The NFL is deep into its free-agency period and the reviews for the Cincinnati Bengals’ efforts have been less than stellar. And for good reason. Rather than going out and making splashy signings, the Bengals have played it close to the vest and have concentrated on keeping their own free agents.
Not every move the Bengals made was a bad one, nor has every move been a home run. Let’s take a look at the four best moves and the four worst ones, breaking down what makes them fall into each category.
Michael Johnson had a breakout season in 2012 with 11.5 sacks. He emerged as one of the best players on one of the best defenses in the league.
Of course Johnson’s career year came at the same time he was up for free agency.
Coincidence? Or is Johnson ready to make the leap to stardom? I’m betting on the latter, and so apparently are the Bengals, because they used their franchise tag on the defensive end.
While Johnson will cost a ton of money to sign long-term, top-end pass-rushers are some of the hardest commodities to find. Between Johnson and Geno Atkins, the Bengals had two of the best.
The Bengals could easily have used the franchise tag on Andre Smith, but opted instead to tag defensive end Michael Johnson. While I don’t disagree with that move, it could backfire if the team loses Smith in free agency.
Bengals fans are divided on Smith. But the bottom line is that he is one of the best right tackles in the league. Should Smith go elsewhere, the Bengals will need to fill his position through free agency or the draft, and it’s doubtful they will find a player better than Smith. They would be best served by simply re-signing Smith.
The Bengals picked up Wallace Gilberry off the street early in last season, and he proved to be a diamond in the rough with 6.5 sacks and a fumble recovery.
Gilberry could be a one-hit wonder, but he seemed to fit perfectly into Mike Zimmer’s defensive scheme. Re-signing Gilberry allows the Bengals to keep the core of their defensive line together.
Ed Reed’s best years are behind him and he has been injury-prone in recent years, but the former Baltimore Raven is still capable of changing a game and leading a defense to the Super Bowl.
The safety also fit the Bengals’ biggest need. He could have brought a level of professionalism to a team that has always struggled to find quality leaders with playoff experience who can still play the game.
I’m not a big fan of making moves simply to make moves, but I would have welcomed the Bengals at least taking a chance at signing their former division rival.
Re-signing your own players is key so that you won’t create holes that you will have to fill later. That’s where the Adam Jones signing comes in.
While the erstwhile “Pacman” is not a major impact player, he's a solid backup cornerback and is a very dangerous returner. Allowing Jones to leave would mean that the Bengals would be forced to replace him, possibly with a player that is not as good.
Brandon Tate started last season near the top of the depth chart and ended the year as a returner only. He was a bust in the passing game, and every Bengals fan covered their eyes when he settled under a punt.
Despite all of that, the Bengals re-signed Tate last week. Considering that there are better receivers on the roster and that Adam Jones can handle punts, bringing Tate back was a perplexing move. It’s possible he may not even make the team out of training camp.
Andrew Hawkins was a revelation this past season and emerged as a dangerous weapon as a slot receiver. While he will never a dominating No. 1 guy, Hawkins is the perfect complement to superstar A.J. Green.
The Bengals still need to find a second receiver to place opposite Green, but Hawkins’ presence gives quarterback Andy Dalton yet another weapon in the passing game.
As the backup to Andy Dalton, Bruce Gradkowski has seen very little action in the past two seasons. Thanks to Dalton’s sturdiness, Gradkowski simply hasn’t been needed.
But that doesn’t mean Gradkowski didn’t have his place. Teams need two quality backup quarterbacks and with Gradkowski gone to the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bengals are left with Dalton and a cast of inexperienced players.
The Bengals signed Josh Johnson to replace Gradkowski, and while Johnson played under offensive coordinator Jay Gruden while with the Buccaneers, he has little experience and spent most of last season unemployed.
Here’s hoping that Dalton doesn’t get hurt.