The past few seasons, the Bengals have had quite a few talented players hit free agency.
Among them were players like Marvin Jones Jr., Mohamed Sanu, George Iloka, Kevin Zeitler, Andrew Whitworth and Dre Kirkpatrick.
Obviously, the Bengals were only able to retain Iloka and Kirkpatrick from that group. This season. though, the Bengals don’t have a single free agent listed in the top 50, according to ESPN.
In fact they only have one in the honorable mention section, and that is Tyler Eifert, who is considered somewhat of an iffy free agent signing given his injury history.
How did we get to this point though? Well if you look at the draft classes that got us here it answers that question pretty simply. During the 2013 and 2014 drafts the Bengals failed to walk away with long standing talent.
The only standout players are Giovani Bernard, Eifert, Shawn Williams, Darqueze Dennard and AJ McCarron. I’m obviously being generous with McCarron there, but odds are he is about to be a starting quarterback somewhere.
Then, they had players like Jeremy Hill, Rex Burkhead, T.J. Johnson and Marquis Flowers. Those are players who have shown some kind of promise during their careers, and Johnson is a fairly serviceable backup linemen.
So of the 18 picks from those two drafts, only five were actually starter caliber players, and only four more were serviceable. For a team that is as successful as their drafts, that says everything you need to know about why the Bengals struggled the past two seasons.
They have failed to retain talent that they’ve drafted, and they have failed to develop talent to replace those players leaving. That has resulted in a free agent class that isn’t very noteworthy.
Now, not having big name free agents to have to worry about isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but it is more of an indication of just how devoid of talent this team has been.
Although this does open up the opportunity for the Bengals to spend their money elsewhere in free agency. We already know extending Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, who will be free agents next offseason, is a priority, but they’d be fools to not recognize there are players potentially hitting the market who could help turn this team around quickly.
A few of the top offensive linemen that the Bengals could be after in free agency include:
Nate Solder (Patriots): Solder is an older tackle at 30 years old, but he is very solid. That sort of stability is something the Bengals need immediately in order to do better next season. He isn’t a top tackle by any means, but he is still an obvious improvement over what the Bengals have.
Ryan Jensen (Ravens): Jensen instantly boosts the interior offensive line. Replacing Bodine should be a big priority, but the Bengals have talked about bringing back their struggling center. It is hard to say how much better of an idea bringing in Jensen would be. It makes the Ravens worse and gives the Bengals an actual center who can hold his own in the middle.
Weston Richburg (Colts): If the Bengals are looking for more of a bargain at center, Richburg is the guy. He had a major concussion that held him out of most of last year, but he is determined to continue his career. That injury will scare a lot of teams off, but the Bengals could swoop in for a bargain.
Josh Kline (Titans): I don’t think the Bengals will be in the market for a top guard like Andrew Norwell after they let Zeitler walk last season. Norwell is probably looking for a similar contract to Zeitler as well. Kline provides more of a bargain, but he is still a talented player who is a great run blocker. By adding him and a center, the Bengals’ run game could take a huge step forward.
Other Free Agents the Bengals could target
Trey Burton (Eagles): Burton is a risky signing because he has been a backup most of his career, but he has shown flashes of potential when given the chance. If the Bengals decide to let Eifert walk away, then Burton could be an ideal replacement.
Paul Richardson (Seahawks): Richardson put up some decent numbers in the mess of an offense the Seahawks had running. He had 16 yards per catch last season, and he could be an instant upgrade over the aging Brandon LaFell.
Marqise Lee (Jaguars): Following the same logic of Richardson, Lee produced with Blake Bortles at the helm. He has 119 catches over the last two seasons, and depending on how the receiver market works out, he could be a steal to insert as a second or third receiver.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Jets): Seferian-Jenkins has had trouble off the field. But again, the Bengals could be looking to replace Eifert this offseason, and Seferian-Jenkins produced a solid 2017 campaign with the Jets.
Avery Williamson (Titans): If the Bengals let Kevin Minter walk, they could decide to replace him via free agency. Williamson has some issues in coverage, but he has been a solid player for the Titans. He was a big part of why that defense was so talented last year.
Mike Wallace (Ravens): The Bengals wanted to add speed last season, and if they continue with that trend, signing Wallace away from the Ravens could be a huge get. With Wallace in LaFell’s place with the possibility of John Ross out there as well, it could open up some very easy passing lanes for Andy Dalton and A.J. Green.
Nigel Bradham (Eagles): Ignoring that Bradham is 29, he has been a productive linebacker for the Eagles the past two seasons, totaling almost 200 tackles. Plus, he brings some of the Super Bowl winner experience that is nice to have a little of on a team. He could be a great upgrade over Minter.