April 20, 2014

Too Smart By Half?

On Thursday, PFT (among many outlets) ran a story covering comments by Marvin Lewis that will surprise no one: the Bengals will use their profuse cap space to focus on their own players. Just how wise is this strategy?

We hear it every year. “We’re focusing on signing our own guys.” They burst the free agency bubble every year before it is even half way inflated. But this year, it is the right strategy.

Even though having an estimated $54M to spend is a phenomenal amount, the team has to be judicious with it. The price for the success of the past few drafts is coming due. Current free agents Michael Johnson and Andre Smith play at high paying positions. They could cost $16M-$20M/year. Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap are entering the final year of their rookie contracts. We would all prefer that the Bengals lock them up now, not wait until they might test free agency. Dunlap doesn’t have the stats (yet) to match MJ, but we can still pencil at least $10M/year for those two. And while the team can’t negotiate with them yet, they have to have money to pay A.J. Green and Andy Dalton when they are eligible to extend next year. That’s at least $10M/year for that pair, and could push up toward $15M/year if they both have the season we hope for in 2013.

If the grand total for the Bengals to sign or tag Johnson, Smith, Atkins and Dunlap comes in at $30M, my old school math tells me that leaves $24M for the Bengals to spend. The team does not need to hold back this year all of the money that they plan to use to negotiate with Green and Dalton next year. But they would be wise not to spend all of it, either.

If they save back around $5M for Dalton and Green, and they need around $9M to sign their draft picks and free agents, that leaves around $10M for returning guys like Wallace Gilberry, Pat Sims, Adam Jones, Terence Newman, Andrew Hawkins, Cedric Peerman, Dan Skuta, Kevin Huber, and Mike Nugent or Josh Brown.

That is a lot of guys to squeeze into $10M. Too many, in fact. However, they ought to cut Jason Allen ($3M) and Jamaal Anderson ($2.5M) open some room. Could it also put Kyle Cook ($2.5M) and Travelle Wharton ($2.7M) on the cap casualty list? Probably not, but it should be considered. It does put Thomas Howard, Manny Lawson, Robert Geathers, and Rey Maualuga on the Unlikely To Return list.

Bottom line: put away the wish list of high-priced free agents: Greg Jennings, Steven Jackson, Dwight Freeney, etc. My hope is to see the team bring in a few guys to upgrade the team’s depth, primarily at safety. But the reasoning behind the “we’re focusing on signing our own guys” mantra is sound. Doing otherwise would set the team down the same path the Steelers find themselves on right now… overspent.