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
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 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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
[to top of second column]
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
—Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko, who has not missed a start
since 2009, has agreed to a two-year contract extension through
2016, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported Wednesday.
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.
—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
"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
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
"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
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
- WR Dane Sanzenbacher (tendered at $1.431M with no compensation)
played well in the preseason and made most of limited opportunities
last year in the slot. His limited role will keep teams at bay from
offering him much and the Bengals always indicated an affection for
the way he plays.
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/KR Brandon Tate: Potential UFA; terms unknown.
QB Jason Campbell: FA Browns; 1 yr, 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; terms unknown.
QB Greg McElroy (released/retired).
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