After the Cincinnati Bengals didn’t do much throughout the legal tampering period starting last Monday other than re-signing Germaine Pratt, they ended the first day of the new league year with a doozy.
They signed Orlando Brown Jr, this year’s premier left tackle available in free agency, to a four-year, $64.092 million contract with a whopping $31 million signing bonus. The move proved the Bengals are serious about providing Joe Burrow with a clean pocket, and it’s clear they understand the time to win a championship is now.
After signing another offensive lineman, the versatile Cody Ford, they grabbed Vonn Bell’s replacement at strong safety by bringing in former Ram Nick Scott. They signed him to a three-year deal worth $12 million.
Here are a few of the major thoughts on free agency this offseason so far:
- It should be clear the old Bengals are dead. It actually should have been clear last offseason, but the Bengals have officially changed their stripes. They haven’t shied away from giving guaranteed cash when it comes to keep their own in Cincinnati, but it’s not something they’ve done for outside free agents. The Brown signing was huge, especially considering he was ranked as this year’s top free agent offensive tackle, but the two offensive tackles PFF ranked lower than him signed for more money.
- Signing Scott brings a veteran presence to the secondary that was going to be sorely missed after losing both Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell. Scott is an intelligent safety who has a lot of speed and doesn’t mind bringing the wood when he gets a chance to. Once he gets up and running in Lou Anarumo’s system, there’s no reason to think he can’t be just as good, if not better, than Bell.
- It’s clear the Bengals knew they would lose Bates, and I doubt they were super surprised when Bell signed elsewhere as well. It seems they were counting on retaining Samaje Perine, though. The Bengals were reportedly very aggressive when it comes to retaining Perine and offered to match the two-year, $7.5 million contract he signed with the Denver Broncos. It could be that Perine wants to be the lead back, and his chances of doing that in Denver are probably higher than they are in Cincinnati.
- Of course, not everyone is happy with the Bengals’ free agency moves. Now that the Bengals have a new left tackle, their left tackle over the last four seasons, Jonah Williams, has requested a trade. Williams struggled last season, giving up 12 sacks, and with the Jones’ signing, the plan was to move Williams to right tackle, where he would likely start the season due to La’el Collins’ ACL injury at the end of the 2022 season. It’s unclear as to whether or not the Bengals are actually going to trade Williams, but if they do, they could still be in need of a right tackle.
And some random thoughts on the what the Bengals, and some other teams, have done in free agency so far:
- On top of re-signing Pratt, the Bengals also retained running back Trayveon Williams, free safety Michael Thomas, guard Max Scharping, and wide receiver Trent Taylor. Williams could earn a bigger role this season depending on what happens with Joe Mixon, Thomas brings some age and experience to the safety room, Scharping adds some more depth the offensive line, and Taylor contributed heavily as a punt returner.
- Losing Bell hurt. I think most fans were positive the Bengals, knowing they’d lose Bates, would do everything they could to re-sign their strong safety. Bell is coming off a career year, with four interceptions, and signed a three-year, $22.5 million contract with $13 million guaranteed. Scott will come in and is likely to start as the team’s new strong safety, and while he’s capable, he has some big shoes to fill.
- Top-tier quarterbacks never come up available in free agency, whether they’re unrestricted or restricted. The Ravens and Lamar Jackson are in uncharted waters. I could see a scenario where both the Ravens and Jackson win and where they both lose. The more time that goes by, the more and more it looks like they’re both going to lose. I imagine the Bengals will face off against Jackson twice in 2023, but we can’t be 100 percent sure right now. There were several teams all in on the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, but now that Jackson, who is the better version of Watson and without all the terrible stuff, is available and nobody is interested?
That’s weird, to say the least.
- When it comes to the free agents the Bengals have signed, they’ve either gotten good players on good deals, or they’ve passed up the top-tier players for guys that they’re sure are scheme and culture fits.
- This is the Bengals when they see a free agent who is 30 years or older:
- And this is the Bengals when they see a young athlete who seems to fit in their culture:
- I firmly believe the Bengals will trade Williams, but only if they get something they feel is worth it. I don’t think they’ll let him go for anything less than a day-two pick. I also firmly believe if the Bengals don’t trade Williams, he won’t walk away from the $12 million he has guaranteed to him. If the Bengals ask him to start the season at right tackle, I think he will.
- Jonah Williams and Joe Mixon account for 11 percent of the Bengals’ salary cap. If the Bengals cut Mixon after June 1, and they trade Williams, they’ll save close to $22 million.
- As far as what roster holes could still be addressed in free agency, it has to be tight end or cornerback, right? The only tight ends currently on the roster are Devin Asiasi, Nick Bowers and Tanner Hudson. This is a deep tight end draft class, but signing a free agent doesn’t force the Bengals’ hand in the draft. At cornerback, the Bengals have Chidobe Awuzie, Cam Taylor-Britt, and Mike Hilton back, but it’s unclear as to whether or not Awuzie will be himself after a season-ending injury, and he’s entering the last year of his contract and Hilton is 29. The Bengals need some depth at the cornerback position, even though they did re-sign Jalen Davis.
- Here are a few free agents at different positions the Bengals could be interested in as of writing this (Monday night):
- Running back: Ezekiel Elliot, Leonard Fournette, Kareem Hunt
- Tight end: Cameron Brate, Austin Hooper, Foster Moreau
- Cornerback: Eli Apple, Tre Flowers, William Jackson
- There are several big-name free agents still available, but free agency is clearly starting to slow down a little. Don’t be surprised if the Bengals don’t make any major moves until after the draft.
- Speaking of the draft, the Bengals have applied to host the three-day event after the 2024 season. I’d love to see Cincinnati host one of the largest sporting events in the country.
- If you got to choose who the Bengals would sign in free agency next, and be realistic, who would you pick?