The Bengals entered the season last week with twenty-two members of the active roster going into free agency next year, only four of which listed as restricted agents. While at first glance, a fan would baulk at having nearly half of a young roster under the gun, it’s becomes even more confusing why the Bengals are still $15.2M under the salary cap, the fifth highest in the NFL according to SB Nation.
Nonetheless, it’s important to know thy self. Bengals fans have Pavlovian exposure to the penny-pinching and tightfisted managerial style of the Brown Family, and resultantly, greater Bengaldom looks at everything involving fiscal team responsibility with a doubious eye and cynical sneer. However, during NFL Lock Out and subsequent Collective Bargaining Agreement, many saw this system as an infused improvement to the Cincinnati Bengals organization because it forced the Browns to spend appropriate amounts of money on their players and give more transparency toward how they stacked up across the League. Certainly being fifth in available wiggle room doesn’t help perceptions, but several factors play into this statistic and its wisdom at this point.
The Draft, The IR and Trimming the Fat
First, there is a substantial IR squad already. While twenty-two free agent players is a large figure, the Bengals also have to factor that anywhere from three to six players from the IR will retake roster spots next year. Notably, of the next year’s free agents, four are in the secondary – ironically, the same number of corners and safeties also sit on the inactive reserve.
Also, it’s logical that players looking at the ends of their contracts are older than most, but nine of the twenty-two Bengals’ free agents are currently 28 year old or older. While experience and age has a greater effect on some positions than others, injuries are also considerably more significant in the same regards. The most interesting positional demographic relating to age is that three of the four Cincinnati running backs are free agents, and both Brian Leonard and Bernard Scott are will be 29 at contract time next year. At this point, neither is expected to have a break out season.
Further, if anyone was to speculate, it would be safe to think that the Bengals’ need at running back may consume their first round pick in next year’s NFL Draft. The Bengals currently have three picks in the top sixty-four, which, if the Bengals draft day abilities continue, will certainly take up anywhere from three to six more roster spots in a more fiscally sound manner than paying for a free agent, thanks largely to the new CBA rookie salary policy. This savings then rolls back into the cap, which in turn allows the Bengals to go after bigger fish in the open free agent market at positions that may currently seem fine and not susceptible to free agent causalities, but may become obviously in need of upgrades by the end of the season.