CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 3: Tight end Tyler Eifert #85 of the Cincinnati Bengals catches a pass for a touchdown during the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium on January 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andrew Weber/Getty Images)

Cincinnati Bengals counting on return to health, not new free agents

With NFL free agency winding down, the Cincinnati Bengals are likely done making moves for new players, and as usual it was a fairly quiet period for the local team.

The biggest changes to the team this offseason remain with the coaching staff, but Mike Brown seems satisfied with that, based on comments he made to reporters at the annual NFL owners meetings Wednesday in Phoenix.

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Over the last three weeks, the Bengals signed guard John Miller from Buffalo and cornerback B.W. Webb and defensive end Kerry Wynn from the New York Giants, terminated the contract of linebacker Vontaze Burfict and re-signed right tackle Bobby Hart, tight ends Tyler Eifert and C.J. Uzomah, linebacker Preston Brown, cornerback Darqueze Dennard, safety Brandon Wilson and defensive tackle Josh Tupou.

Cincinnati will begin voluntary offseason workouts April 9.

“With all the restrictions I think we did well,” Brown told a group of local reporters, according to ESPN.com’s Katherine Terrell.“We have a starting guard. He should step in right away and help. We have a number of others that will step in and play a role. There’s another thing that deserves comment. We’re going to get a bunch of guys back that were hurt and not playing last year. That’s going to do a lot to get us going. I think that will be the major thing.”

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Aside maybe from cutting Burfict and giving oft-injured Eifert another chance on the same day, the most surprising personnel move was the decision to bring back Hart. The former Giants’ tackle came to Cincinnati on a one-year deal last year and seemed to be a weak link on the line while also struggling with penalties.

The Bengals reportedly gave him a three-year contract worth $21 million and spent time this week defending that.

“For those who say you shouldn’t have signed Bobby Hart, who is going to play right tackle?” Bengals vice president Troy Blackburn said, according to ESPN.com. “Who? Oh, maybe you’ll draft one in the third round and he’ll come on. Really? You’re going to bet your season on that? … There aren’t perfect options out there. We asked Willie Anderson if he could go to a time machine and come back at age 25. We’d love to sign him, but you have to deal in your universe of options.”

The Bengals still might prioritize a tackle in the draft, he said, but now it seems more likely they key in on a linebacker and backup quarterback. When asked about the linebacker position specifically, Brown said the unit isn’t as thin as it appears because teams play nickel 80 percent of the time now and just need two linebackers on the field; however, it’s still an area to address. Preston Brown and Nick Vigil are the two returning starters, and Dennard plays the nickel corner spot.

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“We’re looking to get some help there, but there are other areas we’re looking to get help, too,” Brown said.

Cincinnati had already addressed two key players who would have become free agents this year when they gave Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap new contracts during the 2018 season. Now the Bengals are thinking ahead to next year when wide receiver A.J. Green is set to become an unrestricted free agent.

Green ended his 2018 season with a toe injury but in previous interviews has seemed open to the idea of staying in Cincinnati beyond his current contract, and it seems the Bengals want to make sure that happens.

“Oh, I think he’s a proven commodity, isn’t he?” Brown said.“The price range for him will be something we can figure out, will come together. … It’s true with anyone, if they suddenly get an injury that it reduces them. Well that changes the equation, but I never plan on that happening. I like to think that won’t happen. If A.J. is healthy, he’s as good a receiver as anybody in the league.”

The future of quarterback Andy Dalton also is something the team likely is thinking about, especially with new coach Zac Taylor’s history working with the position.

Dalton is less likely to get a new contract now with two years left on his deal but could still put himself in position for an extension later.

“I think it’s a good year for him to show like he can, like we think he will,” Brown said. “After he re-establishes himself we would want to get together with him and see if we can extend it.”

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