With no further games to discuss for the next seven months, and with John Clayton releasing the list of salary cap space yesterday, it is time to firing up the discussions about free agency. We know that the Bengals will not be major players in bringing in outside guys. (When have they ever been?) But they have plenty to do during the free agency period.
Let’s begin the discussion with a look around the AFC North to see where everyone stands, going in reverse order of space.
Pittsburgh Steelers: -$10.8M
Notable UFAs: Mike Wallace, Larry Foote, Keenan Lewis, Casey Hampton, Rashard Mendenhall, Will Allen, Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich, Max Starks, Plaxico Burress.
Notable RFAs: Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Emmanuel Sanders, Steve McLendon.
These guys are screwed. I love it.
The main story lines we’ll be hearing out of the Evil Empire will be the contracts that they are restructuring. Pushing money out in the future will get them back under the cap and even keep a couple of these guys, but it also extends the problem out into the future. As the third-most overspent team, the cap will be a drag on their roster. Unless they hit a grand slam in the draft, it will be hard to improve on their 8-8 season. Mike Tomlin will take the blame, but overspending is a major culprit. At some point they are going to have to weather a bad season (or more) to right the money ship.
Baltimore Ravens: +$15.7M
Notable UFAs: Joe Flacco, Ed Reed, Dannell Ellerbe, Bryant McKinnie, Sean Considine, James Ihedigbo, Chris Johnson.
Notable RFAs: Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson.
The main story line for the Ravens will be Joe Flacco, who wants to be paid like a top-tier quarterback. I don’t know that he has all that great of a case. I hope he digs in his heals deep on this, pushing for something in the range of 7 years/$100M. Getting that would pretty much kill there cap space, making it very difficult to sign impact guys on defense like Ellerbe and McKinnie. Ozzie Newsome will not want to give Flacco that much and tie his hands in cap space, but he may have to.
Cleveland Browns: +$48.9M
Notable UFAs: Juqua Parker, Kaluka Maiava, Phil Dawson, Sheldon Brown, Scott Fujita, Ben Watson, Josh Cribbs, Mohamed Massaquoi.
Notable RFAs: Jordan Norwood.
The Browns are flush with money, and they can re-sign anyone they want. The problem is that there biggest impact free agents are getting older, and they aren’t exactly flush with young talent. So look for the new leadership to make a major splash during free agency by signing a few big names, generating plenty of buzz in the news cycles and re-exciting their perennially roller coaster-ridden fan base.
It’s very possible the whole strategy could work, too. At least in 2013. It all depends on who they hire as a coach, what they do at QB, and what free agents they land. There are just too many variables right now to know where this team will head.
Cincinnati Bengals: +$55.1M
Notable UFAs: Andre Smith, Michael Johnson, Kevin Huber, Adam Jones, Terence Newman, Pat Sims, Thomas Howard, Bruce Gradkowski, Manny Lawson, Rey Maualuga, Robert Geathers, Cedric Peerman, Wallace Gilberry, Mike Nugent, Josh Brown, Bernard Scott, Chris Crocker.
Notable RFAs: Andrew Hawkins
Possible Early Extensions: Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, A.J. Green
Mike Brown has driven us nuts by sitting on his wallet for so long, but he will have to open up that fat thing this winter. Not to bring in new guys, but just to keep the ones they’ve got. Smith, Johnson, Huber and Atkins are absolute must-sign guys, and all but Huber are going to cost BIG bucks. Sims, Gilberry, Hawkins and several other guys are keep-if-at-all-possible list, but the price has to make sense.
We are going to have a lot of fun discussing and debating free agents over the next few weeks. It is good to see the Bengals in the driver’s seat in the division. Finally, Mike Brown’s miserly habits pay off!