The Cincinnati Bengals won't be active in the free-agent market. The numbers may say they own $23 million in cap space plus rollover cash, but their primary concern isn't making a splash with another team's players. They likely won't even make a ripple.
The Bengals are focused on locking down their own players with extensions. They did so last year in paying out $139 million in cash to their own free agents - the third highest mark in the NFL. They plan on repeating the plan this year.
Wide receiver A.J. Green and linebacker Vontaze Burfict are both entering the first year they can sign an extension on their rookie contracts. As the only two Pro Bowl players from the 2013 AFC North champions, President Mike Brown would like to see them in stripes for the long haul.
Unfortunately for Bengals coaches, that means watching their two most visible free agents walk. Defensive end Michael Johnson and offensive tackle Anthony Collins will prove too costly for the team to pay with the increased market value thanks to the $7 million boost in the salary cap. At least, they couldn't pay them and still offer Green, Burfict and, possibly, quarterback Andy Dalton.
Johnson compiled 11.5 sacks in 2012 but saw the number drop to 3.5 in 2013. Sacks can be a subjective number, however, and that's the case when you consider his total pressures actually rose from 55 to 63. Plus, he tied for the NFL lead in batted passes (7) with teammate Carlos Dunlap.
The Bengals planned for this departure. Last year they offered a six-year, $40 million deal to Carlos Dunlap when Johnson's representation wouldn't take it. Dunlap signed, they unloaded $55 million to Geno Atkins, drafted athletic freak defensive end project Margus Hunt in the second round then re-signed versatile defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry.
Seven members of the eight-man line rotation from last year will return plus whatever the team adds in the draft. The ratio of talent falloff to money didn't make sense in the front office.
So, Johnson walked to Tampa Bay for five years and $8.75 million per year.
The same concerns over letting Collins go are met with depth, draft and foresight. Collins rated as the most efficient pass protecting left tackle in the NFL. He only started seven games, taking over the tackle position officially for the final five. During those games former Pro Bowl tackle Andrew Whitworth unselfishly moved to guard.
Assuming the Bengals let Collins walk, which seems a certainty, Whitworth would move back to tackle and the team assured depth at the guard position by re-signing Mike Pollak, who started four games there when guards Kevin Zeitler and Clint Boling both went down.
For those fretting over letting Collins go, the Bengals point to the fact the team was 7-2 in games Collins didn't start last year and turn focus to a draft deep in tackle and guard options.
The Bengals have never been big spenders in free agency and this only continues the trend. They view all moves through a three-year window and Johnson and Collins just don't rank as high on the pecking order as Burfict and Green. In the past the large extensions have happened in training camp, so no expectations for a deal are in the immediate future. The team will likely see how much space is available after the draft and free agency determine the final space then begin negotiations with Green, their most valuable asset.
--The NFL announced each team's preseason schedule without precise dates or times, except for national TV games and the final preseason week in which all games will be on Thurs. Aug. 28. Week 1 games are Aug. 7-10, Week 2 Aug. 14-18 and Week 3 Aug. 21-24.
The Bengals will play at home against the New York Jets in Week 2 and Indianapolis in Week 4, while going on the road against Kansas City in Week 1 and Arizona in Week 3. The game against the Cardinals will be at 8 p.m. Eastern time Sunday, Aug. 24 on NBC.
--Bengals tight end Orson Charles was arrested and charged with wanton endangerment for waving a handgun at another driver on Interstate 75 in Madison (Ky.) County Monday night.
A car driving near Charles on the highway called police saying Charles had waved a handgun "several times" in what police described as a road rage incident in an official report Monday.
Charles had not been released as of Tuesday morning. His bond was set at $5,000.
Charles was found to be in possession of a Smith & Wesson semiautomatic handgun when police searched his vehicle. He declined to comment to police.
--The Bengals decided against matching the Cleveland Browns' offer to restricted free agent Andrew Hawkins, clearing the way for the wide receiver to move a few hours up the road to an AFC North and in-state rival.
The Bengals made an official announcement on Tuesday that they elected not to bring back Hawkins, who received a four-year, $13.6 million offer sheet from the Browns. Hawkins will be paid $10.8 million in the first two years of the deal, according to NFL.com.
Cincinnati tendered Hawkins at the lowest level ($1.431 million) and because he entered the NFL undrafted, there is no compensation. Had they given him a $2.187 million tender, there would have been compensation of a second-round if the Browns had still given him an offer sheet.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said, "I don't want to let Andrew go without making note that he has been a very hard working and contributing player. He has set a great example of being a great teammate. But we're fortunate to have a lot of depth at wide receiver, and we're excited to move forward. Our leading receivers from last year will all return, and we have another group who know our system and have earned our confidence that they are ready to see more action.
"It's a given that we will invest in players to the limit of the salary cap, but the system means teams have to make choices, and we don't believe this match, at this time, would serve our goal of allocating resources roster-wide for the best possible team come September."
After missing the first eight games of 2013 while on injured reserve with an ankle problem, Hawkins finished the regular season with 12 catches for 199 yards and no touchdowns. In three seasons with the Bengals, the 28-year-old Hawkins had 86 receptions for 995 yards and four touchdowns.
The Bengals' decision to let Hawkins go was not a surprise considering they have wide receivers A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones and tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert in the fold for next season.
--The Bengals signed coach Marvin Lewis to a contract extension through the 2015 season, the team announced March 14.
"Marvin has earned this commitment for the job he is doing," team president Mike Brown said in a statement. "We are one of only five teams to qualify for the playoffs the last three years, and our prospects are bright looking ahead. Marvin is driven to achieve more, and we are happy to secure his leadership of our team beyond the coming season."
Cincinnati finished in the top 10 in the NFL in net defense (third), rush defense (fifth), pass defense (fifth), scoring (tied for sixth), scoring defense (tied for fifth), pass offense (eighth), net offense (10th), defensive third-down efficiency (second) and fewest sacks allowed per passing play (third).
"I'm blessed to continue to do a job I love here in Cincinnati, and with the Bengals organization," Lewis said. "I truly appreciate the commitment by our management to continue to enable us to build an NFL championship team."
--The Bengals offered the lowest tenders to restricted free agents WRs Dane Sanzenbacher and Andrew Hawkins, along with LB Vinny Rey.
Hawkins caught 12 passes for 199 yards last year after missing the first half of the season with an ankle injury. He signed an offer sheet from Cleveland worth $13.6 million over four years and the Bengals elected not to match.
Rey might have elicited some interest, but he signed a two-year contract.
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther liked the way Maualuga played last year, but wouldn't close the possibility a competition could occur at middle linebacker.
"(Rey) really understands the defense," Guenther said. "Really, all of the guys understand it but he went in there and made a couple of plays, got confidence and that confidence has sky-rocketed. Sometimes the light just goes on for a guy and you get to see what he can do."
--A name mentioned in association with the Bengals during free agency has been running back Darren McFadden. His last two seasons in Oakland were subpar.
He averaged 3.3 yards per carry each of the last two seasons. Those came on the heels of his two best years as a pro. In 2010, he averaged 5.2 yards per carry rushing for 1,157 yards. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry despite an injury in 2011.
The common thread during those two seasons? His offensive coordinator and then head coach was new Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.
The possibilities that happens remain doubtful. The Bengals aren't interested in spending much of anything in free agency and certainly not at a position where they already have Giovani Bernard, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and a slew of young backs they like.
If his market value drops to a bargain basement, maybe Jackson convinces the organization to take a chance but that seems highly unlikely.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--The Bengals hired Marcus Lewis to the coaching staff as defensive assistant/quality control. Lewis spent last season as an assistant to the University of Cincinnati coaching staff working with the defensive line, scout teams, film breakdown and practice organization. He will work in similar capacities with the Bengals.
Lewis, son of Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, played collegiately at Indiana State (2008-11) as a linebacker.
--Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko, who has not missed a start since 2009, has agreed to a two-year contract extension through 2016.
Peko was due $4.125 million for the 2014 season, which was slated to be his last before the extension.
Peko has spent his entire eight-year career with the Bengals. He has combined for 398 tackles and totaled 12.5 sacks.
"Domata has been a significant and productive player for our defense for many years now, and we are excited to extend his time here even longer," head coach Marvin Lewis said. "He is a leader among our veterans and a mentor for our younger players, and securing his future as a Bengal through the next three seasons is another positive step in continuing to improve our team."
--The Bengals signed tackle Marshall Newhouse and waived quarterback Greg McElroy, who announced via Twitter early Friday that he is retiring from the NFL.
Newhouse played in 47 games over the past four seasons for the Green Bay Packers, including 29 starts. He reunites with quarterback Andy Dalton, whose blind side Newhouse protected for three seasons at TCU.
"Marshall has played a lot of football for Green Bay; he'll be a quality addition to our line," said Paul Alexander, Bengals assistant head coach/offensive line coach. "He's played left tackle and right tackle and has experience in big games."
McElroy, 25, was a seventh-round draft choice of the New York Jets in 2011 out of Alabama. He appeared in two games with the Jets in 2012, completing 19 of 31 passes for 214 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
McElroy made some news after the 2011 season when he said the Jets' locker room is full of "extremely selfish individuals."
McElroy spent the 2013 season on the Bengals' practice squad and had been signed to a 2014 contract on Jan. 7.
--The Bengals entered the new league year looking to sign an experienced backup behind Andy Dalton. They got that with the addition of Jason Campbell, who was at the Raiders with Hue Jackson, who is now the Bengals' offensive coordinator.
"Jason obviously has extensive playing and starting history," said head coach Marvin Lewis, "and as a backup, he can provide the stability and experience we're looking for in that role. His experience will be a great asset to our other quarterbacks.
"He can play and win games for you if you need him. He's got great stature (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) and strength, the ability to stand in there under pressure and really throw the ball down the field."
--Linebacker Vincent Rey, a restricted free agent, signed a two-year contract, rather than the $1.431 million tender.
Rey said, "It was important for me to be here. This was option No. 1. And I'm thankful I got what I wanted."
--After releasing linebacker James Harrison, head coach Marvin Lewis said, "It was great for our coaches, players and fans to have James on our team last year. He's a player everyone looks up to because of his ability, his accomplishments and his drive to be the best. He helped us win a division title with his play and with the example he set.
"It's time for us to go a different direction now, with some younger guys, but we will all still reap benefits from having had James with us as a Bengal last year."
--CORNERBACK: The Bengals aren't getting any younger at corner. They have two plus-30 corners (Adam Jones and Terence Newman) along with another coming off a second Achilles injury.
--OFFENSIVE LINE: With Anthony Collins having bolted to Tampa Bay and with the release of center Kyle Cook, they will be searching for depth to fill out the line. Any of the three positions would be in play. The frist start was Marshall Newhouse (Packers).
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--LB Michael Boley joined the team midseason when a rash of injuries hit. He only collected eight tackles. His return is unlikely with a new crop of drafted linebackers along with Emmanuel Lamur and Taylor Mays returning from serious injury.
--S Chris Crocker lived on the fence between retirement and return the last two seasons, joining the Bengals following Week 3 each of the last two years. He spent most of last season covering in the slot once Leon Hall went down. He's started to look into post-career possibilities and would be more likely to retire than return.
--P Zoltan Mesko joined the team after Kevin Huber went out for the year and Shawn Powell was cut. Huber is fine so no need for Mesko. He won't be back.
--OT Dennis Roland was let go and brought back Dec. 3 when offensive line injuries crept up. The versatile move tight end has spent six years with the Bengals but making the 53-man roster will be an uphill battle.
--TE Alex Smith will be entering his 10th year and that age probably dooms him. If the Bengals add a tight end in the draft he'll likely land elsewhere since Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham have the top two spots locked down. A developmental project would be better suited for that spot.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--S Taylor Mays: UFA; terms unknown.
--G Mike Pollak: Potential UFA; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Vincent Rey: RFA tendered at $1.431M with no compensation); 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Dane Sanzenbacher: RFA tendered at $1.431M with no compensation); $1.2M/1 yr, $200,000 SB.
--WR/KR Brandon Tate: Potential UFA; terms unknown.
--QB Jason Campbell: FA Browns; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--S Danieal Manning: FA Texans; terms unknown.
--DE Dontay Moch (waivers Cardinals).
--OT Marshall Newhouse: UFA Packers; terms unknown.
--CB R.J. Stanford: Not tendered as RFA by Dolphins; terms unknown.
--T Anthony Collins: UFA Buccaneers; $30M/5 yrs, $15M guaranteed.
--C Kyle Cook (released).
--CB Brandon Ghee: UFA Chargers; $1.65M/2 yrs.
--LB James Harrison (released).
--WR Andrew Hawkins: RFA Browns (tendered at $1.431M with no compensation); Bengals didn't match offer of $13.6M/4 yrs.
--DE Michael Johnson: UFA Buccaneers; $43.75M/5 yrs, $16M guaranteed.
--QB Greg McElroy (released/retired).
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