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How should the Bengals prioritize their internal free agents?

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Cincinnati usually prefers to look inward during March’s contract-fest, so how should they value some of their guys set to hit the open market?

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While the NFL Draft gets the bulk of the attention in the early part of the year, free agency kicks off the new league year in a just a couple of weeks. The Cincinnati Bengals usually do the bare minimum in this regard, but that may change a little bit with a new, young head coach at the helm.

The area in which they do participate the most in the March festivities is in re-signing their own coveted players. While this doesn’t seem like the possible mass exodus of quality players that occurred in the 2016-2017 off-seasons, there are undoubtedly guys that the team will want back in stripes.

On this week’s episode of The Orange and Black Insider, John Sheeran and I explored some of the team’s impending internal free agents and how they should be valued. We used a Yelp-like rating system for some of the 19 players set to hit the market.

And, if you need a refresher on the status of things:

On the obvious sides of the 1-5 scale we used for prioritizing these players, Cedric Ogbuehi, Bobby Hart and Tom Savage tipped the low side as ones. The highest internal priority this offseason is retaining Darqueze Dennard.

But, with Dre Kirkpatrick and William Jackson in the middle of their respective contracts, John and I placed a “four” on Dennard. This also has to do with Dennard’s injury history and inconsistent play over the past five seasons (he’s netted just three interceptions in five NFL seasons).

However, it’s in a glut of mid-to-lower tier players that has us scratching our heads a bit, in terms of perceived value to the team. For instance, a guy like Jake Fisher hasn’t brought much to the team at all because of injuries, but he has upside and, for the sake of having bodies, the team can’t let four tackles just walk this year.

“I would try to get a two-year deal (for Fisher) with no guaranteed money in the second year, so he’d essentially be a camp body,” Sheeran said of Fisher. “You need some stability there at tackle and I think Fisher is the guy who you can be comfortable with being that third or fourth guy going into training camp.”

We agreed that a 2.5 priority rating is where Fisher would be—especially on a fair contract. Veteran Michael Johnson is also set to hit the free agent market and while we like the man and his position on the edge always holds value, John and I agreed that Johnson should be in that 1.5-2-point area of priority—particularly with his biggest supporter in Marvin Lewis out as head coach.

Where we differed is on a guy like Preston Brown. I feel that the team is in desperate need of linebackers and Brown was on pace for perhaps his best statistical season of his career before injuries cut his 2018 season short. And, while that’s a worry, injuries were never an issue with him in his previous four seasons with the Bills, so I gave him a 3.5-point rating.

John, on the other hand, gave him two points as a priority signing. “I think that they signed him last year to start, but I think if they were to bring him back this year, it would be as a backup,” Sheeran said of Brown’s potential staying in Cincinnati. “I would at least try to get him cheaper than what they are paying him now because he’s coming off of a season where he only played half the schedule.”

The hardest to gauge in our game was the group of tight ends set to become unrestricted free agents. Cincinnati has four veterans on the roster set to hit the market in Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah and Matt Lengel.

In terms of the first three, all have shown a penchant to be productive with the team, but they’ve all battled injuries of some kind, which affects their overall value. Still, Andy Dalton has shown to be productive when some or all of these guys are healthy, so the needs vary.

How would you rate the Bengals’ priorities for each of their impending in-house free agents?

Also on tap this week:

  • Cincinnati finally settled on hired Lou Anarumo as their next defensive coordinator. What does this borderline fiasco of a process do to Zac Taylor’s image so early in his head coaching career?
  • Could Anarumo have any sway in talking Landon Collins over to Cincinnati in free agency?
  • Mark Walton has had two arrests so far in 2019. What does his future hold with the team?
  • Should Taylor send a message and release Walton? If he does, how big of a double-standard would it be with Jim Turner as a coach on his staff?
  • Should we believe Taylor in his effusive public praise of Andy Dalton?

Our thanks to the live listeners and to those who submitted questions. Join us every episode for the live recording here at Cincy Jungle and on YouTube!

If you’re unable to join us live for here at Cincy Jungle or YouTube every episode, all Orange and Black Insider content is available here on CJ, the Stitcher and Google Play Music apps, our YouTube channel, as well as through Megaphone and, as always, on iTunes! You can tweet us @BengalsOBI or get in touch with us via email at theobinsider@gmail.com. Thanks for listening and go subscribe to our channels!