Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor was encouraged to see that free agent targets were still interested in joining the team, despite its disappointing 2019 season.
While historically the organization has been more conservative in free agency, Taylor said the plan after a 2-14 finish his first season was to do everything possible during the offseason to improve the roster.
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The Bengals have committed more than $150 million over the next four years, including the addition of defensive tackle D.J. Reader, cornerbacks Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander and LeShaun Sims, safety Vonn Bell, linebacker Josh Bynes, guard Xavier Su’a-Filo and wide receiver Mike Thomas. Cincinnati officially announced agreements with all eight players Wednesday.
“When the season ended, the plan that we had in place to attack the offseason to make our team better everyone was on board with,” Taylor said in a Zoom news conference Wednesday. “It was fun to see how it was all executed. There were a stressful couple of days there because you are not sure how it will sort out, but the guys that we targeted we were able to go get. That really speaks to how players outside this building view the organization. They’ve gotten to know our players and now they’re getting to know our coaching staff to the best of their ability. It’s just encouraging to know that there is a lot of excitement building around our organization right now. Guys are excited to be a part of it.”
The Bengals have been criticized recently, particularly by former quarterback Carson Palmer, for not caring about winning as much as the bottom line. The current spending spree contradicts that, and Taylor said it’s possible they aren’t done making moves.
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Asked if the Bengals were trying to send a message in free agency, Taylor said “there’s no side message” they were trying to send anybody.
“The message is that we’re trying to improve our team,” he said. “We’re trying to go win as many games as possible. However we can help ourselves, we’re going to go do it. … Last season wasn’t good enough. We know where we have to improve as coaches and the players that we still have around. And at the same time, we can go help ourselves at a lot of different positions and that’s what we did. We didn’t hold back. So that’s just the message. We want to go win right now and we’re going to add the pieces that help us do that.”
The mentality might just be shifting under Taylor, who is undergoing his first full offseason with the team after he was hired last February to replace Marvin Lewis.
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By the time free agency began last year, Taylor’s staff had only been in place three or four weeks and the coaches hadn’t met most of the returning players or seen them play or work out in person yet, so it was a little more difficult to know what needs they really had. This time, they went into the offseason knowing what needed improved upon and where the Bengals needed more depth.
Taylor said the process was stressful just because the coaches weren’t really involved in the conversations with the agents. Players weren’t able to visit the team facility because of the NFL’s travel ban during the COVID-19 pandemic, so the staff hasn’t been able to meet anyone in person yet and it’s unclear when they will.
Regardless of the odd circumstances, the Bengals were able to address some big needs and land “a lot of guys (with) their best ball ahead of them,” Taylor said, also noting most have about four years of NFL experience.
“I do feel like we are a better team, but a better team on paper doesn’t mean jack right now unless we find a way to put in the work, find a way to maybe manufacture the camaraderie that you otherwise have and chemistry that you’d have in the locker room,” Taylor said. “We have to go to work, and make sure that just because we feel like we added some good players in free agency and the draft we can’t feel like our work is done. We’ll still a long way from that. We just finished a 2-14 season. To think that things are gonna be easy for us, we’d be sadly mistaken. We all understand that, and we are willing to put in the work.”
Six of the eight new additions (all but Thomas and Su’a-Filo) came from teams that made the playoffs last year. Reader won a wildcard game with the Texans before losing to Kansas City in the divisional round, and Waynes and Alexander made it to the same stage with the Vikings. Bell and the Saints lost in the wildcard round, while Sims advanced the furthest of the bunch with the Titans falling in the AFC Championship after beating the Ravens and Bynes in the divisional playoffs.
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Taylor said it was partly just coincidence that so many of them are coming off playoff appearances, but it does help the culture of the team to have guys with that mentality.
“A lot of these guys made critical plays down the stretch that allowed their teams to have the success that they had,” Taylor said. “At the same point when you get a guy fresh off of a playoff run it’s still very fresh in his mind how they approached the season and how they attacked it as a team. It certainly helps our culture when you add guys who recently been playing for championships. Obviously, that’s where we intend to be very quickly so it does not hurt to bring guys from outside the organization who have experienced that very recently.”
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