The Cincinnati Bengals’ roster rebuild — and surprising spending spree — continues during the second week of free agency.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport on Wednesday, the Bengals will add former New Orleans Saints safety Vonn Bell on a three-year deal. The team also are signing defensive back LeShaun Sims from the Titans.
On Tuesday, Cincinnati watched as seven-year Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert went to the Jaguars on a two-year deal and as linebacker Nick Vigil came to terms with the Chargers on a one-year agreement. Vigil’s departure made the team’s need for linebackers even more pressing, and the Bengals quickly acted late Tuesday afternoon to fill one spot with the addition of former Ravens linebacker Josh Bynes.
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Bell gives Cincinnati another big-name defender, after the organization pulled out the checkbook last week to bring in four new players for a total of $109 million over four years, including almost half that going to former Texans nose tackle D.J. Reader. The 25-year-old Bell was a second-round draft pick in 2016 and amassed 334 total tackles, 14 for loss, eight sacks, one interception and seven forced fumbles in four seasons in New Orleans. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, the former Ohio State Buckeye generated pressure on 24 percent of blitzes in 2019, the highest pressure rate in the NFL (minimum 30 blitzes).
As Bell and Bynes arrive, two key contributors of the past are departing.
Eifert, although an important piece to the offense in the past, seemed unlikely to return after being underutilized in Zac Taylor’s new system last year. The Bengals drafted Drew Sample in the second round last year and still have C.J. Uzomah adding experience to the position.
“We got some young ascending players at the position and we’ll have to evaluate exactly what the role for Tyler would be if he came back,” Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin told reporters at the Senior Bowl in January.
Finally healthy after playing just 14 games combined between 2016 and 2018, Eifert finished with 436 yards and three touchdowns on 43 catches while appearing in all 16 games for the first time in his career. However, his numbers didn’t compare to his Pro Bowl season in 2015 when he had 615 yards and 13 touchdowns on 52 receptions in just 13 games.
Eifert, a first-round selection out of Notre Dame in 2013, was the team’s most recently drafted player to represent the organization at the Pro Bowl. A.J. Green and Andy Dalton, who were drafted in 2011, now hold that status. Eifert told reporters at the end of the 2019 season he enjoyed his time in Cincinnati but noted he wasn’t sure what was going to happen as a pending free agent. The Bengals re-signed him to a one-year deal last offseason, and Eifert proved healthy enough to make a difference when given the opportunity.
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“It wasn’t the year we wanted but I enjoyed fighting with this team and playing a full season,” Eifert posted on Twitter in January. “Lot left in the tank!”
Vigil was a third-round pick by the Bengals in 2016 and enjoyed the best season of his career in 2019, totaling a career-high 111 tackles while starting every game. He was off to a strong start in 2018 when he suffered a knee injury against the Steelers in Week 6 and missed the next five games. At the time of his injury, Vigil ranked sixth in the league with 51 tackles, according to ESPN. He made 37 starts in four years with Cincinnati.
Last year, he became the team’s most experienced starter at linebacker Preston Brown was cut midseason. Rookie third-round draft pick Germaine Pratt filled Brown’s spot.
“You never know,” Vigil said of his future heading into the 2019 season finale. “You don’t have a deal in place, so … we’ll see how things go and see how it all plays out.”
Bynes comes on a one-year deal and brings nine years of NFL experience, including a return last year to Baltimore, where he began his career in 2011 as an undrafted free agent. In 2019, he had a minus-8 expected completion percentage when the nearest defender in coverage, according to NFL Next Gen stats. That ranked him the best of any Baltimore linebackers with at least 10 coverage snaps.
The 30-year-old inside linebacker won a BCS National Championship with Auburn in 2011 and was on the Ravens’ 2012 Super Bowl team. He also has spent time with the Lions and Cardinals. Bynes has 378 tackles in 101 career games, including 47 starts.
Although Bynes fell to Week 2 of free agency, Cincinnati drew some strong reviews for the pickup. ProFootballFocus.com graded him at 76.2 last year and he was between a 70 and 80 each of the last three years, including the 2017 and 2018 seasons with Arizona. Vigil was the Bengals’ highest-graded linebacker with at least 100 snaps last year, at 54.4.
“Underrated player and fills a need for the Bengals,” ESPN’s Mike Clay said of Bynes on Twitter. “Cincy doing much better in 2020 after last year’s disastrous attempt at free agency.”
Sims, 26, was mainly used in a back-up role for the Titans, starting 11 games in four seasons.
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