The Cincinnati Bengals re-signed Brandon LaFell on Wednesday, marking the team’s first significant free agent move of 2017.
As one of the team’s top wide receivers, the move was a highly anticipated one that does nothing but strengthen the receiving corps and confirm the Bengals made the right decision by bringing LaFell in after he was cut by the New England Patriots in 2016.
Heading into the 2016 season, the Bengals faced a dilemma at the wide receiver position. The team had one of the best wide receiver corps in the NFL in 2015, but both their No. 2 receiver, Marvin Jones and No. 3 receiver, Mohamed Sanu, were free agents. The Bengals were unable to retain either and elected to focus on drafting new receiver talent while also signing an outside veteran free agent in LaFell.
The move turned out to be an excellent one for the Bengals, who saw LaFell record slightly better numbers in 2016 (64 receptions, 862 yards, six touchdowns) than Jones in 2015 (65 receptions, 816 yards, four touchdowns). It was unfortunate the Bengals were unable to retain their young talent in the offseason, but LaFell did his best to ensure the team didn’t even notice Jones’ absence. Their strengths are different, but LaFell did everything the Bengals could have asked of him in 2016, including being a great locker room presence and veteran leader among a wide receiver unit that included three rookies. What made LaFell’s signing in 2016 even better was how little it cost the team. The deal maxed out at $2.5 million with incentives, and LaFell received all of the money tied to the incentives due to his great season in strips. (The incentives came due to tallying 60+ catches and 800+ yards, which he reached in Week 17, netting him $500,000.)
Before signing with the Bengals, LaFell was known as a serviceable receiver for the Carolina Panthers before signing with the Patriots in 2014 and recording his best season, while winning a Super Bowl. He then dealt with injury problems in 2015, which led to him struggling for much of the season. After spending a season with the Bengals, he has proven that he is one of the league’s better complimentary receivers. He had been quoted as saying he hoped to stick long-term in Cincinnati, but he proved he deserved it after his impressive 2016 season.
Now, he is signed with the team through 2018 and has a chance to make his time in Cincinnati define his career. Hopefully, making many more plays like these:
When you prove your worth in the way LaFell did, you deserve to be re-signed and the Bengals had to be hoping LaFell would produce exactly in the way he did in 2016. He wasn’t exactly priority No. 1 going into this offseason, but the order in which players are re-signed hardly matters. It’s who’s back in Cincinnati in 2017 that really is important.
Now, the Bengals continue to have a veteran wide receiver, in addition to A.J. Green, to help bring young guys like Tyler Boyd, Cody Core, and Alex Erickson along. The only question left at receiver is James Wright, who has shown flashes of potential in the past, but has been hampered by injuries and depth chart positioning over the course of his career. The Bengals still plan to draft a wide receiver and add speed to the unit this offseason. Signing LaFell does not mean a receiver won’t be drafted by the club.
LaFell isn’t a youngster at this point in his career but, at 31, he has plenty of time left to make his mark on the NFL. There is virtually no chance that he becomes a No. 1 receiver or a top producer in the league with the Bengals, but he can certainly go down as one of the Bengals’ best outside free agent moves of all time if he continues to impress and stabilize the wide receiver position. Hopefully, by the time he’s 33, he has proven that he deserves to stick around even longer.