Cincinnati Bengals' Blueprint for Winning Free Agency
The Cincinnati Bengals are known for being quiet in free agency despite typically entering the market with a wealth of cap space.
This approach has led to accusations of alligator arms from owner Mike Brown but fans will come to appreciate how the front office does business this offseason if the team can use the wealth of extra cap space to bring back key players and extend others.
As it stands now, the Bengals rank ninth in the league with $27,554,960 million in free space, according to Spotrac.
While big at first glance, that number will evaporate quickly as the Bengals re-sign, extend and potentially add players off the market—not to mention setting aside some cash for injury purposes and a new rookie class.
To win free agency the Bengals simply have keep doing what they do best. The following slideshow will detail how the Bengals can use the same formula this offseason and emerge from the offseason a better team.
Strike a New Deal with A.J. Green
Not too shocking, right?
The Cincinnati Bengals must keep A.J. Green around for the long haul. Pretty cut and dry here. Green is now eligible for an extension as he nears the end of his rookie deal, and the team has set aside the necessary cash to get it done.
Green has already said he wants a new deal done and will let things unfold in time, so the Bengals have a good opportunity to make progress this offseason.
But now is the time to get things done. The team takes a major gamble in waiting because Green could play even better and drive his price up more. Other wideouts may strike rich extensions and drive Green's price up further.
Heck, things could self-destruct or Andy Dalton could regress now that offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is gone and Green may not want to ink anything with the Bengals.
The cost will be steep, but the safe move is ironing out a deal now with all variables under control.
More Importantly, Extend Vontaze Burfict
Look at it this way—right now, Vontaze Burfict is a known commodity who will demand a large chunk of change from the Cincinnati Bengals in extension talks.
But the same logic applies here—Burfict may be just getting started and could drive up his cost in a big way. Bleacher Report's Aaron Nagler put it best:
Vontaze Burfict is eligible for a contract extension. Wonder if the Bengals look to lock him up. Price will only go up.— Aaron Nagler (@Aaron_Nagler) February 24, 2014
As did Joel Corry of the National Football Post, who explains that the Bengals control the negotiations because Burfict made an unreasonably low amount of money as an undrafted player:
The Bengals have all of the leverage with Burfict. In addition to being under contract for another season, the Bengals will control Burfict’s rights when his contract expires. He will be a restricted free agent in 2015. The Bengals will likely give him a restricted free agent tender where they will get a first round pick from a team that signs him to an offer sheet that they don’t match. The first round tender should be $3.174 million when Burfict is restricted unless there is a significant increase in the salary cap in 2015. Knowing that they can have Burfict for the next two seasons well below his market value (approximately $3.75 million between his 2014 base salary and expected 2015 restricted free agent tender), the only type of deal the Bengals are probably willing to do is one where Burfict gives up multiple unrestricted free agent years at a discounted rate.
Rather than let the market be set by big names such as Luke Kuechly, the Bengals should use this leverage to work out a cap-friendly deal where Burfict earns his cash through escalators.
While early in the process, it is this forward-looking approach that will allow the Bengals to remain contenders.
Re-Up with Anthony Collins and Michael Johnson
While a new deal for both tackle Anthony Collins and defensive end Michael Johnson seems unlikely, the Cincinnati Bengals are in a good position to do both if they so desire.
The Bengals elected to not use tags on either player, but they would presumably love to have both back.
The market is the Bengals' friend in this regard.
With rookies so cheap thanks to the new CBA, both Collins and Johnson are not going to receive what they would have a few years ago. Remember, Seattle's Michael Bennett recorded nine sacks in 2012 but could only score a one-year deal worth $4.8 million last year, according to Spotrac. He's now back on the same market this year.
Now look at Johnson, who is also a strong run defender but saw his sack total dip from 11.5 in 2012 to 3.5 in 2013. The cash he is about to make on the market has been extremely exaggerated.
In fact, Collins may be more difficult to retain. Situational pass-rushers are a dime a dozen in the draft, whereas starting-caliber left tackles are a rarity.
Cincinnati is still in a position to retain both, but the end result may not be what most currently expect. Both making a return to the Queen City is not out of the question and something the front office should try to do.
Avoid Trimming the Fat
It is a popular trend each year by fans and the media to take a look at a team's roster and specifically focus on players with one year left on their deals who can be cut to save cash.
While this is not Cincinnati's style, there are a number of players who qualify. These names include defensive tackle Domata Peko, linebacker Rey Maualuga and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
But the Bengals and the rest of the league were just hit with a higher cap ceiling and even if they did not have the extra wiggle room, it makes no sense to cut players such as those named above.
The Bengals have plenty of space to accomplish all they need without losing key cogs. Peko is still a strong run defender and leader who prevents the team from having to resort to question marks such as Devon Still and Brandon Thompson.
Maualuga knows the system and is coming off his best year to date. Green-Ellis is one of the NFL's best in short-yardage scenarios and rarely turns it over or gets injured. Giving his spot to a rookie or another veteran does not make sense.
Cut candidates abound in Cincinnati, but the team is better off relying on its theme of continuity—especially in the face of coordinator changes.
Stay the Course by Nabbing Supplementary Players, If Any
The Cincinnati Bengals have thrived in recent years through avoiding the big names, retaining their own and adding supplementary players who mesh well with the base roster built via the draft.
In other words, the formula the league's best follow.
So forget Jared Allen, Alterraun Verner, Jairus Byrd and Lamarr Houston.
Instead, think about guys like Cortland Finnegan, Everson Griffen and Justin Tuck.
The market is chock full of guys who will not command top dollar but have plenty to offer in a complementary role. So say the Bengals choose to go corner in the first round—another veteran such as Finnegan on a one-year deal to act as depth, especially if the rookie struggles, is a smart play.
Cincinnati is all too familiar with this strategy. Let other franchises waste cash on top talents while it in turn brings back their own. Fans want a big splash, but more often than not, the quiet approach is best.