need to in order to ensure there’s a viable No. 2 receiver next to Green.
The Bengals are said to love LaFell’s can-do, team-first attitude and wide receivers coach James Urban told a story explaining exactly why after the 2016 season concluded.
On a day when Green was hurt and James Wright was dealing with his knee injury, LaFell was also banged up with a bruised heel and knee. (LaFell was injured for much of the season but never complained and never missed a game.) Urban thought he'd be going into that day's practice with just rookies and practice squad guys to work with, but when he showed up, LaFell was dressed and ready to go.
“I said, ‘Hey Joe (many on the team call LaFell JoJo), what are you doing?” Urban said. “He says, ‘These guys can’t do it all themselves. I’ve got to practice today.’ But I said, ‘You could hardly walk.’ He said, ‘I’ll be alright,’ and he made it through practice. He gave us a great look. All he cares about is winning games. Whether it’s going inside the tight end to block the safety or with the ball in his hands all he cares about is winning.”
That kind of attitude is something the Bengals can always use and that is a big part of why LaFell is now locked up in Cincinnati for the next two years.
Per Jim Owczarski, the deal includes a $1.25M base salary in 2017 as well as a $3.3 million roster bonus. In 2018, his salary increases to $2.55 million with a $1 million roster bonus. Both years include a $200,000 workout bonus and $250,000 active roster bonus. That totals up to $9 million, $1 million less than what was originally believed to be the total payout.