Much to the detest of Cincinnati fans everywhere, the Bengals are winning free agency this offseason by saving all of their cap space.
While some teams have made major splashes in free agency this offseason with franchise crippling contracts to overpay players (ahem, Paul Kruger in Cleveland), the Bengals have been content to save their cash for a later date.
That makes Bengals fans everywhere agitated, and gives media (most) pundits yet another reason to poke fun at the franchise.
The joke's on them.
That figure is nowhere near as massive as it appears at first glance.
As Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com illustrates, the team has spent a boatload of cash this offseason already, they have just been under-the-radar about it. The team is planning on rolling over $10 million of the available $28.9 million to next year:
With Tate in the fold, it's estimated the Bengals have spent about $33-34 million in salary cap dollars since March 1. Since they're rolling over $10 million into next year to brace for big extensions with key players, they're not looking to do much beyond getting deals for right tackle Andre Smith and cornerback Terence Newman. They'll do some deals (backer, safety, QB?) but those most likely won't be major as thoughts turn to trying to get an extension with two-time Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins.
Cincinnati has made some important signings with its impressive heap of cap space. Michael Johnson was hit with the franchise tag, which cost the team over $11 million alone. Securing corner Adam Jones was a crucial move as well.
The special teams unit is back in the fold as well, with Clark Harris and Mike Nugent receiving new deals. Josh Johnson was brought in to act as the new backup quarterback as well.
That's just naming a few of the signings the team has made so far. For those keeping count, the Bengals have about $19 million left over, and they still want to get new deals done with corner Terence Newman and the best right tackle in the NFL in Andre Smith.
Again, that number is not as big as it seems either. As Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer points out, the team has to set aside money for injuries, contract incentives and signing draft picks:
Now take off another $7-9 million to sign draft picks, keep cash on hand in case an incentive that is listed as not likely to be reached does end up happening (there is $4.1444 million in NLTBE’s in contracts this season) and signing players to replace those who go on injured reserve...the Bengals used $7 million of their cap last year to replace players who went on injured reserve.
Now the cap looks even smaller, and we haven't even touched on giving some big-name players extensions.
Keep in mind injuries happen, and the Bengals remained relatively healthy last season. Despite this, the team still had to use $7 million alone on signing replacements for players who ended up on injured reserve.
Also keep in mind Cincinnati has a three picks in the first two rounds of the upcoming draft. Even with the rookie wage scale, those contracts alone are going to cost the team a good amount of money.
Outside of those reasons, the Bengals are going to be working on some serious extensions this summer with their free cap space. Ideally the team will use the remaining space to work on keeping important pieces around in the long term such as Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins—who are all set to become free agents next offseason.
But why is the team rolling $10 million over to next season rather than spend it this offseason, you ask?
Andy Dalton and A.J. Green.
As Bleacher Report's AFC North Lead Writer Andrea Hangst pointed out on Twitter, the $10 million is for Dalton and Green, who become eligible for extensions next offseason:
Or, as Reedy put it:
If you want to nickname the $10 million “The Andy and A.J. Fund” that would be appropriate.
It's no secret the Bengals have eyes toward the future, so this should not come as a surprise. Should Dalton take the next step in development, the team is going to have to find some cash to keep him around.
It really goes without saying, but retaining A.J. Green for the long term is going to take boatloads of money considering he is arguably the best receiver in the NFL not named Megatron.
The point is, the Bengals have one of two options. One—splurge on free agents and watch Atkins, Green and others potentially walk because of cap issues. Or, two—save cap space now to retain the franchise's best players for the duration of their careers and complement them with rookies through smart drafting.
Cincinnati is on course to join the select few that follow the second option. The last thing the franchise needs is to lose another Johnathan Joseph because the team didn't have the money or desire to keep around its own talent.
Yes, the Bengals are hoarding cap space, but in a few years, fans and media alike will be singing the praises of Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis for building a contending franchise the proper way.
Get used to it.
Note—All relevant contract info courtesy of Spotrac.
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