It’s a well-established fact that the Cincinnati Bengals do not feel obliged to spend large sums of money to bring in big-name free agents. True to form, the Bengals have been relatively quiet in the first few days of free agency this off-season. What available players might the Bengals be able to acquire at a discount rate to help their cause in 2017?
If the Bengals biggest problem wasn’t the offensive line on Thursday morning, it certainly was by Thursday night. The Bengals lost their two best offensive linemen Kevin Zeitler and a long-tenured veteran in Andrew Whitworth to free agency. Both are set to make roughly $12million a year in their new deals. Veteran center Nick Mangold, who was set to make approximately $9million with the New York Jets this year, would be an improvement at any position on the interior offensive line. He is an Ohio native and Ohio State Alumnus who may appreciate the opportunity to end his career in his home state. Mangold is still one of the best and most competitive centers in the NFL and would help the Bengals to shore up at least one position on the offensive line.
Andrew Hawkins is well known in Cincinnati having started his NFL career with the Bengals. Hawkins spent the last three seasons with the Cleveland Browns. Hawkins played very well in his first season with the Browns bringing in 63 balls for 824 yards in 2014. After spending half of the 2015 season on injured reserve, Hawkins was lost in the shuffle with other talented receivers in 2016 and released this off-season. Hawkins may provide at least a temporary solution to the Bengals need for speed at the receiver position.
The Steelers acquired Jarvis Jones out of Georgia with the seventeenth pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Understandably the Steelers had high expectations for the 6’3” 248 linebacker. While Jones was a starter for the majority of his career in Pittsburgh, these expectations never materialized. Jones has been a starter for the majority of his time in the NFL, but never produced sacks at the rate that was expected of him as a 3-4 outside backer. The writing was on the wall for Jones as the Steelers phased him out towards the end of 2016. In free agency 3-4 teams will likely be scared off by his lack of production in Pittsburgh and 4-3 teams might not be sure what to do with him.
Put these factors together, and you have a potential steal in free agency. The Bengals have a need for both a pass rusher and a linebacker. Though a bit risky, signing Jones could give them both. In base defense, he could play outside backer, and in substitution packages, he could bump down to defensive end. Some players are simply more productive pass rushers when allowed to tee off from the line of scrimmage rather than come from space. If this is the case with Jones than the Bengals will have hit the jackpot, and if not he should at least be productive as a linebacker. This move would give the Bengals more flexibility to draft the best available player rather than drafting based on need.
These three players could fill a need for the Bengals at a relatively low cost and allow the Bengals more flexibility in the draft. Although this does not account for all of their needs, it does put them in a better place moving forward.