Brandon LaFell didn’t need a comprehensive study of the playbook to know the Cincinnati Bengals were the right fit.
“Once you get a taste of winning, you don’t want to take a step back and go somewhere where they’re trying to rebuild,” LaFell said Thursday, shortly after finalizing a one-year contract that will pay the free agent wide receiver $2.5 million.
“If you have options to pick and choose where you want to go, you pick and choose a team that still is winning, has a good quarterback, good system and good opportunity to win,” LaFell added. “These guys last year won 12 games and won their division. Unfortunately the quarterback got hurt. If he stays healthy, you never know what these guys do in the playoffs.”
The 29-year-old LaFell is entering his seventh NFL season, the last three of which were on teams that won 12 games and made the playoffs.
After catching 49 passes for 627 yards and five touchdowns with Carolina in 2013, LaFell signed with New England and helped the Patriots win Super Bowl XLIX with career highs in receptions (74), yards (953) and touchdowns (seven).
Last year a foot issue forced LaFell to spend the first five weeks on the physically unable to perform list, and he battled the injury for most of the season, logging 37 catches for 515 yards and no touchdowns.
But LaFell said the injury is behind him and he’s eager to fill the void on the Bengals roster after receivers Marvin Jones (Detroit) and Mohamed Sanu (Atlanta) left in free agency.
“My foot is feeling normal now,” he said. “I had some time off after the season to get off it and let it heal and recover. I’m back to running and jumping and doing everything. So I feel good about this offseason, getting back into the groove of things.
“I want to get back on the right foot,” he added. “Going out there healthy, clean start. I just want to get back at playing at a high level and watching how I played last year definitely motivates me to work hard this offseason because I know what I put on film last year wasn’t me at full strength.”
LaFell said he was impressed by first-year offensive coordinator Ken Zampese when the two sat down and talked during his visit, and Zampese said the feeling is mutual.
“I am fired up, excited to have Brandon on our team,” he said. “We had a great visit when he came in, and I think he’s a really good player who’s going to fit right in for us. I like his style, his work ethic and his consistency, both on the field and just as a person. He’s got great experience, and a lot of toughness, too.”
LaFell said he’s comfortable playing on the outside, which is what he did exclusively with New England, or in the slot, an area where the Panthers used him quite a bit.
“I feel like there are a lot of mismatches in the slot,” he said. “A team can only do so much. A lot of times you might get a smaller corner, or might get a slower corner, or a slower linebacker on you. I pretty much love the slot.”
Calling Andy Dalton “one of the best young quarterbacks in the league,” LaFell said the two exchanged text messages during his visit and he’s eager to start catching passes from Dalton and getting their timing down.
“It won’t happen overnight, as I’ve learned being in this league six years already,” he said. “It’s something that is going to take time. So we have to maximize our reps in OTAs and do something extra off the field after OTAs are over if we have time. It’s definitely going to take OTAs and training camp to get familiar with each other and hopefully we get it down.”