Free agency and the Cincinnati Bengals sometimes have an oil and water type of relationship. The front office has shied away from splashy signings, but every once in awhile they strike an under-the-radar deal that ends up helping the team in their now-annual quest to the postseason.
This year, the Bengals once again focused on the inside when signing players in free agency, but recently, they began to look at two battle-tested veterans in linebacker Karlos Dansby and wide receiver Brandon LaFell. Progress has been slow in negotiations between the team and the two players, but Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com recently noted that it is the team's goal to get these deals done in the near future and then focus on the draft.
The Bengals’ immediate plan looks pretty clear. Finish off negotiations with veteran wide receiver Brandon LaFell and veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby in the next week or so and head into the draft.
As we have posted news on each player on Cincy Jungle, we have noticed a much more positive fan response to a potential Dansby signing, than one with LaFell. As we look at the potential benefits of LaFell joining the Bengals, the response seems as if it should be more positive than what has been thrown out there.
Immediate Need and Best Available on the Market:
Sure the Bengals let Marvin Jones slip through their fingers and allowed Mohamed Sanu to take a huge deal from the Falcons, but LaFell appears to be the best left out there--especially after Rueben Randle signed with the Eagles. The wisest strategy for the Bengals after losing their two wideouts is to add a veteran and one or two rookies to the mix.
LaFell provides veteran stability as a rookie (or rookies) gets his feet under him, not putting so much pressure on the youngster from the get-go. It's possible that a potential LaFell deal goes the way of Denarius Moore's from last year, but the ceiling seems higher, based on his past production.
Size and Red Zone Capabilities:
Though Sanu and Jones did many things well and made some plays in the short areas of the field for scores, LaFell has a size advantage over both. At 6'3", LaFell provides another big target in the offense for Andy Dalton to use in the red zone. It had been especially on display from 2013-2014 when LaFell was with the Patriots (and healthy) and grabbed 12 touchdowns in the span.
Cincinnati has used a variety of deployments inside the opponent's' 20-yard line, almost always using the 6'4" A.J. Green and 6'6" Tyler Eifert, who both combined for 23 touchdowns last year. Add in a formation including the 6'5" Ryan Hewitt and LaFell, and there are a number of potential passing mismatches against much shorter defensive backs.
Bringing in a Player from a Winning Culture:
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has gone on record saying he likes to take college players from large, winning programs to add to his team. It's also something they tend to look for in a lot of their free agents. James Harrison was a major part of the Steelers winning XLIII, and the Bengals brought him to Cincinnati five years later, as one example. AJ Hawk was brought in last year from the Packers who he won a Super Bowl with in 2010. LaFell won a Super Bowl with the Patriots in February of 2015, and knows what it takes to win and do so with a "team-first" type of mentality.
Opening up the Draft and the Compensatory Pick Formula:
One of the more frustrating things in the way the Bengals operate in free agency is a cheaper workaround of the system in largely pursuing outside free agents who have been released, rather than those whose contracts had expired and are sitting on the open market. Signing those types of players, like LaFell, doesn't go against the team in following the league's formula to get extra picks. Some might view it as frugality, while others see it as a shrewd maneuver, but the truth is, it's both, and players selected by the Bengals with compensatory picks have ended up contributing in big ways in recent years.
What has also been a key to the Bengals' success over the past half-decade is often taking the best player available in the draft, regardless of position. That was on display in the first two rounds of last year's draft and grabbing a veteran wideout in free agency doesn't necessarily tie their hands in grabbing a receiver in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft. It's still likely they will, but signing LaFell allows the team to spring for a potential defensive lineman, linebacker or player in the secondary that falls to them unexpectedly rather than needing a wide receiver immediately when on the clock for the first time in 2016.