The Cincinnati Bengals aren’t known to make splash signings early in free agency. They usually sit back and wait for better deals, re-sign their own players and try to build through the draft.
So, when the legal tampering period opened Monday afternoon and more than 24 hours had passed without any Bengals signing news, it seemed like business as usual. Late Tuesday afternoon, that changed with two big pickups to bolster the defense.
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Cincinnati has been surprisingly busy the past week. Here are five things to know about free agency and what still needs to happen:
1. Bengals spent to address some needs
Tuesday was a big day for the Bengals. Former Texans nose tackle D.J. Reader agreed to terms on a four-year, $53 million deal, making him the highest paid player in the league at his position, and former Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes landed a three-year, $42 million deal.
SportingNews.com gave the Bengals an "A" grade for the Reader signing, noting they "needed to set the tone with a more impactful nose tackle" and entered free agency "with a bang with Reader, coming off a might season with the Texans." The sports news site gave them a "B" for the Waynes pickup, stating the Bengals made "another shrewd defensive move to get a starter who thrived as the Vikings' top cover man last season."
The Bengals never do well in these free agent gradings.
Cincinnati then went on over the next two days to add former Cowboys guard Xavier Su'a-Filo on a three-year deal worth $10 million and former Vikings cornerback Mackensie Alexander on a one-year, $4 million deal. Su'a-Filo replaces John Miller, who was unexpectedly released Wednesday, and Alexander gives the Bengals a new slot corner to replace Darqueze Dennard and B.W. Webb.
2. Why there haven’t been official announcements
The Bengals haven’t officially announced any of these new acquisitions because the NFL will not allow them to do so until they have executed a contract, which cannot be done until players undergo physicals. That process is being delayed by COVID-19 outbreak concerns, as the NFL and Players Association agreed to prohibit teams from bringing free agent players to a club facility or other location to meet with team personnel, and club personnel and medical staff cannot travel to meet players either.
The NFL and NFLPA are developing protocols to provide clubs with opportunities to review a free agent player’s medical records from his prior club(s) and to arrange for a free agent player to have a medical exam in his home city or another location nearby. However, that will still take some time.
In the meantime, the Bengals are just dropping not-so-subtle hints they have news on social media.
3. Outgoing players
The Bengals made some room in the budget for these free agent signings by letting a few players go.
Cincinnati saved $9.5 million in cap space by releasing disgruntled left tackle Cordy Glenn on March 13, and the Bengals saved $5.3 million cap space and $1.6 million in bonus money by releasing Miller and Webb, who still account for $3.7 million in dead money.
Other players moved on in free agency, including Dennard, who went to the Jaguars, and defensive tackle Andrew Billings, who is signing with the Browns.
The Bengals still are looking to move quarterback Andy Dalton, who takes up $17.7 million in cap space, and the addition of Waynes and Alexander seems to indicate Dre Kirkpatrick likely is on the way out with his $11.1 million cap hit (and only $2.8 million in dead money).
4. Green franchised, now what?
As expected, the Bengals designated A.J. Green as a franchise player on Monday and officially put a clock on any long-term deal negotiations.
The parties need to come to an agreement on a multi-year contract by July 15. Otherwise, Green will play the season on a one-year salary of $17.9 million. Green doesn’t plan to participate in offseason workouts – whenever they begin following delays related to coronavirus – but said he wouldn’t sit out the season if he was franchise-tagged so he likely would be back for training camp.
Regardless, Cincinnati should be looking at wide receivers through the draft to add depth.
5. Other position needs to be addressed
Although the Bengals seemingly did well with their first two free agent signings, they still haven’t really addressed their biggest needs: linebackers and offensive linemen. Yes, they added Su’a-Filo and should get 2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams back from shoulder surgery that sidelined him all of last season; however, Cincinnati was inconsistent everywhere on the line except when Trey Hopkins played center and a rookie quarterback (like Joe Burrow) is going to need better protection.
Cincinnati went aggressively after former Browns linebacker Joe Schobert but ultimately didn’t match Jacksonville’s offer and the free agent linebacker pool wasn’t very plentiful. The top options were scooped up quickly, but at this point the Bengals should be looking at all available linebackers.
Their own player, Nick Vigil, entered free agency this week and might be one of the best options left.