Brandon LaFell brought stability to an otherwise dynamic group of wide receivers, but the Bengals had to cut him to make room for fresher talents.
Yesterday, the Bengals made their first major move during training camp. The team decided to release veteran wide receiver Brandon LaFell. LaFell, an LSU alum drafted in the third round, was entering his ninth season in the NFL. After four seasons in Carolina and two in New England, he came over to the Bengals. Now, he will search for his fourth NFL team before the start of the season.
LaFell had been a solid producer for the Bengals over the last two years. In 2016, the team actually used him fairly often, giving him 107 targets over the course of the season. He put up 64 catches for 862 yards and 6 touchdowns. That offseason, LaFell signed a 2 year, $9 million extension, but saw his production fall the next season. Still, he was the de facto number two receiver as he posted 52 catches for 548 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Though the Bengals will have to replace his production, cutting LaFell was an easy decision. His $4.5 million salary was far too high for his potential contribution to this team, so the Bengals saved about $3.3 million in cap room by cutting him before the season started. More importantly, though, LaFell was going to hinder the development of one of the younger receivers on this team. High draft picks John Ross and Tyler Boyd look ready to contribute during camp, so they should be able to replace and augment his production.
Moving down the depth chart at wide receiver, an extra spot is now available on the 53-man roster. Behind AJ Green, Ross, and Boyd, there are several young players vying to make this roster. Josh Malone, Cody Core, Alex Erickson, and Auden Tate have all flashed during camp, showing why they deserve to make the team this season. If LaFell was still on the team, only two of these players could be on the 53-man roster. However, the Bengals only need to cut one of them now.
Given Malone’s draft pedigree and hot start to camp, he should be a near-lock for the final roster. Also, Auden Tate’s sterling performance to this point makes him a safe bet for the team as well. Erickson and Core have both had their moments too, and each of them now has a much better shot to make the team than before. In fact, the Bengals could keep all four if they really wanted to.
No matter what they decide, the Bengals gave themselves a lot of flexibility entering this year by cutting LaFell. They now have extra money to spend on late cap casualties and an extra roster spot to give to a blossoming wide receiver prospect. Given those benefits, there was no reason for the Bengals to hold onto LaFell for the 2018 season.