Setting Odds for Cincinnati Bengals Signing Their Top 5 Free-Agent Targets
The Cincinnati Bengals enter the 2014 offseason in a relatively good situation as it pertains to their own free agents.
There are two big names that may slip away as the Bengals, despite a hefty cap-space number, have become rather stingy with money in order to save for extensions (A.J. Green comes to mind) and draft picks.
But the franchise has done well to prepare for potential losses with a forward-looking approach to personnel acquisition in recent years.
While talents such as Michael Boley, Dane Sanzenbacher, Mike Pollak, Alex Smith and Brandon Ghee set to hit the market, there are five major names inside and outside of the organization that may turn out to be the focal point of free agency for the Bengals. The odds those players return vary and are worth closer examination.
Also note that receiver Andrew Hawkins and linebacker Vincent Rey are not on here because of their restricted status which all but ensures they return next season.
What follows are five names the Bengals will either attempt to retain or pursue on the open market with odds to boot.
Note: The full list of Bengals free agents can be found at Spotrac.
Michael Johnson, DE
After the Cincinnati Bengals used the franchise tag on defensive end Michael Johnson last offseason, the odds he sticks around this year are rather slim.
The Bengals recently doled out a long-term extension to defensive end Carlos Dunlap, which means the team is unlikely to invest another large chunk of change in the position—and Johnson is going to demand a lot once he hits the open market.
According to ESPN's Adam Caplan on NFL Insiders (via Rotoworld), Johnson will land "maybe $10 million a year" in free agency.
That is simply out of Cincinnati's ballpark, which is fine—the team drafted Margus Hunt in the second round a year ago to prepare for this likely loss.
Odds: 10 percent.
Anthony Collins, OT
Anthony Collins earned himself quite the big payday this offseason.
When Cincinnati Bengals left guard Clint Boling went down with a season-ending injury last year, the team kicked tackle Andrew Whitworth inside and gave Collins the nod at left tackle.
The result was Collins playing at a high level and keeping quarterback Andy Dalton relatively clean inside the pocket.
Thanks to this high-quality span of starts, Collins will likely be paid like a starter when he hits the open market, as Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer hints:
Reedy further elaborated recently:
More than likely Cincinnati will shoot out an initial offer and allow Collins to test the market. If somebody is going to back the truck up to him, they will say congratulations and move in another direction. If the market value dips back and doesn’t produce what Collins hoped for (see Smith, Andre) the team will be waiting with open arms.
It is hard to disagree. Tackles are a hot commodity in the league for obvious reasons, and the Bengals have enough draft picks and talent in the pipelines to not need Collins back.
Odds: 50 percent.
Darren McFadden, RB
If true, the Cincinnati Bengals will surely be linked to McFadden because of new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's recent comments about his former running back, via Gutierrez:
“You guys know how I feel about Darren McFadden; he's still one of my favorite players,” Jackson told ESPN affiliate 95.7 "The Game" in San Francisco Friday.
The fit makes sense from a coach-player standpoint, as Jackson got the best season out of McFadden to date.
The sense mostly ends there.
Cincinnati could use McFadden, but it already has a nice rotation with Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Unless McFadden wants to take a massive pay cut, which is not likely, the Bengals do not have the capital available to justify signing an injury-prone back who has yet to play a 16-game season.
Odds: 40 percent.
Alex Mack, C
If the Bengals want to go out and actually upgrade a position in free agency with some of the free capital floating around, a safe pursuit may be former Cleveland Browns' center Alex Mack.
Mack was the NFL’s No. 4 overall center last year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Mack will test the market, although there is a chance he will go back to Cleveland with things in flux in the front office:
Positive for #Browns: Much better chance of retaining star C Alex Mack. He’ll still test FA. With old regime, he was gone. Could be back now— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 11, 2014
The Cincinnati offensive line was great last season, but the obvious weak point was center Kyle Cook. If the Bengals for some reason want to upgrade any position at all, center has to be the pick.
The only problem here is how much Mack would cost. For a team that prefers to retain its own and build through the draft, Mack is essentially a pipe dream.
Odds: 20 percent.
Will Blackmon, CB
The Cincinnati Bengals are not going to heavily invest in the cornerback position this offseason.
Go ahead and scratch Brent Grimes, Aqib Talib, Alterraun Verner and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie off wish lists.
If the Bengals are going to add a corner, look for it to be a cheaper, depth option in the Terence Newman or Nate Clements mold from a few years ago. Think along the lines of a guy like Asante Samuel.
Or, the vastly underrated Will Blackmon.
Blackmon was a sound starter for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2013 and will likely come at a decent price. The Bengals are already three deep at corner with Newman, Leon Hall and Adam Jones, with prospect Dre Kirkpatrick in the mix as well.
But Cincinnati needs injury depth and experience. At 6'0" and 210 pounds, Blackmon fits the bill if Cincinnati wants to dip into the veteran corner pool once more.
Odds: 65 percent.