Zac Taylor: Bengals in ‘good position’ heading into free agency

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor walks on the field during an NFL football team scrimmage in Cincinnati, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor walks on the field during an NFL football team scrimmage in Cincinnati, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Coach said decision not to use franchise tag gives team more flexibility

Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor said the decision not to use a franchise tag this year came down to a desire for more flexibility going into a season with a much lower salary cap.

The NFL set its salary cap at $182.5 million, which was an eight percent decrease from last year. While the Bengals have plenty of cap space to play with this offseason, they didn’t want to limit themselves by tagging a player and thus locking them into a rate determined by the top five highest-paid guys at that position.

Cincinnati was considering the use of the tag on cornerback William Jackson or defensive end Carl Lawson, but the deadline passed Tuesday and now both are free to look elsewhere for new contracts.

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“Those are two players we have high opinions of, and we’ll continue to work through things with them, but it allows us to have a lot of flexibility in a year that’s going to be very different,” Taylor said in a press conference Wednesday. “We saw that the salary cap is a lot lower, so it just gives us better flexibility these next couple weeks.”

Asked how confident he is that one or both of those players will be re-signed, Taylor said “that’s impossible to say,” but the Bengals “truly would be in favor of that.”

The Bengals did announce one re-signing Wednesday. Backup quarterback Brandon Allen will return on a one-year contract. Taylor said it was important to be able to bring back Allen, as a player in which he has a high degree of confidence. Before Allen’s arrival in August, the two had worked together with the L.A. Rams when Taylor was an assistant there in 2017 and 2018.

Taylor said he’s excited to see what happens over the next couple of weeks, as the team prepares for and dips into the free agent market, which opens March 17.

“I think there’s going to be good options that are out there to fill some of the needs that we have,” Taylor said. “We’re in a good position to be flexible as the week goes. Nobody can really say how it’s all gonna shake out. So, we’re going to be in a position I think to add some really quality players that help us be a better football team next year.”

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The lower salary cap number doesn’t change anything in terms of some of the veterans on the team and decisions the organization might be considering to free up more space, Taylor said. He reiterated that moving players is always an option on the table, but the Bengals already were feeling comfortable with the amount of flexibility they have, so their philosophy on how to approach the roster hasn’t changed.

Cincinnati has more cap space available than 27 other teams in the league, according to overthecap.com.

Taylor said the Bengals want to win games in 2021, so they will be working to bring in players that can help in that goal right away, but they also have to be wise about not creating too many future cap limitations as well. That said, it seems as though Cincinnati plans to be aggressive again this offseason.

“I think we’re in a good position to really add some quality players, however that shakes out,” Taylor said. “Again, we’ve made smart decisions, that’s why our cap is in the position we’re in right now so we can be flexible as this thing (the cap) is dropped down and maybe some teams don’t have the same flexibility that we do. We’ve got more work to do this week, certainly. But excited to see what next week brings.”

Last year, the Bengals broke from their norm and went out and committed to about $126 million over four years on just five of its new players signed through free agency last spring, but the top two spendings were sidelined for all or most of the season.

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Defensive tackle D.J. Reader suffered a season-ending quad injury in Week 5, and cornerback Trae Waynes tore a pectoral muscle in training camp and missed the entire year. Guard Xavier Su’a-Filo also missed substantial time. Taylor said those injuries didn’t scare off the Bengals from spending in free agency this year, but those guys will just add to the new reinforcements this season.

Eyes especially will be on the offensive linemen available in free agency, but the Bengals also have the No. 5 pick in the draft to add pieces and both avenues could be used to improve Joe Burrow’s protection up front.

“Number one, we gotta play better up front this year than we did last year,” Taylor said. “When you do bring in a veteran guy, he’s got the experience in the league and he can come right in. Sometimes you take younger guys and they have a higher ceiling, more potential. You’ve just got to weigh both of them as they come at you. Again, we’ll be flexible to make those decisions as things shake out next week and going into the draft. You’ve got to weight them both hand-in-hand. But I’m confident we’ll make some good decisions there.”

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