The NFL is a funny thing. While free agency doesn’t actually open until Wednesday, March 15, the legal tampering period began on Monday, March 13 at noon. Why?
What’s the point of telling teams they can’t sign free agents until Wednesday but then letting them sign them on Monday? It’s like having parents that let you open just one present the night before Christmas.
As of Monday evening, the Bengals have re-signed linebacker Germaine Pratt but lost safety Vonn Bell and officially lost fellow safety Jessie Bates III. The 2023 roster is beginning to take shape.
Here are a few thoughts on the Bengals' additions and losses so far.
Linebackers remain intact
Re-signing Pratt is a big deal for the Bengals. Pratt made a huge jump from 2021 to 2022 and started every game this past season, racking up 99 tackles, which was second on the team only to Logan Wilson. Pratt was very good in pass coverage in 2022 and will solidify the Bengals' linebacker corps for the next few years.
Fellow linebacker Wilson is up for an extension, and if the Bengals can lock him up, they’ll shore up the middle of the defense for years to come.
Pratt signed a three-year deal worth $21 million.
Safety now an issue
We all knew the Bengals weren’t going to be able to keep Bates. The writing has been on the wall for the free safety for a long time. He signed a huge deal with the Atlanta Falcons worth a little over $64 million over four years. The Bengals saw this coming and selected Dax Hill in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft to fill in for Bates when he left.
However, they were hoping they’d be able to keep the team’s strong safety, Vonn Bell, but he was signed by the Panthers to a three-year, $22.5 million deal on Monday. This leaves the Bengals without either of their starting safeties heading into the next season. Even though Hill is penciled in at free safety, he didn’t play much in that spot outside of preseason this past year. It will now be important for the Bengals to find a veteran safety to start next to Hill.
The Bengals aren’t usually very active on day one of free agency, and while fans are probably pulling their hair out hoping the Bengals will sign the most expensive free agents they can, that’s simply not how they operate. Also, it’s important to remember that they still need to extend quarterback Joe Burrow to what could be the most expensive contract in league history. That’s a big matzo ball just hanging out there.
I absolutely expect the Bengals to not only address the safety position in free agency but also offensive and defensive line, cornerback and possibly running back as well. Take a breath.
Plenty of fish in the sea
There are still a lot of options at multiple positions for the Bengals to consider over the next few days.
Here are a few at some of the positions they could be interested in.
Running back (if they move on from Joe Mixon):
- Miles Sanders
- David Montgomery
- Jamaal Williams
- Kareem Hunt
- Raheem Mostert
- Orlando Brown Jr
- Kaleb McGary
- Taylor Lewan
- Kelvin Beachum
- Cameron Fleming
- Dalton Schultz
- Mike Gesicki
- Hayden Hurst
- Austin Hooper
- Foster Moreau
- Dalvin Tomlinson
- Dre’Mont Jones
- Zach Allen
- Sheldon Rankins
- Larry Ogunjobi (reunion tour?)
- James Bradberry
- Rock Ya-Sin
- Byron Murphy Sr
- Marcus Peters
- Shaquill Griffin
- C.J. Gardner-Johnson
- Julian Love
- Taylor Rapp
- Juan Thornhill
- Kareem Jackson
Some other random thoughts on the beginning of free agency
- In my opinion, outside of extending Burrow, replacing Bell with a veteran to play next to Hill is the most important thing the Bengals can do before the draft in late April. I’d prefer to not see the Bengals start two inexperienced safeties in Week 1.
- A few people asked me what I thought about the Bengals going after Austin Ekeler when news broke that he was seeking a trade. Considering they’d have to give up a possible first-round pick for him, I feel the same way I’d feel about the Bengals selecting a running back in the first round. Don’t do it.
- Patrick Peterson said he’d like to sign with the Bengals in an interview with Adam Schefter. He then turned around and signed with the Steelers. Traitor.
- The Bengals aren’t in the market for a free-agent wide receiver, but it doesn’t appear any team is. There are several very good receivers available, but it looks like teams are waiting for the first domino to fall before they start offering contracts.
- The Bengals could look to the draft for a tight end, considering how deep this class is, but there are a lot of really good and athletic tight ends available in free agency as well. Can you imagine Schultz or Gesicki in stripes with Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd? Re-signing Hurst is still a very real possibility too.
- The Bengals also re-signed safety Michael Thomas on a one-year deal.
- If I had to rank which positions needed attention, outside of Burrow’s extension, I’d say:
- Strong safety
- Offensive tackle
- The rest is just gravy
- The Bengals not only have to compete with the teams in the AFC North, but, for the first time in a long time, they’re also almost automatically in contention for the AFC Title, meaning they have to compete with the Chiefs, Bills, and Chargers among others. Those teams are getting better. The Bengals need to as well. Staying the same isn’t an option.
- The Bengals are coming off two straight AFC Championship appearances, and the core of the team is solid. I’m not expecting them to go out and sign every single available free agent that’s left on the market. In fact, I’m not expecting them to do as much as they did in the last two years. I could imagine one big-ish signing and then a few depth players brought in. The time for building is over. Now is the time to get over the hump.
- I absolutely LOVE how Mike Hilton recruits players over Twitter.
@CGJXXIII YO!! It’s smooth out here in Cincy ♂️— Mike Hilton (@MikeHilton_28) March 13, 2023
- Take a deep breath. Free agency is just beginning. Well, it hasn’t officially begun yet, but you know what I mean (legal tampering is so dumb).
- Finally, I’d like to thank Vonn Bell. You left the Bengals better than you found them, and I appreciate what you did for the team and the city of Cincinnati. I will never forget this:
Vonn Bell rocked JuJu to force a fumble— ESPN (@espn) December 22, 2020