Predicting Bengals' Free-Agent Signings
After applying the franchise tag to Michael Johnson, the Cincinnati Bengals are left to decide how to handle the rest of their free agents this year. Andre Smith is the next biggest priority, but several other role players have expiring contracts as well.
Free agency begins on March 12, and the Bengals will have to act quickly with some of these players in order to keep them in stripes. Others, they'll let walk away. After that, the focus is on pro days and acquiring young talent.
For now, here is who the Bengals need to re-sign and some figures that the Bengals could be looking at to make it happen.
Andre Smith, 3 Years/$20 Million
Andre Smith is asking for $9 million per year, but it’s doubtful that he’ll get it. Primarily, he hasn’t shown a consistent enough work ethic to justify $9 million in any year. Second, he hasn’t proven to be a max-salary player. Third, he seems to be missing some of the intangibles that you expect from a $9 million guy.
The road started off murky for Smith. As soon as he finalized his rookie contract negotiations in 2009, he sustained a non-contact injury to his foot that caused him to miss much of the season. In addition to that, Smith was overweight. So much so, that the Bengals wrote a clause into his contract that his weekly paychecks would be cut in half if he reported over 350 pounds.
His rookie contract was for six years, $42 million with an option for the last two years, which the Bengals waived, landing Smith with $21 million guaranteed and the freedom to test the market in free agency.
Smith has earned $23 million as a Bengal, $17 million coming in the last two years. Albeit his performance dramatically improved for the 2011 and 2012 seasons. So he’s shown that he can play up to the money, he just had to receive an average of $8.65 million per year to do so.
Now he’s asking for $9 million. The franchise tag for offensive linemen this year is set at $9.82 million. Smith is basically saying that he should be one of the top-paid tackles in the league, which leads to reason No. 2.
In order to demand $9 million a year, players usually have to have proven themselves on the field. While NFLTradeRumors has had Smith ranked as a top-10 free agent for the majority of the past season, he hasn’t held his end of the bargain when needed. Specifically, in games against J.J. Watt.
The Bengals have met the Texans the last two years in the AFC Wild Card Game, and both times J.J. Watt has had a field day. In those two games combined, Watt amassed seven total tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss and three passes deflected, including this one that he returned for a touchdown.
Teams pay players $9 million a year so that when it comes down to an 80-yard drive to seal a playoff win, that player will make a play. Granted, Watt is a specimen and no one has figured out quite how to contain him—however, that’s what guys like Andre Smith are for.
Lastly, Smith lacks intangibles. For as long as Smith has been on NFL radar, he's made bad decisions. He left the combine early in 2009 without telling anyone. He showed up to the combine and pro day overweight and out of shape (Go to 0:40). And most recently, he tried to take a handgun into an Atlanta airport.
Smith is still a very good NFL football player. His intangible uncertainties, however, make him not worth $9 million a year. Smith is likely going to chase the money, as evident by the $42 million in his rookie contract. If a team is willing to pay him $9 million this year, he will probably take it. The Bengals will get in on it too. They won’t offer him the full $9 million that he’s asking for, but Smith will have to entertain it, nonetheless.
If there’s a team that’s willing to give Smith a four-year, $36 million deal, he should take it. However, he’s much more likely to settle for a three-year, $20 million contract, and that’s what the Bengals should offer him.
Adam "Pacman" Jones, 1 Year/$1.2 Million
Adam “Pacman” Jones has emerged into one of the quiet leaders of the Cincinnati Bengals team. Having matured beyond the strip club escapades and indoor rain storms, Jones has embraced a mentor-like figure in Cincinnati. The change came full circle when Jones spoke last summer at the Rookie Symposium.
“The message is, this is not a joke. At the end of the day you have to treat it like a business,” Jones told Pete O'Brien of the USA Today. “And you’re a business owner and every decision you make is a reflection of you.”
On the field, Jones has been a solid addition as well. In 2012, Jones recorded 33 tackles, nine passes deflected and his first sack since 2006. Jones also started off the scoring against the Browns Week 2 with an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown.
First-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick should step into Jones’ starting role this year as long as he is healthy. Jones seems to have reached a point in his career, however, where he’s comfortable passing the torch and imparting his knowledge on younger teammates.
Kirkpatrick had this to say to NFL.com about Jones’ guidance, “He doesn’t want to see me follow in his footsteps. Just being around the wrong people. Surrounding myself with not a lot of positive people. Those are the things that he’s been trying to tell me.”
Jones’ demand in the NFL is at an all-time low considering his history of partying. Jones single-handedly connected the hip-hop fad of “making it rain” with NFL athletes through his highly-publicized strip club shooting in Vegas in 2009.
Jones’ history makes it even easier for the Bengals to re-sign him for the 2013 season. Not many teams will fight to bring him to their roster. That’s fine, though, because Bengals fans know his worth and so does the front office.
Last season, Jones was under a one-year, $950,000 contract. The Bengals should offer him something similar for 2013 but no more than $1.4 million guaranteed. Considering that he had to pay $11 million in damages to the Vegas nightclub, Jones will be happy to simply receive a paycheck.
The Bengals should offer Adam Jones a one-year, $1.2 million contract. If he can find a better deal, let him walk.
Josh Brown, 1 Year/$1 Million
Josh Brown was signed by the Bengals on Thursday December 6, 2012 and started against the Dallas Cowboys that Sunday. Kicker Mike Nugent sustained a calf injury that prompted a kickoff between Brown, Neil Rackers and Billy Cundiff.
Brown went 4-of-4 in his Bengals debut including a 52-yarder. He finished the season 11-of-12 with his only miss coming from 52 at Heinz Field.
Brown only cost the Bengals $100,000 last season since he was only under contract for a portion of the games. Considering he was unemployed before receiving the call to join the Bengals last winter, Brown shouldn't be hard to keep around. One year, $1 million should do it, and as long as he still wants to kick in the NFL, he should take it.
Bruce Gradkowski, 1 Year/$2.3 Million
With Bruce Gradkowski approaching free agency, the Bengals have been forced to weigh their options as to how to fill the position of backup quarterback. Their options were via free agency or via the draft. The initial thought was to find a quarterback late in the draft to develop and support Dalton as the starter.
This year's quarterback class has proven to be less impressive than in years past. The lack of depth begs the question whether or not free agency is a better option than the draft this year.
Many quarterbacks available in free agency this year are in a similar class with each other: four to eight years of experience and never going to start an NFL game again. Given the risks of experimenting with a young quarterback and the learning curve of a free-agent veteran, the Bengals' best option this year is to re-sign Gradkowski.
Gradkowksi signed a two-year, $4 million contract two years ago. A similar two-year, or more lucrative one-year, deal should be enough to keep him around. Offer Gradkowksi a one-year, $2 million contract with a $300,000 bonus should he be asked to start more than two games.
Andrew Hawkins, 1 Year/$500,000
Despite missing two games during the Bengals' win streak this past season, receiver Andrew Hawkins put together career numbers. Hawkins pulled in 51 catches for 533 yards and four touchdowns.
He was often the target of third-down passes when he was in the game. His elusiveness and knack for finding the sticks have made him quite the threat in short-yardage situations. Hawkins also set a great example for how to run the slot receiver position, which rookies Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones followed for various points of the season.
Hawkins cost the Bengals $465,000 last year. This is an example of a team maximizing value. At 5'7", Hawkins' size has always been an issue. However, he has shown Cincinnati fans that it's not all about stature. While 24 of his 51 catches were for first downs, Coach Simmons should require more of him on special teams this upcoming season. Regardless, they should offer him a low salary contract with lots of incentives.
One year, $500,000 with up to $1 million dollars in incentives. Chances are Hawkins won't have a ton of suitors come free agency and we'll see him in stripes again in 2013.