Free agency can be a frustrating time for WhoDey fans because the Bengals are almost never in the hunt for the top free agents every year. They are oriented around re-signing the guys that they have, who know the system, and generally shun the flashy, high-priced names that get most of the attention in free agency.
This system isn’t a bad system. It’s just a system. It can be an effective system as long as they target the right players to keep. (A list that does not include Nate Livings.) Landing a big name free agent generates buzz, but it is no guarantee that the player will fit the system or back off after landing the mega-deal he was chasing.
This year, the Bengals have 20 unrestricted free agents, ten on offense, nine on defense and one on special teams. Some are clear keepers, some are clear dumpers, and some are debatable.
Offense: Cedric Benson, Andre Caldwell, Anthony Collins, Donald Lee, Nate Livings, Mike McGlynn, Dennis Roland, Bo Scaife, Jerome Simpson, Bobbie Williams.
Half of this list needs to be cut loose: Benson, Caldwell, Livings, McGlynn and Simpson. If I read that any have been offered a new deal, you’ll find me at Best Buy replacing the computer monitor that I put my fist through. The one clear keeper, Collins, will be difficult (if not impossible) to bring back because he can’t get the starting job that he deserves in Cincinnati.
As for the rest, Williams would be a good asset as a backup guard. I guess that they will try again to get Scaife on the field and let Lee walk (unless they decide to jettison Chase Coffman instead). And if Collins goes, they may need to extend Roland’s duties as backup tackle.
Defense: Jonathan Fanene, Kelly Jennings, Brandon Johnson, Adam Jones, Manny Lawson, Reggie Nelson, Frostee Rucker, Pat Sims, Gibril Wilson.
Most of these are worth bringing back. Fanene, Rucker and Sims are a big part of the rotation on the D-line, and at least two of them need to stay if not all three. Johnson is a solid LB, and Lawson is worth bringing back to tussle with the rest of the mid-fielders for a spot. For the secondary, Nelson is a keeper. My preference is to let go of both Jones (legal issues) and Jennings (skill issues), but one of them may get an offer simply to keep from completely gutting a group that is already thin.
Special Teams: Mike Nugent. Despite the stumbles at the end of the season, he is an easy keeper.
In addition, the Bengals have four restricted free agents: Clark Harris, Nick Hayden, Chris Pressley, and Dan Skuta. Harris, Pressley and Skuta have all functioned well in their roles and are no-brainers to bring back. Hayden only saw 33 snaps in 2011, but he should see a new offer, especially if Fanene decides again to chase the better deal that he wanted last year.
Out of 24 total free agents, only a handful are so bad that re-signing them is unjustifiable. Over the coming weeks, we should hear news begin to trickle out from PBS of the Bengals reaching deals with a dozen or more of these free agents. Most won’t get much attention, garnering little more than a tweet from Joe Reedy announcing the deal. But cumulatively, they will solidify the 2012 team.
How does Dan Skuta make the team better? Simple. The fewer pressing needs that the Bengals bring to the draft in April, the more that they can focus on drafting the best player available. (If that player happens to be a linebacker, then take him and let Skuta raise his game to stay on the team.) And good teams are able to draft for skill instead of needs higher than rebuilding teams are. I want the Bengals to be able to draft like a good team.