It’s hard for to do free agency better than the 2021 Cincinnati Bengals. Trey Hendrickson, Chidobe Awuzie, and Mike Hilton have become franchise cornerstones, while Eli Apple, Larry Ogunjobi, and Riley Reiff provided additional value surpluses on one-year deals.
To spend over $50 million in year one cash and use $35 million in year one cap space on external talent and get an overwhelming positive return on investment is nothing short of remarkable.
It’s a standard that is hard to achieve in one year. It may as well be impossible to do it two years in a row, but the Bengals will try.
Cap flexibility has been a standard for the Bengals in recent years, but this may be the last offseason in which they’ll have this much room to work with. In the coming years, Joe Burrow, Tee Higgins, Ja’Marr Chase, and potentially others will be up for lucrative contract extensions and the organization’s finances will be focused on retentions rather than additions. That would complete the cycle from the pre-Zac Taylor days when it was exclusively draft, develop, and retain with minimal help coming from free agency.
If this is the final year where outside spending reigns supreme inside Paul Brown Stadium, then the Bengals best not muff it up. For years, they’ve watched other clubs throw money into bad investments and wind up in nightmarish situations. They’ve managed to avoid those sunk costs outside of Trae Waynes, and if they’d like to continue that streak, these names shouldn’t be on their radar in the coming days.
Trent Brown, T, New England Patriots
The projected market for offensive tackles isn’t terribly promising, and while Brown is among the youngest starters set to hit the market, there comes plenty of questions with him.
Brown has bounced in and out of the New England Patriots before. The 6’8” right tackle was traded to New England in 2018 and used that year to prove himself worthy of a four-year $66 million deal given by the Oakland Raiders in 2019, the first time he hit free agency. He would only see two years of that deal as the Raiders would end up trading him back to the Patriots for a fifth-round pick.
The consensus surrounding Brown’s time with the Raiders was he never really fit with the team, and questions regarding his weight and overall motivation plagued his performance under that albatross of a contract. And in classic Patriots fashion, he ended up playing closer to his potential once he got back with them.
Some team without Bill Belihick at head coach may think they can harness Brown’s raw ability, and that team will likely be wrong. It’s not quite worth the gamble for the Bengals.
AJ Cann, G, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Bengals need an influx of guard talent, but Cann would hardly move the needle at all.
Now 30 years old, Cann is entering his eighth season in the league and has spent his entire career with the Jaguars. He’s coming off a year in which he played just four games, as he suffered an MCL injury in the Jaguars’ Week 4 loss to the Bengals.
Even when healthy, Cann is a below average player at the right guard position. His pedigree should make him affordable, but signing him to be a starter is accepting pure mediocrity at a position that needs to be good going forward. Cincinnati can do so much better.
Robert Tonyan, TE, Green Bay Packers
In the event that CJ Uzomah doesn’t re-sign with the Bengals, they’ll be looking for his immediate replacement in a dwindling market for tight ends. Many of the top names have already been retained by their current teams, including Mike Geisicki, Dalton Shultz, and Zach Ertz.
Tonyan doesn’t exactly belong in that group, which is why he’s still unsigned and set to hit the market.
Tonyan carved out a niche role during his four years with the Packers, but outside of an abnormally productive 2020 season, he doesn’t have much to boast. It’s completely fair to ask if his one notable year is repeatable outside of Green Bay’s system with Aaron Rodgers at the helm.
When it’s all said and done, Tonyan may end up being cheaper in comparison to Uzomah, but there’s good reason for that. He’s a risk outside of Green Bay.
Charvarius Ward, BC, Kansas City Chiefs
Cincinnati values how potential free agent signees played against them. Ward had two chances to showcase his talents against the Bengals, but the first may’ve eliminated him for all consideration.
Ward allowed over 100 yards and a near perfect passer rating in Kansas City’s Week 17 loss in Cincinnati. He ended up on the highlight reel several times when guarding Ja’Marr Chase during the rookie’s career day.
That guy joining the Bengals might be a tough sell, but hey, he played much better in the AFC Championship game when he gave up just 24 yards and a passer rating of 60.4.
Ward’s projected asking price is expected to be relatively high since he’s 25 and has starting experience. The Bengals will need to add a starting cornerback this offseason, but Ward doesn’t seem to make sense logistically or financially.