The legal tampering period is officially open, and teams were able to start talking to pending free agents as of noon Monday, but until the new league calendar begins Wednesday afternoon, they can only sign contracts with their own players.
Cincinnati Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin said at the NFL Combine the organization was going to focus on its own guys this offseason, and so far, that appears to be the case.
On Monday, the Bengals announced the re-signing of veteran safety Michael J. Thomas to a one-year extension for 2023, and it appears they are bringing back linebacker Germaine Pratt, who according to NFL Network National Insider Tom Pelissero, is signing a three-year, $21 million deal.
At deadline, the Bengals had not officially confirmed Pratt’s signing, but that expense might have meant they were unable to keep safety Vonn Bell. Pelissero reported Monday that Bell is signing with the Panthers.
Pratt was the team’s third-round pick in 2019 and has been a key part of the defense while playing 54 games for the Bengals. He often made comments during the past season about needing to play all three downs to earn a paycheck, so many thought he would be looking for more money than the organization could afford with Joe Burrow’s expected contract extension.
The 26-year-old linebacker said in an interview after the AFC Championship loss to Kansas City that money wouldn’t be the only factor in his next contract, though.
“People say money and stuff, and money plays into it because you want to take care of your family and stuff, but winning plays a huge factor,” Pratt said. “I want to be a Super Bowl champion. You don’t play this game just to go out there get the money and go home. You’ll be miserable. You love this game so much you put so much time in it, you want to be a Super Bowl champion.”
“This teams wins, so I want to be a part of a team that competes for championships,” he added. “We showcased it the last two years. I want to be around. There is no way I don’t want to be around my guys.”
Thomas, who will be a 10th-year player in 2023, originally was a college free agent signee of the San Francisco 49ers in 2012 and he spent time with 49ers, Miami Dolphins, N.Y. Giants and Houston Texans before joining the Bengals midway through the 2021 season. A key contributor on special teams, he has appeared in 24 regular-season games for Cincinnati and was voted a team captain by his teammates last season.
Cincinnati has 15 other players set to become free agents once Pratt’s return is confirmed, but the organization won’t be bringing the entire band back together. There are some spots that will need filled in the outside free agent market and the draft.
At least one pending free agent already has expressed interest in signing with the Bengals, as former Minnesota Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Cincinnati is on his short list of teams he would like to play for in 2023.
Peterson, 32, started all 17 games for the Vikings last season, and his 13-game season in 2021 marked just the second time in his 12-year career he hasn’t started every game possible in the regular season.
“I’m playing for jewelry at this period in my career,” Peterson told Schefter. “I want to be able to be with the team that’s going to be in the position that’s going to be in the playoffs. That’s the first step. Every team is not promised a championship no matter how good the team is. I want to be on a team that can get in the playoffs first and foremost and that’s able to compete for a championship. At this moment, I’m looking for a team that can help provide jewelry.”
Peterson also named the Cowboys and Eagles as a team, besides the Bengals, he would like to play for, but he already was aware of Cincinnati’s need at his position.
“I really like what the Bengals have,” Peterson said. “They have a quarterback, they have a great establishment on the offensive side of the ball. I know Eli Apple is going to be an impending free agent coming up. I feel like I can come in there and help those guys. You’re going to need some quality cover guys that can kind of keep those guys in check.”
Apple is expected to become a free agent Wednesday, and there is also some uncertainty with Chidobe Awuzie coming off an Oct. 31 ACL tear.
When Schefter’s podcast posted on Twitter on Monday morning, Bengals slot corner Mike Hilton chimed in with his own recruiting pitch, saying “Yo @P2 (Peterson’s Twitter handle) come to the Nati! That Jungle be ROCKING,” along with a fire emoji.
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