Could the Bengals Add Another Free Agent Before the Season?
By Jack Lane
The Bengals addressed most of their needs in the draft already. There are still some talented players available who could make an impact this year, though.
The Cincinnati Bengals have already done a solid job filling the major holes on the roster this offseason. The offensive line was a glaring weakness heading into this season. The Bengals remedied this problem by acquiring left tackle Cordy Glenn from Buffalo and drafting center Billy Price. Aside from offensive line, the defensive line and secondary needed some reinforcements.
The Bengals bolstered the D-line by drafting defensive end Sam Hubbard and defensive tackle Andrew Brown. The secondary benefitted by getting draftees safety Jessie Bates III and cornerbacks Davontae Harris and Darius Phillips. The team also added linebackers Preston Brown and Malik Jefferson.
These additions fill most of the holes the Bengals had heading into the season. However, there are still a couple of spots that could use some work. Fortunately, the Bengals have the cap space and roster flexibility to add still available free agents. After the Bengals ink all their draft picks, the team will still have about $10 million in cap room. That space will allow them to make competitive offers to cap casualties and remaining free agents. Let’s look at some of the best available remaining players at positions of need for the Bengals.
The Bengals are relatively solid along the left side of the line with Glenn, guard Clint Boling, and Price. However, the right side could still use some work, especially at the guard position. Currently, there is a competition between Trey Hopkins and Christian Westerman for the starting job, so a free agent may be just the thing at right guard.
The best offensive line talents are already off the market, but some over-the-hill veterans are still available. Over-the-hill sounds terrible, but it just means these guys are not in their primes anymore. Some guys who are still available like Jahri Evans, Zane Beadles, and Alex Boone, were excellent at their peaks. They still have immense value to a team like the Bengals even if they aren’t performing at their best. Not only could they fill in as a starter this year, but they could mentor the younger players like Hopkins, Westerman, and tackle Jake Fisher.
I could see the Bengals taking a hard look at Jahri Evans. Both Boone and Beadles are solid, but they may be farther past their primes than Evans. Evans was cut from the Saints after showing signs of fading, but he signed in Green Bay and still performed well. Even at 34, he graded out as a solid starting guard in the league. Evans also knows what it takes to play at the highest level of football, as he was an All-Pro lineman in his prime in New Orleans. He can be a veteran presence for the development linemen on this team.
Evans also wouldn’t cost too much. He signed an enormous 7-year, $57 million contract in New Orleans in his heyday. However, his recent price has gone down considerably. Last year, he signed just a 1-year, $2.25 million deal with the Packers. Considering his presence in free agency still, it’s clear the market is cold on him. The Bengals could offer something very similar in value to what the Packers paid him last year and lure Evans to Cincinnati. What might make the most sense is a 1-year contract worth around $1.5 million with considerable incentives worth up to around $3 million. These incentives would include benchmarks like games played, sacks allowed, pressures allowed, etc. The Bengals could get a starting right guard in Evans without impinging on their ability to bring in other free agents.
The Bengals have an elite defensive tackles in Geno Atkins, but they’ve added depth behind him. The team signed Chris Baker in the offseason and drafted Andrew Brown. Along with them, Ryan Glasgow and Andrew Billings are still on the roster too. All of these guys can be contributors, but many of them are 3-technique or even 5-technique tackles as opposed to 1-technique tackles. Only Billings is a real hole-clogging defensive tackle on this team, and he’s not the most talented of this group. The Bengals need somebody else who can eat space along this line.
One guy who remains unsigned, to my surprise, it defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins. Hankins is only 26, having most recently played with the Colts for a season. He’s dealt with injuries during his career with both the Giants and Colts, but he’s been productive on the field. Last season, Hankins graded out as a top 20 defensive tackle in the league according to PFF. He notched a career high in passes deflected and added 30 tackles and two sacks. Hankins isn’t the flashiest guy, but he’s clearly a productive defensive tackle.
Hankins may be a more expensive player to sign, but the Bengals have enough room to fit him in. He inked a 3-year, $27 million with the Colts, but Indy cut him this year with no cap hit. If he can provide the type of value he did last season, Hankins is a great rotational defensive tackle in DC Teryl Austin’s system. The Bengals could offer him a competitive multi-year deal, along the lines of a 3-year, $18 million contract. To sweeten the pot, the Bengals could guarantee the first two seasons, since Hankins encountered that issue in Indianapolis. The length and per year salary should be enough to entice Hankins to come to Cincinnati and take a decent chunk of reps next year if the team (and Hankins) is interested.
These are moves I don’t expect the Bengals to make, but given the talent available, the team could reasonably look at these players.
I wrote about this earlier in the week, but the Bengals need to decide how they will assign short-yardage and goal-line work this year. I think Mixon can handle some of that work, but running physically is the most significant step he needs to take this year. It’s the one skill he didn’t show last year. If the Bengals are concerned about overworking Mixon in short-yardage situations or about his development as a physical runner, they could bring in a bigger body off the street to take those situational carries. Veterans Terrance West and Mike Tolbert are available, both of whom have had success in that role recently. Another option is former UC running back Tion Green, who recently got cut by the Lions. Green showed the ability to run tough last season in limited work.
The Bengals also should have solid tackles in Glenn and Fisher, and even decent depth behind them with Bobby Hart and Cedric Ogbuehi. Aside from Glenn, though, none of the tackles on the roster have elite skills or elite upside. Fisher should be reliable, but he’ll never blow anybody away. It’s possible that new offensive line coach Frank Pollack would want a “project” to work on this year.
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Former top talents Greg Robinson and David Yankey are still available on the market. Robinson and Yankey have been massive disappointments in the NFL, but they were top draft picks for a reason. Without the pressure of starting, Pollack may be able to get something out of these former elite prospects. The odds are not likely given what they’ve shown, but a dart throw for cheap couldn’t hurt, even as a depth play.