Splash signings in free agency always make headlines. However, they don’t always translate to wins. Here is how the Bengals can strengthen the core of their roster, even after the first day of free agency.
The countdown is on as the new league year quickly approaches. This is one of the most exciting times of the year for football fans and teams alike. It’s also one of the busiest, with the free agency period as the first order of business.
This year is especially interesting for those who follow the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals, who haven’t been very active in the outside free-agent market in recent years, are suspected to be much more involved this off-season. However, just how much damage they decide to do in the open market is the question looming among the orange and black faithful.
Filling immediate needs and supplementing your roster with outside talent opens up the draft process, allowing the front office to select the best players available at their draft slot, as opposed to taking a lesser player because of need at that position.
For example, taking a linebacker with a fourth-round grade in the second round simply because the roster has a deficiency at the position while simultaneously passing on a cornerback with a first-round grade is not efficient team building. Although filling a need, the team is giving up a higher rated football player for a lesser one, at the end of the day.
That being said, free agency, much like the draft, is also a game of risk. Some teams like to go for the biggest names, which is usually what is considered the “first wave”. These guys also come with much bigger contracts and quite honestly don’t live up to them, a lot of the time.
The Bengals will most likely avoid these players and, in the long run, may be better off in doing so. The best way to approach free agency would be by looking at it as a second draft.
Find younger, unproven guys who show a lot of upside without requiring market setting contracts. These are the guys that you can bring in to build a roster ready to compete for years.
Taking the cornerback position as an example, Chris Harris Jr. will probably set the market. The former Bronco is an excellent player who will command roughly $12M-$14M a year. No doubt he has earned that money, however, he is also 30 years old.
You may get players like Mackensie Alexander, Ronald Darby, or Eli Apple for $3M-$4M cheaper per year. All of these players are 26 years old and younger, sliding into a starting role for the next 4 to 5 years. These defensive backs also have the chance to be developed into even better players than they currently are because of their youth. Either way, the team will have upgraded the cornerback position and filled a need.
Speaking of need, linebacker is the biggest weakness on the roster. Cory Littleton and Joe Schobert are the two biggest names that will be on the market. Both will be looking at $11M-$14M a year. Maybe the Bengals decide to go big and sign one of these guys. They certainly couldn’t be faulted for it, as both guys are young and quality starters.
However, if the front office can acquire Nick Kwiatkoski for $8M-$9M a year, that would be just as exciting. He is an automatic starter who upgrades the linebacker position dramatically. He is also a player with massive upside and his best football ahead of him.
To get a better idea of the type of players the Bengals may be better off targeting in free agency, here is a brief list.
- LB – Nick Kwiatkoski
- RG – Graham Glasgow
- CB – Kendall Fuller
- CB – Mackensie Alexander
- CB – Eli Apple
- DT – D.J. Reader
- Edge – Shaq Lawson
- S – Vonn Bell
- G – Ereck Flowers
Of course, there’s no way to know for certain who the Bengals are targeting in free agency. However, the players mentioned above could come after the first wave, making them potential targets. If the Bengals could bring in a few of these players, it would provide a huge upgrade to this roster at a feasible financial rate.