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Taylor, Bengals Aggressive in Free Agency – Trending Upward

Who Dey - photo by Brendon D. Miller - Bluegrass Sports Nation

Cincinnati gives fanbase reason for optimism after signing numerous established players.

April 1, 2020 – Bradley Charles – Bluegrass Sports Nation

Historically, the Bengals haven’t been known for making big moves during free agency. However, the franchise hasn’t shied away from handing out large contracts this offseason. While this is being published on April Fool’s Day, I assure you this isn’t a cruel joke; Cincinnati has been very aggressive during this year’s free agency period.

It’s seemingly not a coincidence that Cincinnati’s sudden aggressive mindset comes on the heels of a new coaching regime. Despite being an offensive coach, Zac Taylor has definitely put an emphasis on bolstering the Bengal defense during free agency.

Key Signings:

A.J. Green (WR) (3-16-20)

The Bengals’ first major move of free agency was placing the franchise tag on one of the league’s top playmakers, wide receiver A.J. Green. Green will be paid $18 million for his services next season. Cincinnati drafted Green with the fourth pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, and the South Carolina native has been one of the franchise’s cornerstones ever since.

Over the past couple of years, the aging wide-out has struggled to stay healthy. In fact, the seven-time Pro Bowler has only played in nine of Cincinnati’s last 32 regular-season games due to injury. While his age (31) and recent injury history does present a reason for Bengal fans to be worried about Green going forward, it was ultimately a risk worth taking for Cincinnati. When he’s healthy, there’s no denying Green’s talent. With the Bengals expected to draft Joe Burrow in the upcoming draft, it makes perfect sense to retain one of the league’s best offensive weapons.

Trae Waynes (CB) (3-18-20)

The Bengals signed Trae Waynes to a three-year, $42 million contract. The former Michigan State Spartan was selected with the 11th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings.

It’s no secret that over the past few seasons the Vikings have had a tremendous defense under head coach Mike Zimmer. During his time in the Gopher State, Waynes was one of the foundational pieces on Zimmer’s defense. In the regular season, Waynes started in at least 14 games in each of his final three years with Minnesota, and during that time recorded 167 tackles and four interceptions.

D.J. Reader (DT) (3-18-20)

When the Bengals signed former Houston Texan D.J. Reader to a four-year, $53 million contract, ESPN’s Field Yates tweeted, “Pairing D.J. Reader with Geno Atkins gives the Bengals one of the best defensive tackle duos in the league. Look past the numbers with Reader; he’s an elite interior player who is near impossible to move around. Stud.”

Reader is just 25-years old which means that he will likely be in his prime during his time with Cincinnati. Another upside for the Bengals is the fact that Reader will be paired with an eight-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro in Geno Atkins. It’s safe to assume that the former Clemson Tiger will learn a lot from the aging Atkins, and the duo should fit nicely together on the field.

Mackensie Alexander (CB) (3-19-20)

The Bengals snagged another Viking cornerback when they signed 26-year-old Mackensie Alexander to a one-year, $4 million contract. Alexander and Reader were teammates in college at the University of Clemson. Now, essentially five years later, they find themselves once again on the same defense.

Alexander played in 23 games during his time with Clemson, while recording just 44 tackles and no interceptions during that time for the Tigers. Despite his numbers, the Vikings felt confident in his abilities and showed that by selecting him late in the 2nd round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

Alexander played in at least 13 games in all four seasons with the Vikings while only starting in 10 games during his tenure in the North Star State. In his final two seasons with Minnesota, Alexander tallied 81 total tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery, and 4.5 sacks.

Alexander might be what you would call a flier in fantasy football. He’s got tremendous upside, but you don’t have total faith in him yet and/or don’t think he’s yet lived up to his full potential. With that said, I like this addition especially when you consider his history with Reader and Waynes. The Bengals got him at a good price. Signing him was a good move.

Vonn Bell (SS) (3-25-20)

Cincinnati continued their defensive overhaul with the signing of former Ohio State Buckeye, and National Champion, Vonn Bell. The 25-year-old was a second-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, and will be entering his fifth season in the NFL. Bell spent four seasons with the New Orleans Saints and developed quite a reputation during that time.

Bell started in 45 regular-season games for the Saints including 14 games in his rookie season. Aside from that, the Tennessee native played in five playoff games during his tenure with New Orleans, making him both young and experienced.

During his four-year stint with the Saints, Bell tallied 348 tackles, seven forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries, eight sacks and one interception during the regular season. While Bell’s number of interceptions is low, it’s clear that he is a playmaker. Plus, he was making those plays for one of the league’s top teams.

Notable Departures:

Cordy Glenn (OT) (3-13-20)

Glenn was drafted by Buffalo early in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. The Georgia alum had a successful six-year run with the Bills, as he started in 77 games for the franchise. From there, Glenn’s NFL journey took him to Cincinnati. In his two-year stint with the Bengals, Glenn played in 19 games and started 18 of them.

Tyler Eifert (TE) (3-18-20):

The Bengals had high hopes for Tyler Eifert when they selected him with the 21st overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft out of the football factory known as Notre Dame. Truth be told, he would have been an absolute steal had injuries not derailed his career.

Eifert’s best campaign came in the 2015-2016 season. That season, Eifert played in 13 regular-season games and recorded 52 receptions on 74 targets for 615 yards and 13 touchdowns. Eifert has scored 24 touchdowns in his career and of those more than half came in his breakout season.

Eifert’s 2015-2016 campaign was so impressive that he was named a Pro Bowler that season. In fact, during the summer of 2016, Eifert ranked 44th on the NFL Network’s Top 100 list which was voted on by his peers; Eifert ranked third for those at his position.

With Eifert, we will always wonder what might have happen if he had been able to stay healthy. I think it’s safe to say that if Eifert had been able to put together 6-8+ healthy seasons, he would one day be in the hall of fame. Yes, that’s a bold statement for a tight end with only one dominant statistical season. However, there’s definitely a universe where Eifert goes down as one of the best tight ends of his generation. In the 2015-2016 season, he showcased to the world that he was on track to be one of the NFL’s best tight ends for the next 5+ years. Ultimately, Eifert proved during that season that he had hall of fame level talent. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to put together a hall of fame career.

With the Bengals and Eifert era having run its course, Eifert signed a two-year contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Darqueze Dennard (CB) (3-18-20):

To be fair, Dennard is currently an unrestricted free agent, so theoretically he could re-sign with the Bengals. However, one would assume that if a deal between the two was going to occur, it would have happened by now. Dennard came close to signing with Jacksonville, but eventually the two sides were unable to agree to terms.

The Bengals selected Dennard with the 24th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. In his six years with the Bengals, Dennard made just 24 regular-season starts and appeared in 77 regular-season games. His Bengal tenure featured 274 tackles, three sacks, three forced fumbles, and three interceptions in the regular season.

Nick Vigil (LB) (3-18-20):

Cincinnati drafted Vigil in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Vigil was a three-year starter for the Bengals. During that time, he averaged over seven tackles per game. The Utah State alum returned to the west coast by signing a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Chargers on March 24.

Andrew Billings (DT) (3-18-20):

Billings was selected by the Bengals in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. In three years with the franchise, the Baylor alum started 37 games including 30 starts in the past two seasons. During his tenure with the Bengals, Billings recorded 80 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 12 QB hits. The Texas native has signed with the Cleveland Browns.

B.W. Webb (CB) (3-18-20):

Webb is the definition of an NFL journeyman. He’s been in the league for six seasons and has been a member of eight different franchises. In fact, he’s yet to spend back-to-back seasons with the same team. Webb started 12 games for Cincinnati last season and played in 15 games. The Bengals, like numerous other teams, released Webb nearly two weeks ago. Currently, he remains unsigned.

John Miller (OG) (3-18-20):

John Miller was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Miller, a Louisville alum, spent four seasons with the Bills and started in all 47 games that he played in with the franchise. After a one-year stop in Cincinnati, the Bengals released Miller and he has since found a new home with the Carolina Panthers. Miller started in all 13 games that he played last season for the Bengals. However, Cincinnati released the Florida native two weeks ago.

Dre Kirkpatrick (CB) (3-31-20)

The Bengals released Dre Kirkpatrick on Tuesday which cleared the franchise over $8 million in 2020 cap room. The Alabama alum played in 99 regular-season games for the Bengals. In that time, the former first-round pick recorded 302 tackles, 10 interceptions, two touchdowns, and recovered three fumbles.

Ultimately, it seems like a smart decision for the Bengals to part ways with Kirkpatrick. It provides them with valuable cap room and releases them from an aging Kirkpatrick who will be 31 years old on Oct. 26.

Overall Analysis:

I, for one, love the Bengals’ aggressive mindset and the emphasis they have placed on improving their defense. Of the free agent signings listed above, they acquired players that:

  1. Played college football at tremendous football schools. (Ohio State, Michigan State, and Clemson)
  2. Played significant roles on some of the NFL’s best teams/defenses. (Minnesota, Houston, New Orleans)
  3. Just exited their rookie contract which means they are likely to be entering their physical prime.

In football, the importance of a team’s culture can seemingly not be overstated. Acquiring players that played for and had success on top-tier teams should go a long way towards improving Cincinnati’s culture. Beyond the cultural dimensions of the signings, the simple truth is that Cincinnati added talented athletes which have already proven to be high-quality players in the NFL.

It should also be noted that the Bengals have signed 25-year-old cornerback LeShaun Sims and 30-year-old linebacker Josh Bynes. In his four-year run with the Titans, Sims was a rotational piece and started in at least two regular-season games each season. Josh Bynes has had a long NFL career and has played for the Lions, Cardinals, and has had two-stints with the Ravens. Bynes has tallied two years with at least 75 regular-season tackles and totaled 46 tackles, two interceptions and one sack with the Ravens last year.

Despite Cincinnati’s free-agent additions, there’s still a long way to go, but Zac Taylor and the Bengals appear to be trending in the right direction. For the first time in many years, the Bengals were aggressive in free agency. Plus, with the NFL draft a little over three weeks away, Cincinnati still has the ability to make a drastic impact on the upcoming season. The Bengals will also be aided by having the opening pick in each round of this year’s NFL Draft.

With the Bengals expected to draft Joe Burrow with the first overall pick in this year’s draft, a solid defense will tremendously help Burrow. Personally, I think the Bengals would be best served to trade away the No. 1 overall pick, but that’s a discussion for another day. With that said, all signs point towards Joe Burrow being a Bengal at the end of the month.

In my opinion, there are five things that are tremendously vital to a rookie quarterback’s success: An offensive-minded head coach, a legitimate offensive line, a good defense, a stellar running game, and a big-play wide receiver.

With their free agent signings thus far, the Bengals have improved their defense and retained standout wide receiver A.J. Green. Beyond that, the Bengals do have an offensive-minded head coach in Zac Taylor and a high-quality running back in Joe Mixon who has a deadly combination of speed and strength.

However, the Cincinnati offensive line left a lot to be desired last season. The Bengals surrendered 48 sacks during last year’s regular season which was tied for the ninth-most sacks allowed in all of the NFL.

The offensive line needs to be improved, but as of now it appears as though the Cincinnati o-line has weakened more than it has improved. With that said, the Bengals will have an opportunity to improve their offensive line in the upcoming NFL Draft.

The point being, aside from a solid offensive line, Cincinnati appears to have most of the ingredients needed to have success with a rookie quarterback. However, at this moment, we don’t know how good the defense or A.J. Green will be, but the potential is there. As previously mentioned, Green has showed us that he is an incredible talent, but his age and recent injury history presents reasons for Cincinnati to be concerned.

Sure, there’s still room for improvement and the Bengals did cut ties with some players their fans know well, but they appear to be in a better place now than they were entering free agency. All in all, this offseason has been a successful one for Coach Taylor and the Bengals.

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