The Bengals had as active of a free agency than they have had in years.
The Bengals have signed external free agents like B.W. Webb, Kerry Wynn, and John Miller, as well as some of their own, like Darqueze Dennard, Preston Brown, and C.J. Uzomah.
But the most puzzling and polarizing signing of them all was a 3-year, $21 million deal to keep Bobby Hart.
Hart has very few fans in Cincinnati since he was one of the worst, if not the very worst, starting tackles in the NFL last season. So, the Bengals went out and sign him to a starter’s contract.
Needless to say, Bengals fans weren’t happy.
Troy Blackburn, the Bengals Vice President and Mike Brown’s son-in-law, defended the move to ESPN’s Katherine Terrell.
“For those who say you shouldn’t have signed Bobby Hart, who is going to play right tackle? Who? Oh, maybe you’ll draft one in the third round and he’ll come on. Really? You’re going to bet your season on that? We may still draft somebody. We haven’t had the draft yet. But you just can’t criticize. In our business you have to solve the problem. If you’re not going to play him, tell me who? Trent Brown at 17 million? Really? A seventh-round draft pick? Let go essentially by his team. Really? We can’t go to WalMart and buy off the shelf. A high quality starting right tackle? That doesn’t exist (in free agency). You have to deal in the universe of options you have. We ended up signing eight guys. That’s probably above average. Were they perfect? You’re not going to get perfect. ... There aren’t perfect options out there. We asked Willie Anderson if he could go to a time machine and come back at age 25. We’d love to sign him, but you have to deal in your universe of options. I think the data would say we signed more guys than most in line with the cap that we talked about. If there are surprises out there we’ll try to be flexible and aggressive, but normally there are no surprises out there.”
There are so many things wrong with this.
First of all, yes, they could draft a tackle in the third round. It would be better to “bet your season on that” than to settle for Hart. With Hart, you know he’ll be bad. With a third-round pick, there’s a chance he could be good.
Secondly, what’s wrong with signing Trent Brown, “A seventh-round draft pick...let go essentially by his team,” for $17 million? He just signed Bobby Hart, a seventh-round pick let go by the Giants.
Contrary to Blackburn’s analysis, you can find a high-quality starting right tackle in free agency. Not only was Trent Brown on the market, but Ja’Wuan James, Tyler Neshke, and Kendall Lamm were also available.
There were other free agents that ended up re-signing with their teams like Bobby Massie or Darryl Williams. The Bengals could have used the money they would give to Hart to try to lure Williams, since it would be more than what the Panthers offered him.
Finally, Blackburn uses the fact that the Bengals signed eight free agents to show that they were active in free agency. He practically said that free agents are hit-and-miss, which can be true. But swinging on Bobby Hart is like swinging at a pitch in the dirt and mumbling “nobody bats 1.000” on your way back to the dugout.
Basically, Blackburn wants it to seem like the Bengals actually tried to acquire a good starting tackle for a good price, but had to settle on Hart because he was the best option out there. Clearly, neither of those points are true.
He seems to admit that Hart is not a great starting tackle and the Bengals wouldn’t mind moving on if they found the right scenario. What he doesn’t explain here is why he is paying Hart like a top-tier right tackle if he doesn’t think he is one.
Either the Bengals don’t think he is bad, or they just admitted to singing a bad player for way too much money, despite wanting to be “in line with the cap.”
Both of those scenarios are disturbing for the future of this franchise.