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Navigating the Bengals’ potential free agency game plan

The NFL’s spring frenzy is a few short weeks away. While the Cincinnati Bengals seem to be poised to make impactful moves, there are certain facets to their operating status in which we all need reminding.

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The NFL’s spring kickoff to the new league year is a month away and the Cincinnati Bengals are in an interesting position as they enter the offseason. Given the up-in-the-air statuses of some high-profile veterans, the team could be sitting on a mountain of money to spend on what could become a quick turnaround.

Even so, it’s important for us to re-examine the team’s usual approach to the March festivities. Some could look at this practice as a measure to maintain a fan’s sanity when the slow news from the Queen City inevitably hits, but it also creates a reminder of the framework from which the team operates.

Based on some conversations from this week’s Orange and Black Insider podcast episode, here are some things to keep in mind, as the team gears up to revamp their roster next month.

Preferred open-market player profiles

Recently-cut veterans/cap casualties: Cincinnati has landed some decent names on the open market in the form of cast-offs from other clubs. In some ways, this approach shows the wisdom in the Bengals’ frugal approach to free agency because the team pounces on impact players after being cut loose from another team’s inflated contract.

And, as we’ll note below, these players don’t count against the team’s compensatory pick formula. A win-win, in the eyes of Bengals management.

Big names at the end of their careers: This is a trend that hasn’t really occurred since 2013 in the form of James Harrison, but the Bengals have tested these waters. Richmond Webb, Sam Adams and Terrell Owens also headline this type of list.

This season, names like old friend Andrew Whitworth, Jason Peters, Donald Penn, Richie Incognito and many others may draw Cincinnati’s attention (discounting the available quarterback triumvirate of Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, of course). Getting a household name is a rarity for Cincinnati in free agency, but they have used this approach to catch a brief bolt of lightning in a bottle.

Former high picks who haven’t fully lived up to expectations: Cincinnati has traditionally liked reclamation projects. It seems as if the Adam Jones-like acquisitions are in the past, but the team likes to grab former high picks whom they coveted in the pre-draft process.

However, these aren’t the ones who panned out to become stars. Rather, it’s in guys who have shown flashes, but mostly have disappointed, given their draft designation.

Because of a mixed bag, in terms of a track record of mining talent out of these guys on bargain-like deals, Cincinnati continues to roll the dice on deals like these.

On this week’s Orange and Black Insider, John Sheeran noted Cardinals tackle D.J. Humphries as a possible free agent target for the Bengals. He fits this profile as a former first-round pick, who has shown promise, but lacks consistency.

“System guys”/staff favorites: We all know that clubs like to bring in guys with whom they are familiar. This is a practice used by many businesses—not just the NFL.

The Cincinnati Bengals have long been known for their nepotism, so bringing in “the devils they know” is not surprising. In just one offseason in the Zac Taylor regime as a small sample size, his staff has shown the propensity to bring “their guys” into the fold.

Last year, new defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo brought in former Giant defenders, B.W. Webb and Kerry Wynn. Jim Turner went back to old friend John Jerry, while Andre Smith, Preston Brown and other familiar Bengals faces re-joined the club.

Some worked out, but the specific aforementioned names did not for varying reasons. Cincinnati has a handful of impending free agents this year, with names like A.J. Green, Darqueze Dennard and Tyler Eifert headlining the list.

The obsession and reasoning regarding compensatory picks

As mentioned above, part of the reason the Bengals aren’t active in outside unrestricted free agency is because it negatively affects the compensatory pick formula. Cincinnati has made a commitment to the draft-and-develop approach, for better or worse, so the hoarding of day three picks is essential to their roster-building process.

Common sense tells us the team will net more than the seven picks they currently hold for the 2020 class. Even so, they want picks in what is a rebuild under Zac Taylor over the next couple of seasons.

The money used towards late day two and day three picks is also substantially lower than that of outside free agents. We hate to use the term “cheap labor”, but it’s almost apropos here.

Signing guys who have been cut before or after the critical June 1st date do not affect this formula, so those will be the primary outside targets for players outside of the PBS walls.

An inward-first approach

Cincinnati has made it publicly known that their internal impending free agents take priority over adding outside talent. Once they’ve drafted and subsequently developed players with whom they are comfortable, they like to continue the developmental process.

Often times, those identified as “core players” are giving re-signing attempts a year before their contracts expire. Recently, the team has re-upped players at tight end and in the secondary, whose contracts did expire upon the start of free agency.

Green is definitely the high-priced guy of the group, but the class of impending free agents is an overall lower bankroll than in previous years.

Also on this week’s episode of The Orange and Black Insider:

  • What are some of the do’s and don’ts for the Bengals in free agency?
  • The team needs to get past its fear of repeating free agency mistakes that occurred 10-15 years ago.
  • What do we make of recent and somewhat-repeated news that the Bengals are open to trading Andy Dalton, while also making sure he’s placed in a good scenario?

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