The Bengals have a well-earned reputation for being unable or unwilling to sign high-profile free agents from outside the organization. This may be, in part, because most free agents don’t want to sign with the Bengals.
Robert Klemko of Sports Illustrated contacted 15 NFL agents and asked them all a question: “If you polled your clients about the most and least desirable teams to play for, which teams do you think would end up in the Top 5 and which would be in the Bottom 5?”
In a result that is painful, but predictable nonetheless, the Bengals received zero votes for Top 5 and eight votes for Bottom 5.
Here’s how the results shook out:
1. Dallas, 11 votes
2. Seattle, 8
3. Miami, 8
4. L.A. Rams, 7
5. Atlanta, 5
Others receiving votes: Philadelphia (4), Houston (4), Indianapolis (3), New England (3), Arizona (2), Denver (2), L.A. Chargers (2), New Orleans (2), N.Y. Giants (2), Pittsburgh (2), San Francisco (2), Tampa Bay (2), Tennessee (2), Baltimore, Green Bay, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Minnesota
1. Buffalo, 12 votes
2. Oakland, 11
3. Cincinnati, 8
4. Detroit, 7
5. Cleveland, 6
Others receiving votes: Jacksonville (5), N.Y. Giants (3), N.Y. Jets (4), Green Bay (3), New England (3), San Francisco (3), Washington (3), L.A. Chargers (2), Arizona, Denver, Minnesota, New Orleans, Tampa Bay
As you can see, Cincinnati fared the third worst out of all 32 teams.
So what influences a players’ decision to choose a team, and what makes Cincinnati so detestable?
“There are so many factors to consider and every player is different,” an agent said according to Klemko, “but typically we look at winning culture/tradition, opportunity [for playing time], income tax laws, market, area of the country, and sometimes weather.”
Winning culture makes sense as a motivator, and it shows. Seven of the top nine teams on the list made the playoffs in 2018, where as all of the bottom nine teams were were eliminated.
“Area of the country, and sometimes weather,” clearly bears an impact here as the two teams in the Top 5 were located in the South. Arizona received two first-place votes even though they had the worst record in the NFL a year ago.
Klemko explains why he thinks Atlanta and Miami stand out to free agents.
“One agent saying players from the SEC often see Atlanta as the ‘capitol of the south.’ Another agent described the city as ‘America’s black mecca’...Despite Miami’s floundering on the field of late, the attraction of the South Beach lifestyle is overwhelming for many.”
Not only does this explain why Atlanta and Miami are so attractive, but it partly explains why cities in the North are so unattractive.
“Rust Belt cities in general did poorly in our survey. Cincinnati, Detroit and Cleveland all made the Bottom 5, and Indianapolis, despite having a healthy Andrew Luck and a seemingly upward trajectory on the field, received just three votes for the Top 5. Agents said each city is judged to have a boring nightlife, according to the players. ‘Weather and [sex] are huge factors,’ one agent said.”
Klemko was able to pinpoint some players’ aversions towards the Bengals, specifically.
“Cincinnati has a reputation for being ‘cheap,’ according to four different agents. ‘It’s just a poorly run, low-budget operation,’ another agent said.”
This isn’t news to Bengals fans that the organization is cheap, but it is unfortunate to hear that it is a reason that free agents are so disinterested.
Being treated like professionals is very important. On the flip side, the main reason Dallas got so many Top 5 votes is that they invest in their players’ well-being.
“Our runaway winner, the Dallas Cowboys, are said to ‘spare no expense’ when it comes to player luxuries. ‘They just treat the player first-rate,’ one agent said.”
The reason most free agents are drawn to Cincinnati seems to be the location and the organization, which, if we’re honest, we probably already knew.
This doesn’t mean that the Bengals can’t attract free agents, however. Detroit, which received only one less vote than Cincinnati for worst destination, signed two high-profile free agents on Monday. The Bills, who finished dead last, are one of the most active teams this offseason.
“I think most players take the most money regardless of location, as they should,” one agent told Klemko. “But when it’s equal, that’s when this debate gets interesting.”
If the Bengals organization can get out of their own way, then perhaps the Bengals should be able to make some great signings in free agency. But if that doesn’t happen, which is the more likely scenario, then we can just expect more of the same.