In less than four weeks, the new NFL league year will commence and unrestricted free agents will be free to sign with any team they please. In the year 2019, all 32 franchises can legitimately better themselves with the use of free agency with the aid of an ever-inflating salary cap.
The Bengals, however, have traditionally kicked back and watched teams aggressively eliminate roster weaknesses with quality talent at premium prices.
Cincinnati spends about as much as the next team, but their investments in external talent usually fall short of what it takes to build a truly competitive roster. This is primarily due to the fact that the Bengals rarely offer as much guaranteed money as their competitors do.
This is an organizational aspect that needs to evolve now that Zac Taylor is the head coach and GM-in-everything-but-title Duke Tobin has seemingly assumed more power in the front office. There are quality players that the Bengals can invest in multi-year deals without resetting the market at their respective positions.
Pro Football Focus senior analyst Mike Renner offered his take on two ideal free agents for the Bengals to target next month. For starters, he attacked the linebacker position with a player who is as much of a linebacker without being listed as one.
LANDON COLLINS, CINCINNATI BENGALS
How does Landon Collins, Linebacker sound? That may even be his best position and would immediately transform Cincinnati’s linebacking corps.
A high second-round pick from the 2015 NFL Draft, Collins had his breakout year in 2016 when he made the switch from free safety to strong safety in the Giants’ defense. He made his first of three Pro Bowls that season, was a first-team All-Pro, and was under serious consideration for defensive player of the year.
In 2018, Collins played in the box more than four times than he did at free safety, and while he hasn’t quite reached his 2016 level over the past two seasons, he’s still a quality player who does his best work close to the line of scrimmage.
Collins is essentially a linebacker in today’s NFL and would be an ideal fix to the Bengals’ issues there. He could cover hook/curl zones, provide a meaningful force on the edge and would legitimately serve as the best tackler on their defense, relative to what they have now.
While he’d be a quality addition, Collins would not alleviate Cincinnati’s issues at linebacker. In a similar, just adding a right tackle would not completely fix their offensive line. Renner matched them with a potential answer to that spot all the same.
DARYL WILLIAMS, CINCINNATI BENGALS
The Bengals might not have a great recent track record bringing in tackles coming off knee injuries, but with how big a need it is, they at least have to try. Bobby Hart was the eighth lowest-graded tackle in the NFL last year.
The beginning portion of that statement hits pretty close to home, but the sentiment is well understood.
Williams was drafted two rounds after Collins as a part of that 2015 class, and started to hit his stride in 2017. After starting 10 games at right tackle for the Carolina Panthers in 2016, Williams was a 16-game starter at the position the following year and graded fairly well. Carolina managed to help him out in pass protection with the aid of a tight end softening the edge similar to what the Tennessee Titans do with their right tackle Jack Conklin, but Williams played well all the same.
Entering a contract year in 2018, Williams made it through 56 snaps before the MCL he tore early in training camp prohibited him from going any further. Williams was placed on injured reserve, and we were left wondering whether or not he could successfully build off his 2017 campaign.
Now, Williams will become a free agent and, simply put, is a much better option than what the Bengals currently have at the position. His injury would likely provide the Bengals with a discount, and that position would be sufficiently filled. But is Williams the right kind of tackle for what the Bengals want to do offensively?
By all accounts, Taylor’s offense will be primarily based out of outside zone, which would require his offensive lineman to be athletically capable of zone blocking. Williams comes from a scheme that deploys mainly gap-style runs, and his athletic profile fits that of a gap-style blocker. So while he would provide an upgrade in pass protection by default, he may not be an overall scheme fit.
What’s important to note is that if the Bengals truly wanted both Collins and Williams, they have the cap space to afford them, and potentially another free agent.
Who are your ideal free agents for the Bengals to sign this offseason?