With the exception of re-acquiring Dontay Moch on Friday, the Cincinnati Bengals are entering their fifth day without signing an unrestricted free agent. Fans that are demanding every high-profile free agent (at least names of players that they instantly recognize) walk down their lonely road, punting another aluminium can. To them, the Bengals don't take this whole football thing seriously. Even those that preach patience start to wonder, silently urging themselves to recall that this roster is strong and will improve -- just not via free agency.
This will be the third consecutive year in which Cincinnati leans back in their proverbial chair early during free agency, sitting on their idle hands while observing desperate teams making desperate moves -- because they're in desperate situations. Tampa Bay is desperate. To a degree, so are the Broncos. Denver recognizes that their window is shutting with Peyton Manning's age -- yet one has to wonder if/when Manning retires, how much of a treat that the Broncos truly are. Would it be too much of a stretch to claim that, outside of the quarterback position, Cincinnati's roster is stronger?
Free agency is a means to artificially improve a roster but those moves are generally only temporary and apply perceptions that do not exist. A team applying ridiculously amounts of money may present the appearance that their ownership cares more than a team that doesn't. In reality, those teams have fundamental issues that forces them to panic. Cincinnati finds players and makes every effort to keep them. Sometimes you have too many good players to keep, and as a result, some leave. It happens to teams that are loaded with talent.
Cincinnati's scouting department tends to win these arguments because 1) they're one of the best teams in the NFL draft and 2) they keep finding pieces like Wallace Gilberry, Adam Jones and Mike Pollak to supplement their roster while finding (and sometimes risking) undrafted players like Vincent Rey, Andrew Hawkins, Vontaze Burfict and Emmanuel Lamur.
You just have to sit through the mid-March lull first.
The league opened free agency in 2012 on March 13. Four painstaking sunsets passed before Cincinnati signed their first free agent from another team -- offensive guard Travelle Wharton. A day later, Cincinnati signed cornerback Jason Allen and re-signed Reggie Nelson to a four-year deal. On March 22, they announced that running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis had agreed to terms. Big deal.
A month later, Cincinnati drafted Kevin Zeitler, Marvin Jones and George Iloka, all of whom were full-time starters by the end of this season. Dre Kirkpatrick, Devon Still, Mohamed Sanu and Brandon Thompson improved the team's depth at their respective positions with a positive trajectory heading into this season.
Net result: Bengals win one more game in 2012 compared to their 2011 total and qualify for the postseason for a second consecutive year.
In the meantime, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers spent $140.6 million on offensive guard Carl Nicks, wide receiver Vincent Jackson and cornerback Eric Wright. Nicks' career is in jeopardy with a foot injury and Wright has already left for another team. At least Jackson has been productive to warrant his $55.6 million contract. Yet, Tampa Bay hasn't reached .500 since 2010.
Washington signed wide receiver Pierre Garcon to a five-year deal worth $42.5 million. After missing six games in 2012, Garcon posted an impressive 113 receptions for a 3-13 team. On the same day, Washington signed Josh Morgan to a deal that averaged $5.75 million/season with $7.3 million guaranteed. After posting 68 receptions in 2012 and 2013, his deal was voided and now the Redskins have $3.3 million of dead money on the books.
St. Louis signed cornerback Cortland Finnegan to a five-year deal worth $50 million with $27 million guaranteed. After only playing seven games with a $15 million cap number in 2013 and an opposing passer rating of 136.0, the Rams released him.
We could continue but let's move on to 2013. The league opened free agency that year on March 12. After re-signing Wallace Gilberry on the same day and Rey Maualuga six days later, Cincinnati signed their first unrestricted free agent from another team on March 22, 2013 -- backup quarterback Josh Johnson.
A month later, Cincinnati grabbed Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert in the NFL draft while players like Margus Hunt, Sean Porter, Shawn Williams and Tanner Hawkinson seem poised to make a productive impact at some point as opportunities open.
Net result: Bengals win one more game in 2013 compared to their 2012 total and quality for the postseason for a third consecutive year.
The Miami Dolphins were the biggest players early in free agency, signing wide receiver Mike Wallace and linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler to deals worth a combined $120.75 million. After those signings, Miami improved their win total by one game -- their offensive and defensive ranks didn't improve, ranked 27 and 21 respectively. Wallace didn't even surpass 1,000 yards last season and his five touchdowns is a career-low.
These stories consume Bengals fans. Despite the high-dollar contracts, teams rarely benefit from them. From the early Dan Snyder spending sprees, the Philadelphia dream team, these stories turn out poorly and most players never see the end of their jaw-dropping deals.
So we sit. We watch and wait. Not for the Bengals to sign a high-profile free agent -- they've been telling you for months that they won't. No, our eyes continue to focus on the NFL draft -- where the core of Cincinnati's team continues to be built.