Throughout the Marvin Lewis years, the Bengals have been far too predictable in free agency.
Sustainable team-building has often been classified as drafting, developing and retaining homegrown talent, which is a process the Bengals have often preached. For a handful of years, the process translated to postseason appearances despite a relatively passive approach to free agency.
When their draft classes decreased in quality, their free agency classes didn’t adequately evolve to act as an effective counter. They kept to their types: cheap, formerly a high-round draft pick, often recently from their most recent team and as a result, rarely anything better than an average talent.
Former Los Angeles Rams linebacker Mark Barron checks most — if not all of these boxes; and that’s why they should look elsewhere.
Barron was released by the Rams yesterday and the Super Bowl runner-up franchise will save about $6.3 million in cap space because of it. The Rams originally acquired Barron from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a midseason trade in 2014, when he was still known as a safety. The Buccaneers drafted Barron as a safety with the seventh-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft and realized in his third year he was not worth a second contract with how they were using him.
The Rams eventually recognized Barron’s future would be salvageable if they essentially converted him to a full-time linebacker. This happened during the 2015 season and eventually earned Barron a five-year contract in the 2016 offseason worth up to $45 million, but he never lived up to that deal.
In the three seasons under that contract, Barron has largely been an average player plagued by major inconsistencies. His shortcomings were mitigated because of how close he played to the line of scrimmage, but he proved to be a limited second level defender in both the pass and run game.
In October, Barron will be turning 30 years old while playing for his third team in his eighth year in the league. Who he is (a backup for most teams) will not change at this point in his career, no matter how many times his draft status gets mentioned.
This isn’t to say Barron isn’t capable of stringing together solid performances from time to time. Just two months ago, he played an above average postseason for the vaunted Rams’ defense after vastly underwhelming in the regular season. It was his continued subpar performance prior to their postseason run that sealed his fate as a cap casualty.
as a run defender at least, mark barron had a solid postseason in comparison to the regular season.— john sheeran (@John__Sheeran) March 5, 2019
70.4 overall, 88.1 run def, 87.4 tackling
regular season grades:
47.6 overall, 43.6 run def, 62.1 tackling
the answer is still no
The Bengals have consistently utilized free agency to find temporary patches to their linebacking corps. Names like James Harrison, A.J. Hawk, Karlos Dansby, Kevin Minter and Preston Brown all come to mind in just the last seven years, and none before Brown made it to a second year with the team. All of those linebackers saw their careers peak before they arrived in Cincinnati, and Barron would be no different in this sense.
The good news for Barron is that he could carve out a role with the current group of linebackers Cincinnati employs, the team still rosters Hardy Nickerson for goodness’ sake. In addition to that, a former assistant for the Rams is now the head coach of the Bengals. Zac Taylor is obviously familiar with Barron, and that association could bode well for Barron.
As a backup/spot starter, Barron would be far from the worst signing the Bengals could make, but is his presence truly necessary? And if he were to sign with the team, would he even accept a role as a backup?
Malik Jefferson and Jordan Evans likely would provide the same production in a similar role, and both players are considerably younger and cheaper than Barron would be. Make no mistake, the depth at this position could be much better, but what’s the upside to a known commodity in Barron compared to a potential upgrade in Jefferson?
The market for Barron should prove to be intriguing, and the Bengals are a likely fit based off recent history. For their sake, they need to learn from their history or else they are doomed to repeat it.