Two weeks are left before the NFL Draft, which means the meat of free agency is about over. The Bengals have stuck to their word about focusing on re-signing their own and, given they’ve been a playoff team the last two years, that’s a good plan to follow. It has been a successful formula for other organizations and has served Marvin Lewis well the past few years as he has remade the roster into an image he believes he can win with consistently. With the likes of Geno Atkins, A.J. Green and Andy Dalton heading into free agency the next couple of seasons, it’s a prudent strategy.
The problem arises when this is essentially the same roster that has lost in the first round of the playoffs each of those two seasons. This roster doesn’t require heavy overhauling but some tweaking at spots is needed, most notably at linebacker, safety and running back depth. The draft alone won’t push this team deeper into the postseason.
The fact that they’ve had veteran linebackers Karlos Dansby and James Harrison in for visits this week is a good sign and if they can sign one of them they’ve helped themselves. Don’t buy into the supposed issue of Harrison being a former Steeler and now potentially being a Bengal; if he can play somewhere in Mike Zimmer’s 4-3 system then he can play. Ditto with Dansby, who had a career-high 134 tackles last season with Miami but was deemed expendable when the Dolphins signed Dannell Ellerby.
The Bengals entered free agency with 23 players eligible to become unrestricted free agents. The one notable player they’ve been unable to retain is right tackle Andre Smith. They simply aren’t willing to break the bank on Smith, who has turned himself from being the butt of jokes on “Hard Knocks” into an above-average NFL tackle. But he’s not Andrew Whitworth and the market this year hasn’t given the Bengals any reason to pay him more than Whit.
The Bengals don’t need to be awe-inspiring when it comes to free agency. They’ve drafted well and have the nucleus to contend for the next few years – which in the NFL is a lifetime – but they are at the point of their development where small upgrades here and there could mean the difference in a Wild Card exit and breaking through to the Super Bowl.