NFL free agency officially begins on Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time, but with a legal "tampering window" having been open since midnight on Saturday, rumors are flying freely in anticipation.
The Cincinnati Bengals have one of the biggest caches of cash on hand heading into free agency—presently around $38.3 million after having signed a number of their own soon-to-be free agents over the weekend—which means they could be fairly active in the market in the coming days and weeks.
Here's a complete compendium of every move the Bengals have made during the course of free agency—the signings, the cuts, the free agents heading elsewhere and all of their attendant rumors—as well as grades for their most notable roster additions and subtractions.
Defensive end Wallace Gilberry received a three-year deal over the weekend.
The Bengals spent the days leading up to free agency re-signing some of their own key players and impending free agents, focusing heavily on special teams.
March 22: The Bengals have announced the re-signing of backup right tackle Dennis Roland. Details of the deal are as of yet unknown.
March 22: Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer says that the Bengals have brought on free agent quarterback Josh Johnson to back up Andy Dalton; his is a two-year deal.
March 21: Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enqurier reports that the Bengals have re-signed cornerback and special teams ace Adam Jones to a three-year deal.
March 18: ESPN's Adam Schefter confirms that the Bengals have re-signed middle linebacker Rey Maualuga to a two-year, $6.5 million contract.
March 14: Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that the Bengals hosted free agent receiver and returner Ted Ginn, Jr., and quarterback Josh Johnson on Thursday.
March 13: Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com has confirmed that the Bengals are meeting with free agent Raiders running back Mike Goodson.
March 13: Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com tweeted that the Bengals may take a look at quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was released by the Buffalo Bills on Tuesday. The Bengals have a void at the backup position after free agent Bruce Gradkowski left for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
March 13: Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com spoke with Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, who said the team is close to coming to agreement with free agent right tackle Andre Smith and that there are also a few other deals in the works.
March 13: Free agent Bengals linebacker Manny Lawson has agreed to terms with the Buffalo Bills. Yahoo! Sports' Jason Colesays Lawson will get a four-year deal worth $12 million, including $7 million in the first two years.
March 12: Geathers' new deal is worth $9.5 million and is for three years, says CBS Sports' Jason LaCanfora.
March 12: ESPN's Jamison Hensley says that the Cincinnati Bengals are interested in free agent running back Beanie Wells. Divisional rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers also have interest.
March 12: The Bengals have re-signed defensive end Robert Geathers, reports Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. The details of the deal have yet to be released.
March 10: The Bengals retained kicker Mike Nugent for two more years (financials yet to be disclosed), indicating that they won't be needing the services of Josh Brown, who was handed the starting job in December when Nugent was injured. They also brought back defensive end Wallace Gilberry on a three-year deal worth $6.75 million; he had 6.5 sacks in 2012. Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com says the combined 2013 cap bit for Nugent and Gilberry should be in the $3 to $4 million range.
March 10: In the same column, Hobson adds that the Bengals and defensive end Robert Geathers are hoping to come to terms on a new deal.
March 8: The Bengals re-signed long snapper Clark Harris and punter Kevin Huber; the financial details aren't yet available but Huber tweeted that his new contract is good for five years.
March 7: The Bengals gave a two-year deal to running back and special teams ace Cedric Peerman (details on the cost yet to come); safety Jeromy Miles received the lowest-possible restricted-free-agent tender for the year, worth $1.323 million; and wide receiver Andrew Hawkins and linebacker Vincent Rey both received exclusive-rights free-agent tenders, worth $555,000 apiece.
March 2: Free-agent Bengals offensive tackle Andre Smith was reported to wantaround $9 million per year in his new deal (per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk); whether he'll get that from Cincinnati or elsewhere is the big question.
March 1: the Bengals became the only AFC North team to use the franchise tag this year, giving it to defensive end Michael Johnson. It is worth $11.175 million this year and could be an entree into full-scale contract negotiations.
Two years for Mike Nugent
With the official start of free agency coming on Tuesday, all of the Bengals' roster additions to this point have been new deals or extensions with their own players. They are as follows:
OT Dennis Roland—details yet unknown
QB Josh Johnson—two years; financials unknown
CB Adam Jones—three years; financials unknown
LB Rey Maualuga—two years; $6.5 million
DE Robert Geathers—three years; $9.5 million
LS Clark Harris—details yet unknown
P Kevin Huber—details yet unknown; five years
RB/ST Cedric Peerman—details yet unknown; two years
S Jeromy Miles—RFA tender; $1.323 million
WR Andrew Hawkins—Exclusive-rights FA tender; $555,000
LB Vincent Rey—Exclusive-rights FA tender; $555,000
K Mike Nugent—details yet unknown; two years
DE Wallace Gilberry—three years; $6.75 million
DE Michael Johnson—franchise tag; $11.175 million
Rey Maualuga could move on in free agency.
As of Monday, March 11, the Bengals have not yet released any players; movement didn't begin in earnest until Tuesday and even by Wednesday they haven't lost many of their own free agents.
LB Dan Skuta—Free agent. New team: San Francisco 49ers; two years, financials unknown.
DT Pat Sims—Free agent. New team: Oakland Raiders; one year, financials unknown.
QB Bruce Gradkowski—Free agent. New team: Pittsburgh Steelers; three years, financials unknown.
LB Manny Lawson—Free agent. New team: Buffalo Bills; four years, $12 million.
Defensive end Michael Johnson helped the Bengals defense have one of its best seasons in nearly 30 years, racking up 11.5 regular-season sacks. Johnson also had 52 combined tackles, an interception, a fumble recovery, 13 additional quarterback hits and 49 hurries, the latter a team best for the year.
Clearly, the Bengals weren't going to let him walk away this offseason, but instead of giving him a long-term deal, they chose to use the franchise tag, which is worth $11.175 million for defensive ends this season.
The Bengals and Johnson have until July 15 to come to an agreement on a new contract or else he'll make the tag amount for the year. It's likely that the tag is just a precursor to a long-term deal and doing so would be a smart move. Johnson is only 26 years old and just heading into his prime; he'll be worth the Bengals' money for years to come.
Bengals wide receiver Andrew Hawkins played just 575 total snaps last season, working exclusively in the slot. At 5'7" and 175 pounds, Hawkins is too small to be a full-time contributor—blocking, as it were, isn't his most valuable skill—but his speed and ability to make tacklers miss makes him worth keeping around in Cincinnati, at least for 2013.
Hawkins caught 53 of the 77 passes thrown to him in 2012, for 548 yards and four touchdowns. He had a total of 361 yards after the catch, with an average of 6.8 ranking him ninth among receivers for the season. It was an impressive year for him, but it has only resulted in the Bengals giving him the exclusive-rights free-agent tender for 2013, worth $555,000.
The relatively low payday is the result of two things—one, the Bengals not employing a slot receiver on an every-down basis in passing plays, and two, the fact that Hawkins isn't terribly versatile. His speed, however, could make him useful on kick and punt returns, especially if cornerback Adam Jones—an unrestricted free agent—doesn't get a new deal to remain in Cincinnati.
The general consensus was that the Bengals may look to go younger on their defensive line this year and improve their pass rush on the left side. However, the re-signing of defensive end Robert Geathers seems to put that thought to rest, at least when it comes to snagging a starting-caliber player in the first two rounds of this year's draft.
Geathers received a three-year deal worth a total of $9.5 million. He started every game in 2012 as the Bengals' left defensive end and had four sacks, four quarterback hits and 17 quarterback hurries and split his time between the pass rush and stopping the run. His performance at the former could use some work.
With Michael Johnson getting the franchise tag and Geathers this new deal, the Bengals should be able to keep their defensive line intact for 2013. There's certainly nothing wrong with that, of course, but it's quite the pricey deal. Just because they Bengals have money to burn doesn't mean they need to give so much of it to the soon-to-be 30 year old Geathers.
As free agency began, Bengals middle linebacker Rey Maualuga began shopping his talents around, hoping to land a long-term deal if not in Cincinnati, then somewhere else.
However, the Bengals began losing what little linebacker depth they had to the open market, with Manny Lawson and then Dan Skuta leaving for new teams. Therefore, Maualuga ended up with a new deal, worth $6.5 million over the next two years.
With 2012 rookie Vontaze Burfict performing so well, he may take over in the middle this year with Maualuga on the outside again. Either way, Maualuga isn't the fastest, most-effective linebacking option for the Bengals, but considering their options and the market, they made the right move by re-signing him.
While the Bengals continue to mull over what to offer right tackle Andre Smith, they decided to take care of another of their own free agent priorities and re-sign cornerback and returner Adam Jones to a three-year deal.
The Bengals needed to keep Jones around after his extremely productive 2012 season, and finally he's turned enough of a corner to get a longer-term deal from the team than just the one-year contract he operated on last year. This was a high-priority re-signing and both the Bengals and Jones should benefit over the duration of this contract.