Thoughts on the Eve of Free Agency

One of the marvelous things about the NFL is that it never really ends.  As the sun sets on one season, the dawning of the next follows hard upon. Barely a month removed from the crowning of the Saints as Super Bowl Champions, we’ve already moved on to the roster reconstruction phase with the scouting combine having just wrapped up in Indianapolis.  

Before we move on to the pinnacle offseason weekend with the college draft in April, there is the veteran swap meet known as free agency.  The annual frenzied shopping spree begins Friday at 12:01 AM.  If history is any reliable judge, at 12:02 the dollars will start flying around like angry pigeons in Hitchcock’s The Birds

This year will no doubt be a little different however as teams approach an offseason for the first time in nearly two decades without a set spending limit or floor.  Several franchises are looking to cut costs, and with the economy still down and no guarantee of an agreement with players on the immediate horizon, spending may very well be down. Additionally, many big name players who would be unrestricted free agents under the previous CBA are now restricted, taking several good players virtually off the market before it starts. 

Nonetheless, there will be bargains to be had and upgrades to be made.  The Bengals will be the Bengals.  Translation:  they look for bargains and they won’t break the bank for anyone.  They’ll start with trying to bring back their own players, then look for proven veterans willing to sign for a reasonable price and guys with something to prove.  Here’s a preliminary look at some of the unrestricted players the team *might* target starting this weekend. 

First, we’ll start with the guys they’d like to retain. 

  • G Bobbie Williams:  Despite being 34 years old, Williams might have had his best season last year, and combined with OT Andrew Whitworth to provide reliable leadership and the team revamped the offensive line.
  • TE Reggie Kelly:  Again age is a factor with Kelly on the wrong side of 30, and he’s coming off a bad Achilles heel injury.  Nevertheless, the team needs a strong blocking TE, and with no slam dunks in free agency or the draft, Kelly might be an option.
  • DT Tank Johnson:  Johnson is still relatively young and was tough and reliable last year.  Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer would like to have him back in the middle to team again with Domata Peko, and Pat Sims.
  • S Roy Williams:  Williams had his season cut short by lingering forearm problems that sidelined him in 2008 as well.  However, Zimmer likes Williams’ professionalism and toughness against the run. 

And here are some unrestricted free agency from other teams the Bengals may target: 

  • WR Antonio Bryant (Bucs):  Bryant had a down year last year, but the Buccaneer QB position was never settled and he had some injuries.  At 28, he has 3 or 4 good years left, and is just one season removed from 1248 yards and 7 touchdowns.
  • WR Terrell Owens (Bills):  Some say there’s no way this will happen, but rumors are that theowens team has discussed the possibility internally, and Chad Ochocinco has been pushing hard for it.  Working against Owens is his age (36), but he was fairly well-behaved last year in Buffalo despite a losing season, terrible QB play and a bad offense.
  • WR Ernest Wilford (Jags):  He’s still fairly young, and was productive in spurts for the Jags.  That may be enough to get a sniff from the offense-starved Bengals.
  • DB Pacman Jones (Cowboys):  Ok, so, they don’t actually have to wait until Friday if they really want him.  They could sign the guy now. Although they didn’t offer him a deal after a recent try-out, it wouldn’t surprise me at least if they brought him in at a team-friendly price to help the secondary.
  • DB Dunta Robinson (Texans):  The former first round pick is headed to free agency after developing a bad reputation in Houston for giving up big plays.  The Bengals might see Robinson as a talented player in need of a change of scenery.  Coach Kevin Coyle may see some potential here.
  • DE’s Jevon Kearse & Kyle Vanden Bosch (Titans):  The Bengals feel they need more pressure on the quarterback, and either of these former Titans might fill the bill for Mike Zimmer if….”The price is right”. 

There are other big names the team might sniff at, but back away from if the prices get too high. 

It’s important to note that there are no restricted free agents explored in this article.  The team will attempt to keep the majority of theirs, and may pursue a few from other teams, but it’s unlikely if they will be forced to give up draft picks as compensation. 

The Bengals usually do not go crazy in free agency, particularly in the beginning when spending is at its zenith.  However, the team will try to satisfy at least one or two of their pressing needs sometime during the next 3 to 5 weeks to shore up depth and open up their options heading into the draft.


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