The Cincinnati Bengals, like many teams, have been slow to make moves this offseason while awaiting a decision on a new collective-bargaining agreement.
However, by the end of the weekend, they should have a better idea what kind of numbers they have to play around with in free agency, and come Monday, the moves will start rolling out.
The Bengals on Friday released left tackle Cordy Glenn to save $9.5 million against the salary cap, and they are expected to franchise tag A.J. Green by the 11:59 a.m. deadline Monday. The NFL has no plans to push back the start of the league year, which officially begins 4 p.m. Wednesday with the start of free agency. Teams can begin negotiating with agents of potential free agents at noon Monday.
“It’s not a question of if whether we’re going to spend,” Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin said at the NFL Combine last month. “Over the course of this past CBA, we’re a top-half of the league spending team on players. So we’re going to spend on players. It’s just a question of do you spend on Tim versus Tom, our guy versus their guy? Do you try to extend your guy? And we’re going to balance all of that this year. We’ll look at free agency, as we always do. We’ll see if there are some fits. We think there might be. But until you get in front of these guys and start talking to them and see what their interest level is, it’s hard to really predict. It’s something you’ve gotta be flexible on.”
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Under a new CBA, the salary cap is expected to rise to around $200 million. According to OvertheCap.com, the Bengals have $44.9 million in cap space without tagging Green and before they cut Glenn. It's more likely to expect the team will have around $25-27 million to spend in free agency when all is said and done.
Last year, the Bengals were 18th in the league with $16.3 million in salary cap space, according to OvertheCap.com, but they average 12th in the league since 2013.
The Bengals have 17 players who could become free agents, including nine unrestricted free agents – Green, cornerback Darqueze Dennard, tight end Tyler Eifert, defensive end Kerry Wynn, guard/tackle John Jerry, safety Clayton Fejedelem, linebackers Nick Vigil and LaRoy Reynolds and defensive tackle Andrew Billings.
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Others who will be restricted free agents are safety Brandon Wilson, defensive tackle Josh Tupou, cornerbacks Tony McRae, Torry McTyer and Greg Mabin, guard Alex Redmond, linebacker Hardy Nickerson and tight end Cethan Carter.
The Bengals typically have invested most in their own players when it comes to the free agent market. That likely will remain the case with players like Joe Mixon coming near the end of his contract after the 2020 season and in line for a big raise. However, Tobin said “it’s going to be a blend” of internal and external spending.
“We’ve got guys we’re talking to on our own team about extensions, so we’ll see what we can get done. You don’t know what’s going to get done until it actually gets done. Once one domino falls then you’ve got to adjust at that point. We’ve always been a team that wants to keep and reward guys who have come in and done it the right way and produced for us. Being a player on the Cincinnati Bengals you know if you come in and do it the right way, produce, become a good player we’re going to look to extend you and reward you for that. At the same time we’ve got a lot of needs on our football team and we’re going to look at free agency and we’ll see what dominos fall. It’s going to be an active offseason for us.”
The Bengals likely will be looking closely at linebackers, linemen and cornerbacks in free agency. In terms of signing their own guys, Tobin said the team has its priorities, but not all of them will be achieved through free agency and some will have to come through the draft or trades.
Asked whether it’s hard to sell free agents on a 2-14 team, Tobin wasn’t sure how that might impact things.
“I don’t know, we’ve got a lot of positives to sell in Cincinnati,” Tobin said. “We’ll do that. It’s a financial game, free agency, for the most part. Players want to know you have their best interest in mind, that you’re going to do things that accentuate their positives and I think we have a coaching staff that does that and sells that and players believe that what we’re doing is going to maximize their value, ultimately because it’s going to produce success for them.”