Free agency is a feral animal where desperation begets desperation. Save for extraordinary circumstances, the evolving commentary with the NFL is that free agency is a means for struggling teams to purchase rosters. Their reasons are varied, often fanatical, highlighting depreciating ticket sales, poor merchandising or anything else concerning revenue. These teams, poorly built and dreadfully managed, are principles in an annual crapshoot where players earn significantly more money than the amount at which they're valued, crushing a team's salary cap management with limited long-term visibility. Olivier Vernon, anyone?
There are teams like the Bengals, loyal toward an established philosophy that's turned Cincinnati into an annual postseason resident. Because their system works, free agency has become a meaningless date on the NFL calendar, perhaps through a hardheaded refusal to be controlled by external variables (such as a fluctuating market). And if you, the fans, media, or players, dispute their philosophical conduct during March, they don't care. Maybe the more appropriate acknowledgement is "kiss our ass." Save for the "they haven't won a playoff game" talking point, the system works. And even their postseason infidelity hasn't been an issue of talent - more like an unacknowledged issue of luck; it was Andy Dalton in 2015, or the entire wide receiver roster in 2014.
Regardless, we're here.
Wednesday celebrated the opening of free agency and the NFL new year with the usual flair; trades, non-trades, crazy money being offered for second-tier players. Deficient teams are overreacting with their usual desperation. Quality teams, like Cincinnati, are cerebrally approaching Wednesday with a perception of indifference, with an understandable ambition to reinforce their roster with their own players, as opposed to rebuilding it through big brother's hand-me-downs.
Yet, as these stories go, Wednesday began with a loss.
Wide receiver Marvin Jones, a former fifth-rounder from the 2012 NFL draft, reached an agreement with the Detroit Lions. Jones allegedly picked the Lions over the Bengals and New England Patriots. With A.J. Green's contract annually increasing and the possibility of a mass exodus in the secondary, it was a stretch believing Cincinnati would match Detroit's five-year deal worth $40 million, with $20 million in guarantees, that Jones signed.
Jones, a prototypical and serviceable No. 2 receiver, departs Cincinnati with 134 career receptions, 1,729 yards receiving and 15 touchdowns - and the evaporation of annual durability questions, having missed 21 of 64 games over four years.
"It was a move I felt gave me the best opportunity to maximize my potential," Jones said via ESPN Insider Josina Anderson. "Not at all about the money."
Not that Jones requires validation from internet warriors, but who really believes this statement? Money is money and no one has the right to judge another person based on how they're making their money (provided it's ethical and legal). Let's just be honest with ourselves, Mmm-kay?
Locally, where does our little roster of wide receivers go from here? Clearly overreacting with significant financial compensation for Mohamed Sanu, often a fourth target last season, if not the fifth, is a bad idea. Sanu generated significant interest with the New York Giants, New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Atlanta is hosting the wide receiver on Thursday and reportedly is offering Sanu a contract that would average $7 million per season. Regardless, reports already surfaced that there's virtually no chance Sanu returns. As the meme of sports writers go, this was expected.
In the meantime
While Jones' departure and Sanu's eventual exit are an obvious loss for Cincinnati's pool of talent, the Bengals reached an agreement with George Iloka, roughly four hours prior to the start of free agency. According to reports, it's a five-year agreement worth $30 million. The average $6 million Iloka will earn ranks within the top-10 highest paid safeties, in terms of annual salary. According to reports, Iloka's deal also includes $5 million in guarantees, a $3 million signing bonus and a $2.5 million roster bonus issued on March 14.
Does that suggest Reggie Nelson is gone?
Maybe, but not for a lack of trying. Some correctly identify Nelson's age as a liability. Others justifiably point out that Nelson led the league in interceptions last year, and continued being a bane for Ben Roethlisberger. Hell, I'd give Nelson a raise just for his performances against the Steelers. Cincinnati reportedly offered Nelson a two-year deal that the veteran safety rejected. Some are easily willing to ditch Nelson, with 23 interceptions, 5.5 sacks, and five forced fumbles over the course of his Bengals career, for a younger Shawn Williams, who is entering his fourth season (and a contract year), largely as an unknown commodity as an everyday starting defensive back. You won't know until you try.
Despite all the chatter leading up to Wednesday, cornerback Adam Jones was rarely mentioned until about 7 p.m. when he announced a three-year deal via Instagram.
In other free agency news, the Bengals re-signed Eric Winston to a one-year deal worth $1.09 million. Linebacker Emmanuel Lamur also made good on his promise to leave Cincinnati, signing with the Minnesota Vikings.
FREE AGENT UPDATE:
- Safety George Iloka
- CB Adam Jones
- OT Eric Winston
- WR Brandon Tate
- OL T.J. Johnson
- WR Marvin Jones
- LB Emmanuel Lamur