Teams are built–and rebuilt–through the draft and free agency. Drafting well is the big key to sustained success because the salary cap prevents teams from going all Yankees/Red Sox/Phillies on the NFL and buying up all the top talent. Free agency is an important tool teams use to make a key upgrade, fill in a hole or two, and add depth.
Then there is the Bengals.
We fans get fed the same line by the front office every year. We all know it by rote, so say it with me: “We are going to focus on re-signing our own players this year.” Last week Geoff Hobson let slip that this year will be no different.
As usual when free agency starts March 13, they won’t be looking for big names and are most likely to focus on signing own players.
I’m not going to bash this strategy in its entirety. Free agency is dicey. It is just as easy to get a free agent who busts as a draft pick who busts. With the new rookie salary cap, the free agent ties up a whole lot more cap room. And there is plenty good to say about keeping your own. They don’t need to learn your system. Their flaws are known. You know how they fit into the locker room. They aren’t going to upstage the coach with, “Well, when I played in…”
But what happens when your own player sucks? “Re-sign sucky player” is not an item I want on MB’s to-do list.
I just finished reviewing the offensive line, and it will come as no surprise to you that the guards suck. I take that back, Livings and McGlynn suck. I think Williams was a victim of the conspiracy of age and the lack of an offseason. Clint Boling needs more time to simmer and learn.
I am OK with Williams and Boling being the backups next year. But could the Bengals draft and start two rookie guards? That is risky at best, and is likely closer to suicide. Plus, there are too many needs to tie up two picks on guards.
If there is any saving grace here, perhaps the fact that guards are not exactly the “big names” in free agency means there is still a little hope. Maybe. (BTW, the big name free agent guard this year used to be a Bengal. They did want to re-sign him last year, but it would seem that being buried on the depth chart behind a far inferior player for another few years was not on his Bucket List.)
Same goes for cornerback, another position group that is a mess. Leon Hall is not exactly a lock to be back from his Achilles injury at 100% by training camp. Nate Clements was solid, but going into his 12th season, the tread on the tires isn’t as deep as it used to be. Adam Jones and Kelly Jennings are free agents. Brandon Ghee has appeared in 13 games over 2 years.
Kelly Jennings was worth a shot when all he cost was a guy who was going to get cut from the deepest group on the team anyway. But the bet didn’t pay off. Adam Jones may be fast, but his penchant for injury and trouble don’t make him the most attractive of options. (Then again, they have to put somebody on the field. And “the redeemer” isn’t afraid of a little trouble. Or a lot of trouble.)
Bottom line, the Bengals have to do something in free agency. They cannot adequately address all of the current needs through the upcoming draft. They don’t have to go after Ray Rice or Arian Foster, but they have to do better than Mike McGlynn.