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Even When Bengals Make The Right Moves, Things Go Wrong

Over the past few seasons, the Bengals have had a seemingly wise inward focus with contracts. The elation lasted only so long after disappointments have set in.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Though the 2014 free agency period was painfully slow for the Cincinnati Bengals, it did show a trend that the team has been riding over the past few seasons. That trend blends with their philosophy of securing their own key talents long-term instead of shelling out huge money for street free agents. It's one major piece of a puzzle that every successful franchise utilizes.

For the Bengals, it's been a mix of giving new contracts to in-house players that have hit free agency, along with the signing of extensions to major players already under contract. The amount of players retained, particularly in the 2013 offseason, has been impressive. However, some of the biggest contracts haven't worked out as hoped--be it from unfortunate injuries or other issues.

Let's break down and examine some of the bigger contract given out to marquee players of late:

Major Contracts Signed:

Leon Hall, CB: In the 2011 offseason, Hall signed a four-year contract worth $39 million. In it, Hall received a $9 million signing bonus and just over $14 million was guaranteed money.

Vontaze Burfict, LB: This past offseason, the Bengals signed the Pro Bowl linebacker to a four-year, $19 million deal. It included a $3.1 million signing bonus with just north of $6.9 million of the contract being guaranteed.

Andy Dalton, QB: Again in the 2014 offseason, the Bengals gave Dalton a six-year, $96 million extension. Dalton received a $12 million signing bonus with $17 million of the contract being guaranteed money.

Andre Smith, RT: Smith tested the free agent market after his rookie deal elapsed and didn't find many suitors. He signed a three-year, $18 million deal. Plus, a $3 million signing bonus and $5 million guaranteed. The contract was signed on the second night of the 2013 Draft.

Carlos Dunlap, DE: The team's stalwart at defensive end signed a six-year extension, worth $40 million. He received $8 million to sign and received just under $12 million in guaranteed money. This contract was reportedly initially offered to Michael Johnson and was given to Dunlap after Johnson balked.

Geno Atkins, DT: Along with Smith getting inked, the Bengals extended Atkins to a mega-deal after amassing 20 combined sacks in 2011 and 2012. His five-year deal worth $55.33 million showed how highly the team thought of him, along with $15 million as a signing bonus and $15 million in guaranteed money.

The Initial Reaction:

Hall's Deal: Most believed that it was a solid deal for a player who hadn't missed a game in the previous four seasons. There was a sense that it was an elite contract for simply a solid player, and some bitterness lingered that the contract money didn't get focused more to Johnathan Joseph who departed via free agency that same offseason. However, the team and a good chunk of fans were excited to have one of their core defensive players in the fold for the next handful of years.

Burfict's Deal: Those surrounding the team were excited when Burfict signed a deal that was basically $6.33 million per year. He appeared to be the type of nasty tackle-machine that Marvin Lewis had been seeking since he coached Ray Lewis in Baltimore a decade and a half ago. Most assumed that Burfict would get a higher annual salary after coming off of a Pro Bowl berth, so it seemed pretty team-favorable.

Dalton's Deal: This one had people divided. Some had faith that Dalton was "the guy" for the Bengals. Others looked at prime time and postseason issues and wondered why such a hefty deal was given to the polarizing quarterback. As details emerged, it actually looked like a very team-friendly deal in the mold of Colin Kaepernick's extension. All in all, it seems as if it was a solid deal for a guy who many thought wasn't deserving of a new deal.

Smith's Deal: Most were ecstatic when this deal was struck. It appeared that both sides were at a standstill, yet neither wanted to admit that they were desperate for each other. Smith wasn't getting any sniffs on the open market and the Bengals wanted to open up the possibilities in the Draft. They inked Smith and were able to draft Giovani Bernard and Margus Hunt instead of focusing on tackle, as the rumor mill was spinning.

Dunlap's Deal: Though the ideal situation would have been to keep both Dunlap and Johnson (check out the team's current cap space), most were pleased that Dunlap was locked up long-term. He was only 24 years old when he signed the extension and it ensured that the team would have two key players on the defensive line for the next half-decade.

Atkins' Deal: The other major piece of the defensive line and of the team was locked up long-term after making the Pro Bowl. There were no signs of any sad faces from fans or media members after this one was inked.

The Verdict Now:

Positives of Hall's Deal: Having No. 29 in the fold has given the Bengals flexibility and needed experience in the secondary. Hall has accounted for seven turnovers since the deal (six interceptions, one fumble recovery), plus another pick-six in the 2012 playoff game in Houston. He has been mostly solid in the slot, covering tight ends and other receivers with mostly high efficiency. Even though the team has drafted two first round corners over the past three seasons, Hall has allowed the staff to have veteran experience on the field.

Negatives Of Hall's Deal: Two Achilles injuries to both legs and a lack of long speed because of it has made the deal seem to be bordering on a bad one. After not missing a game in four straight seasons, Hall has missed 23 games (including postseason) in the four seasons since the extension was struck. Additionally, Hall had 18 interceptions in his first four seasons to his seven (including postseason) since the deal.

Verdict On Hall's Deal: Maybe it's a bit of a knee-jerk reaction because of the 94-yard play to Martavis Bryant last week, but it seems like the staff has pigeonholed him as the slot guy because of long speed and initial burst issues from the Achilles injuries. Great guy, a leader and will always teeter around being "solid", but with two first round corners on the bench, some fans are getting restless to see what Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard can really do.

Positives Of Burfict's Deal: Since one can't rely on the two previous years of work in relation to his new deal, there aren't many positives since the deal. He appeared in five games in 2014, really only finishing one--the Carolina Panthers overtime fiesta. Before landing on IR because of knee, neck and concussion issues, Burfict had 29 tackles and a forced fumble.

Negatives Of Burfict's Deal: The injuries. There was already some concern that Burfict would revert back to some of the red flags he had coming out of college after signing a lucrative deal and officially "making it", so multiple injuries, especially the concussions, just add to the worries. As I'll touch on later, it is a shame that these issues occurred so soon after he signed the extension.

Verdict On Burfict's Deal: See above in the negatives. There a lot yet to be determined and a couple more years on the deal, but it's off to a scary start.

Positives On Dalton's Deal: If there are two things that encapsulate Dalton as an NFL quarterback, it's that he's durable and wins regular season games. With the team sitting at 8-4-1, Dalton has the team on the precipice of making their fourth playoff appearance, which already builds on the franchise-setting streak of three that was set last year.

Negatives On Dalton's Deal: The signal-caller is on pace to either set or barely break career-lows in many statistical passing categories. Though he has engineered a couple of nice wins this year, two prime time losses with one bearing a career-worst passer rating has some fearful about the stretch of regular season games ahead, as well as the playoffs.

Verdict On Dalton's Deal: He and the Bengals lead the division with three games to play, so it's hard to criticize it heavily--after all wins are ultimately what matters in the NFL. Still, Dalton has instilled little confidence to the fan base that he'll perform well in the postseason, if the Bengals even get there this year.

Positives On Smith's Deal: Big Andre played well last season, missing only one start, but playing in all 17 games. He was one of the better players on the offensive line, even though the team had a 3.6 yard per carry average running the ball in 2013. He had some great moments in 2014, but also some bad ones.

Negatives On Smith's Deal: Injuries have again cost Smith playing time, as he landed on IR after a triceps tear. He is set to miss seven games (or more with postseason) this year, but was also having ups and downs throughout the games he did appear in.

Verdict On Smith's Deal: All of a sudden, there is only one year left on this deal, so 2015 will be critical for both the future of Smith's career and the future of Cincinnati's offensive line. The contract acts as a microcosm of Smith's career as a whole, with one good year and another with spotty play and injuries.

Positives On Dunlap's Deal: Big No.96 has continued to be his solid self amassing 13.5 sacks in the almost two seasons since inking the extension. He has been the most consistent player on the defensive line this year, also contributing as a run-stopper at times as well. He's also only 25 years old and has played in every game possible since signing the deal.

Negatives On Dunlap's Deal: He isn't a truly dominant defensive end that is consistently capable of putting up double-digit sack numbers annually. He's still young, so that could change, but it's been evident that the Bengals need another edge rusher aside from him to truly have a great pass rush.

Verdict On Dunlap's Deal: Seeing as how he has arguably been the best player on defense this year, it's hard to call this deal anything but a positive. At a minimum, Dunlap will be a solid guy on the line for the next half-decade who won't miss (m)any starts. Surround him with another guy that can rush on the outside and this line could be a dominant force again.

Positives Of Atkins' Deal: In short, it locks up a guy who was once-viewed as the best player at his position for another three years (after 2014). He started slow in 2013, but really heated up towards the middle of the season before his knee injury. The team has to give him credit for going out there on Week One and not missing any games since the injury, and he's only 26 years old.

Negatives Of Atkins' Deal: It's hard to gauge whether Atkins' performance this year is indicative of depleted talent around him and/or the knee still not around 100%, but one has to hope that neither issue will be a long-term one. He only has 29 total tackles and two sacks on the season. He has been the key of the defense since 2011, and with him not looking the same in 2014, the entire unit looks inept.

Verdict On Atkins' Deal: It's possible that 2015 could be a year that we see Atkins back to his old self, but the lack of consistent explosiveness leaves some doubt. Another young, big-bodied defensive tackle next to him and some other surrounding talent would be safe bets going forward.

The Shame Of It All:

Even though these half-dozen examples leave a sour taste, there are other smaller examples that show success. Andrew Whitworth, Reggie Nelson and Terence Newman have all re-signed to the club and have had varying degrees of success. One can't blame the team for the streak of misfortune, as these moves all seemed wise on some kind of level.

The saddest part about these six players is obviously the injuries. Though it's possible that they overcome them and get back to their old forms, three of the six suffered major injuries just mere months after signing the deals. While wrapping up money into your own core players is one of the wisest strategies when building a championship team, it also shows a potential danger with putting all of those eggs in one basket. If they end up breaking and no contingency plan is in place (a la an inactive 2014 outside free agency period), the team can suffer. We have been seeing it to a certain extent in 2014 with the Bengals.