Resting on their laurels is not a consequence that has befallen the Cincinnati Bengals all that often, as the laurels on which to chillax haven’t necessarily been abounding with excess in recent years. The franchise has reached a stage of consistent enough success that the free agency period is actually worthy of attention—meaning fans (and other teams) don’t immediately assume that any talented/potentially expensive free agent on the roster will bolt for the first squad to wave cash at them, and that attracting decent names on the market with the club’s chasm of cap space isn’t as wildly a farfetched proposition as it once was—but it’s also not as if Marvin Lewis & Co. are proven (or Machiavellian) enough to sit idly by in the offseason while the pawns battle it out. All of this to say that with 2013 NFL Free Agency upon us, the Bengals have remained busy in a proactive fashion early on.
Defensive ends Michael Johnson and Wallace Gilberry will be in stripes for the upcoming season, as will a bevy of special teams players, including kicker Mike Nugent, bearded punter Kevin Huber, competent long snapper Clark “so-boring-it-sounds-like-a-fake-name” Harris, and tackling specialists Reverend Ced Peerman, Jeromy Miles, and Vincent Rey.
Johnson’s name has made the most noise thus far, with the team utilizing it’s franchise tag on the youngster, scoring him just north of $11 million this season unless the team works out a multi-year deal before July 15. The Johnson tag was ultimately the most expensive in the league for the 2013 season, though the goal in these situations is to keep other teams from horning their way in while the Bengals attempt to work out a longer extension. The franchise tag is essentially an engagement ring for the girlfriend that is way too pretty for you, even if you haven’t quite had time to nail down all of the marriage/life plans.
Wallace Gilberry was the only other notable signing thus far, a great move for the squad for two reasons: a.) Gilberry turned in a strong campaign last year after being signed off the street in Week 3, racking up 6.5 sacks, a forced fumble, three fumble recoveries, and a defensive touchdown as part of the defensive line rotation, as well as the fact that b.) he has by far the coolest name on the Bengals’ roster. Three years at $6.75 million is a great deal if he can retain the same level of production moving forward.
The majority of the moves thus far, however, have come in the area of special teams, the oft-forgotten (unless they screw up) players committed to the game’s third and oft-overshadowed phase. Huber turned in his best season yet last year, averaging a 42-yard net on his punts for fourth best in the league. Bengals fans are likely more than happy to keep Harris in the fold too, who has been an absolute rock at long snapper ever since the squad mercifully released Brad St. Louis of his sending-snaps-into-orbit duty in 2009. The Nugent signing is intriguing only because the response from the team in the aftermath suggests that Josh Brown will NOT be re-signed as well, after taking over for an injured Nugent last season. I was looking forward to a little kicking competition in preseason between the pair. It seems like the least the team could do as a thank you for Brown’s cold-blooded game winner against the Steelers to put the team in the playoffs. (That, and now Nugent has even less incentive to do anything other than pick daffodils during training camp.)
Though as our buddies at Cincy Jungle have noted, this is not uncharacteristic of the Bengals to go after the small names first, then sit back for a beat or two before turning their attention to re-signing the likes of Big Andre Smith and Pacman Jones, and then targeting those from other teams that are testing the waters after some of the more expensive guys have made moves. San Francisco safety Dashon Goldson, for example, has had his name floated around Bengaldom in recent weeks, yet it remains to be seen if there are any sparks to go with that smoke, or how quickly those sparks might manifest.
It’s not as if the club is likely to blow the doors off the league when free agency officially begins at 4 p.m. today, but at the very least, the Bengals have proven that they are awake and ambulatory in the early going, which is certainly preferable to the contrary. Oh, and lest we forget, “Wallace Gilberry.”