As Cliff Avril, Danny Amendola, Wes Welker, Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger and Mike Wallace make the headlines with new teams in NFL Free Agency, the Cincinnati Bengals have sat back and done very little during the first few days.
Many outsiders expected the Bengals to be heavily involved in free agency because they entered the off-season with the most free cap space. However, even though that money was available this year, their future spending blueprint really limited what they could do now in terms of big money deals.
Having over $40 million in free cap space is a result of players such as Geno Atkins, AJ Green and Andy Dalton playing on small contracts compared to their overall contribution on the field. With each of those players expecting new contracts during the next 12 months, the Bengals had to set aside significant cap space this season in anticipation.
Outside of the money set aside for their own players’ new deals, the Bengals are also prioritizing their own free agents. Andre Smith, the team’s top priority, remains unsigned even though Gosder Cherilus and Phil Loadholt have signed their new deals already.
Outside of Smith, the Bengals’ biggest issues are at cornerback and linebacker. Rey Maualuga is still unsigned, but Manny Lawson has joined the Buffalo Bills.
By not forcing new contracts on players who fit needs, the Bengals have let the market come to them. Of the available cornerbacks, only Derek Cox has signed a new deal. By all reports, it appears that no cornerback is receiving the money they initially expected when they became free agents. That means that if the Bengals wait, they will be able to sign cornerbacks for a cut rate and fit them into their defensive system.
At linebacker, the team has too many options to dive into free agency when relatively unproven players like Ellerbe are receiving $7 million per season.
Historically, successful teams aren’t built at this time of the season. The Bengals are a moderately successful team already, so they don’t need to throw money at distractions who will keep selling tickets. By being patient, they are reassuring their fans that every decision is methodically thought out and controlled.