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Bengals projected to land 3 of PFF’s top 50 free agents

Jessie Bates III being one of the three.

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NFL: Pro Bowl-NFC Practice Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off their first Super Bowl appearance in over 30 years, the Cincinnati Bengals have the means to get even better for the 2022 season.

Unlike last year, they don’t have to deal with a COVID-impacted salary cap, and they don’t have to invest dozens of millions in order to field a competent defense. Their needs are more manageable outside of the offensive line still being a mess.

No longer are the Bengals rebuilding, they’re retooling, and they can do so by acquiring some of the top free agents with plenty of capital to use.

Pro Football Focus recently listed their top 50 impending free agents with predictions as to where they sign. They project the Bengals to end up with three of them: Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen, Buffalo Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes, and Cincinnati’s own free safety Jessie Bates III via the franchise tag.

The tag is the current safe bet for Bates, who’s looking for his first big contract fresh off a stellar postseason run and his 25th birthday. The Bengals would love to keep him long-term, but their price for Bates may not match the price Bates’ representation has in mind. The tag would give each side a few more months to negotiate.

As for the other two, signing the 30-year-old Jensen to play center would allow the team to either move Trey Hopkins to a guard position or move on from Hopkins entirely. PFF analyst Arjun Menon cites Corey Linsley and Rodney Hudson as examples of teams signing veteran centers to help their young quarterbacks:

The Bengals need to allocate cap space to the offensive line, and Jensen would be a great start. He’d be an upgrade over Trey Hopkins (51.4 PFF grade in 2021) and would give Joe Burrow a trusted veteran to take snaps from. We’ve seen this type of move have a positive impact on Justin Herbert (with Corey Linsley) and Kyler Murray (with Rodney Hudson).

Jensen has been one of the league’s top centers for a while now and is still playing near that level. Hughes’ peak in Buffalo was similar, but he’s at the tail-end of his career now at 33 years old. Menon says he’d fill in nicely along with incumbent starters Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard on a one-year deal:

Hughes has been amazing for the Bills for quite some time, but it’s time for him to depart Buffalo, especially since the Bills drafted Gregory Rousseau and Boogie Basham last year. The Bengals have a pretty solid pass rush with Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard, but they lack depth behind them. Hughes has recorded 50-plus pressures in nine straight years and can be a force if used correctly in Cincinnati.

What would you think about the Bengals adding Jensen and Hughes along with retaining Bates? Let us know in the comments!