Why the Cincinnati Bengals don’t do free agents

Every year before football season starts big-name players hit the market, and time and time again the Cincinnati Bengals are chastized for passing on huge play makers, often times for lesser players, or sometimes none at all.  The Bengals seem to have problems when selecting most big-name free agents that become hurt or don’t live up to the hype, and so the recent years of draft and developing have been given presidence.  This new process has boded well for the team, while smaller free agent deals have filled in key holes.

Here’s a look at some of the more recent Bengals’ free agent busts.

4. Tank Johnson

Tank Johnson provided veteran leadership and decent defense for the Bengals

Tank Johnson provided veteran leadership and decent defense for the Bengals

Tank Johnson didn’t land the big contract that the other free agent busts did, and his performance wasn’t horrid, but there still was a lot left to be desired from the five-year veteran.  Johnson was most noted for his off-field issues that, at the time, marred a decent career that started out in 2004 for the Chicago Bears. Johnson accumulated nine sacks and 63 tackles in his first three seasons with the Bears before off-field issues resulted in an eight-game suspension and a premature ending to his career in Chicago.

Johnson was picked up by the Cowboys the following year, and after serving his suspension in 2007, Johnson finished his tenure in Dallas in 2008 with 33 tackles and three sacks in 24 games.

The Bengals signed the unrestricted free agent to feeble one-year contract worth $645k in 2009 and Johnson did well with 29 tackles and two sacks in 14 games.  The Bengals then took the leap – a four-year $11.35-million contract in March of 2010. Suddenly, the free agent plague hit when Johnson injured his knee and ended up on the injured reserve list half way through the 2010 season and finished with 10 tackles and no sacks in seven games. After the season, the Bengals terminated Johnson’s contract.

3. Antonio Bryant

After catching 39 passes while plagued with injuries for Tampa Bay, Antonio Bryant was given a four-year, $28-millon contract in the 2010 offseason to play for the Bengals.

After having surgery to repair damaged cartilage in his knee during the 2009 season, Bryant’s health during workouts for Cincinnat was suspect due to lingering issues with the knee and inability to play at 100 percent.

What never was, Antonio Bryant signed for $28 million in 2010 only to be cut after training camp the same year from a lagging knee injury.

What never was, Antonio Bryant signed for $28 million in 2010 only to be cut after training camp the same year from a lagging knee injury.

After weeks of waiting and hoping for improvement during preseason workouts and training camp, none ever came and Bryant was released before ever playing a game in a Bengals’ uniform. The team owed Bryant $8 million for guaranteed money after signing, and Bryant filed for greivance of more than $1 million after being released.

2. Laveranues Coles

Before there was an Antonio Bryant, there was Laveranues Coles; an experienced slot reciever who left $6 million gauranteed in the last year of a nine-year career for the New York Jets to play for the Bengals.

At 31 years-old, Coles was a reliable reciever and had a good career in New York, but his numbers were declining and the 4-year $28-million contract the Bengals offered was way beyond what was expected, especially since Coles was taking the place of long-time Bengal T.J. Houshmanzadeh who walked after not coming to agreements on a contract extension (albeit “Housh” was looking for a lot of money which Seattle regretfully paid).

Coles would only play in the 2009 playoff season as the Bengals’ “Where’s Waldo” of receivers by catching 43 passes for 514 yards and five thouchdowns. With an estimated salary of $4.65 million heading into the 2010 season, the production was a huge dissappointment and the team cut bait before watching Coles’ abilities drop off completely.

 1. Antwan Odom

Laveranues Coles' career in Cincinnati was an afterthought of his career with the Jets

Laveranues Coles’ career in Cincinnati was an afterthought of his career with the Jets

Antwan Odom was truly a head scratcher. Altough quality defensive ends are a premium and hard to come by, Odom would hardly be considered quality. With a history of injuries, off-field issues and suspensions, Odom would hardly seem the type of lineman that would garner a contract worth $29 million over five years with $11.5 million guaranteed.

You can give Odom credit at the time because he was coming off his best season with the Titans in 2007 after collecting eight sacks; however, it was Odom’s first full season starting in four years, and he only managed twice as many tackles (16) than sacks.

Odom’s career, and the Bengal’s hopes for the four-year pro, quickly dwindled with Odoms’ health issues keeping him off the field more than on it, playing 26 of 48 possible games.  Odom’s best season statistically with the Bengals was 2009 when he generated eight sacks and 18 tackles; however, those numbers were hugely inflated due to a five-sack game against a Green Bay backup offensive guard/tackle.

Odom only played in six games due to a season-ending achilles injury and came back in 2010 only to play four games due to a wrist injury and a four-game supension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy before another season-ending injury.

Out of all the free agent signings, Odom’s was probably the worst due to the contract size and least amount of impact. While Coles’ contract was substantial, he did okay at his position and played in every game. Antonio Bryant’s signing could be considered the worst, but since he was cut before the season began his contributions couldn’t be measured; therefore, Odom ranks worst on the list.

There is criticism that the Bengals have not made a huge splash in the free-agent market in recent years while the team has had some of the most salary cap room in the NFL. ESPN grades each NFL team’s free agency moves every offseason, and this year the Bengals were ranked second-worst in the division.

The grading scale ESPN provides is very archaic; providing only information about the team’s cap and how it spends it’s money on free agents. No consideration is given to position need or quality of the free agent market. The Bengals have put a premium on cultivating talent within the organization with solid drafts, player development and signing said players. How has it worked out for them? Two winning seasons and two trips to the playoffs.