Bengals quiet start to free agency no cause for concern
MAR 13, 2014 6:55p ET
Free agency continues to be more departures than arrivals for the Bengals. That's always tough for a fan base to hear, especially when there are so many other teams around the NFL making noise by throwing big money contracts around to attract big name and even some not so big name players.
On Thursday came the news that offensive tackle Anthony Collins has decided to sign with Tampa Bay plus the Bengals have released linebacker James Harrison. The matter of restricted free agent wide receiver Andrew Hawkins and his offer sheet from Cleveland remains undetermined.
Oh, the angst of it all.
Any angst over how the Bengals have handled the first three days of the league's New Year is overblown. Everything that has transpired so far has fallen within the team's plan for the big picture.
-- Would the Bengals have liked to keep Collins, who showed in seven starts at left tackle last season that he's ready to take on the role full time? Absolutely. The price tag he got from the Buccaneers -- $30 million over five seasons with $15 million guaranteed -- was one the Bengals were competitive with but there are worse scenarios than having Andrew Whitworth moving back to handle left tackle. He has been to the Pro Bowl at that spot before.
With Collins gone, the Bengals are looking at a potential starting five along the offensive line of Whitworth, Clint Boling (left guard), Mike Pollak (center), Kevin Zeitler (right guard), Andre Smith (right tackle).
-- Ditto when it comes to losing defensive end Michael Johnson to Tampa Bay. The Bengals had little legitimate shot of re-signing Johnson after not being able to get a long-term extension done with him last offseason while getting deals done with Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. Margus Hunt was drafted last year with this possibility in mind. Wallace Gilberry was an underrated extension signing last offseason. He has played well wherever and whenever the Bengals have asked him.
-- While Harrison didn't get a lot of playing time last season he was effective when he was on the field. It was his interception and rumbling return through Cleveland offensive linemen that sparked a 31-point response against the Browns in November after the Bengals had fallen behind 13-0. He was a bigger addition in the locker room, aiding the development of Vontaze Burfict and a young group of linebackers.
The young group will be bolstered by the return of Emmanuel Lamur and Sean Porter from injuries that cost them the entire 2013 season. Burfict will be a target of a contract extension by the Bengals and the $1.43 million saved in cap space with Harrison's release could help in that regard.
-- The five-day clock for the Bengals to decide on whether or not to match Cleveland's offer to Hawkins has begun. The Browns announced the signing on Thursday. It's a four-year deal worth a reported $13.6 million that includes a guaranteed $10.8 million in the first two years of the deal. That's a lot of money for a player who is the third or fourth receiver on the depth chart at his position. Add tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard into the passing game mix and no matter how much offensive coordinator Hue Jackson would like to utilize Hawkins' speed and elusiveness in the open field it will mean only so many touches.
The Bengals have good depth at wide receiver and this year's draft is viewed as a deep one at the position. There have been revolving reports this week regarding if the Bengals will match the offer or not but the comparison of price vs. potential production makes it unlikely they will match.
-- Ghee has had an injury-plagued career since the Bengals selected him in the third round of the 2010 draft. He played in 10 games last season, his most extensive playing time in four seasons. The Bengals have some concerns at cornerback because of age and injuries but Ghee wasn't expected to be one of their answers.
Through Thursday afternoon, nine teams around the league had yet to sign a free agent from another team: Houston, Baltimore, Kansas City, Dallas, Carolina, Green Bay, Seattle, St. Louis and the Bengals.
A look at the Bengals free agency so far:
Re-signed: OG Mike Pollak, WR Brandon Tate
Released to free agency: C Kyle Cook, LB James Harrison
RFA: LB Vinny Rey, WR Dane Sanzenbacher.
Received offer sheet: WR Andrew Hawkins (Cleveland)
Signed with another team: DB Brandon Ghee (San Diego), OT Anthony Collins (Tampa Bay), DE Michael Johnson (Tampa Bay)