Bengals Should Focus on Offense in Free Agency


Though a number of Bengals fans dream of landing a stud defender like Tennessee’s Albert Haynesworth when free agency opens tomorrow, I believe Cincinnati would be better served to focus its attention on the offensive side of the ball.

Why? Well, for starters, the offense simply has more needs. Center is a gaping hole. Right tackle is empty as well and moving players like Anthony Collins or Andrew Whitworth around to fill that spot will only create new needs on the left side of the line. The cupboard is bare at fullback and running back, where Daniel Coats and Chris Perry represent the best the team has to offer at the moment. And with both Ryan Fitzpatrick and T.J. Houshmandzadeh hitting the market, the No. 2 QB slot is open, and the No. 2 wideout job falls into the hands of 2008 third-round pick Andre Caldwell.

Excellent options for shoring up all these spots exist in free agency this year: Ravens center Jason Brown, Seahawks fullback Leonard Weaver, Bengals RB Cedric Benson and, at WR, there’s still the possibility (dim as it may be) of re-signing Housh.

I certainly don’t look for the Bengals to sign all those guys. Brown and Houshmandzadeh in particular will both be top-dollar free agents, and if either signs with Cincinnati, I’ll be stunned. Weaver is a hot commodity and will probably command more than the Bengals are willing to pay for the FB position. As for Benson, flip a coin. Heads he’s back, tails he’s gone.

But there are other free agent options at all those positions as well, and I would really prefer to see the Bengals give Carson Palmer an experienced, veteran group to work with, as opposed to another group of rookie linemen and backs. That only invites yet another season-ending injury.

The second reason the Bengals should focus on offense in free agency is that defense is starting to look smarter and smarter in the draft, especially in the first round. SI’s Don Banks and’s Charles Davis and Pat Kirwan all agree that the two consensus top tackles, Eugene Monroe and Jason Smith will be off the board by the time Cincinnati picks. Only Davis has the team taking now-third-ranked OT Andre Smith — Kirwan and Banks give the Bengals DE Brian Orapko — but Davis also notes that Andre’s antics at the combine mean he’s no lock for the spot.

While I continue to think that Andre is hands-down the best tackle available this year, if I’m the Bengals I’m now scared as hell of picking him at six. If he can’t be bothered to stay in shape and go through the motions in February, when basically doing nothing more than the minimum required would guarantee his becoming the highest-paid offensive lineman in professional football, what’s he going to be like after he gets paid? If we were talking about the Patriots, okay, do it. But we’re talking about the Bengals, whose offense already has a slew of motivation and character issues.

There’s also the holdout factor, as John Thornton pointed out recently. Whoever the Bengals select at six is going to want more than $50 million, with something on the order of half guaranteed, in a year when teams’ abilities to absorb big bonus hits is constrained by the looming uncapped year. I expect a lot of holdouts this summer, and the longest could well be in Cincinnati. And in that case I would rather have that holdout be someone like Orapko, who can still contribute even if he doesn’t sign until the 11th hour, versus an Andre Smith for precisely the reason Thornton gives.

Finally, I think that plugging in a bunch of vets is the fastest way to get the offense back up off the mat. We don’t have to wait for guys to acclimate to the speed of the NFL game, or for the “light to come on,” or to learn how to run routes or pick up blitzes or keep their pads low or all the rest of the things you typically hear are holding rookies back from getting on the field. And let’s face it, Palmer isn’t getting any younger. I know it seems like we just drafted him, but he turns 30 this December. Can the Bengals really afford to toss another year or two or three away trying to build a shiny new offense through the draft? Especially considering that they traditionally don’t draft all that well?

By all means, keep adding young talent to an emerging defense. Give Mike Zimmer one or two playmakers to go with the overachievers he coached up last season and Cincinnati just might have a D worthy of its 2008 No. 12 ranking. But on offense, it’s time to stop building for the future and start building to win now.