The clock has struck midnight, or in this case 4 p.m., and the new NFL calendar year has begun. With the new year comes the start of free agency. The Bengals have as much space under the NFL’s $123 million salary cap as any team but their main goal, as stated by head coach Marvin Lewis at the combine, is to sign back as many of their own players as possible.
They will look around at other unrestricted free agents who could fill holes in the secondary, at running back and linebacker but it is not the franchise’s style to go flashy and big.
They got a few of those deals done before free agency and utilized their franchise tag on defensive end Michael Johnson. Their desire is get long-term deals done with Johnson and right tackle Andre Smith (who is on the open market) and set themselves up to begin negotiations with All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins, defensive end Carlos Dunlap and tight end Jermaine Gresham, who can become free agents after the 2013 season.
Also in the back of their minds is that quarterback Andy Dalton and All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green will be able to become free agents after the 2014 season. Under the rules of the new CBA, teams can’t negotiate with rookies until after their third year in the league but the Bengals will set up their contracts with that future in mind.
Tuesday, March 12
Defensive end Robert Geathers will continue as the longest-tenured Bengal after re-signing with the team. A fourth-round draft choice in 2004 out of Georgia, Geathers will be in his 10th season in 2013 but only be 30 years old. He started all 16 games last season, the fourth time in his career he’s started a full season, and has 104 starts with the Bengals in his career out of 134 games.
Geathers had 45 tackles and three sacks last season, raising his career total to 33. His re-signing helps the Bengals keep intact the majority of a defensive line that has been the foundation of a defense that finished No. 6 in the NFL in total defense and No. 8 in points allowed. The Bengals re-signed defensive end Wallace Gilberry earlier on Tuesday.
“He’s a big part of our success with his own play, and I know our younger guys have talked about how he’s made them more effective players,” said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.
Wednesday, March 13
3:40 p.m. – Three unrestricted free agents signed with other teams today: backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski with hometown Pittsburgh, outside linebacker Manny Lawson with Buffalo and kicker Josh Brown with the New York Giants.
The loss of Brown and Lawson was expected. The Bengals re-signed Mike Nugent instead of Brown and rookie Emmanuel Lamur had overtaken a lot of playing time from Lawson as last season progressed. Gradkowski would have been welcomed back but there are plenty of veteran quarterbacks available on the market, including former Bengal Ryan Fitzpatrick who was released by Buffalo this week.
There have been reports of other players visiting teams, including middle linebacker Rey Maualuga with Arizona and defensive tackle Pat Sims with Oakland. Sims is not expected to be back with the Bengals given that they drafted interior linemen Devon Still and Brandon Thompson last year in the second and third rounds, respectively. Maualuga, like Gradkowski, would be welcomed back if he doesn’t find what he’s looking for on the open market. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer still believes in him.
As far as any signings of their own, it’s been a quiet day. The market for right tackle Andre Smith has found its low end when Minnesota re-signed Phil Loadholt to a reported four-year, $25 million deal that includes a $7 million signing bonus.
Marvin Lewis, speaking at the University of Cincinnati’s pro day, said the team has plotted out its strategy ahead of time and nothing that has happened in the first 24 hours of free agency has made them think about changing that direction. That includes looking ahead to long-term deals for Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Gresham at some point this year. The Bengals also have to look at the fact that Andy Dalton and A.J. Green’s contracts are coming up in two years.
“It’s all part of the process. It’s not a one-year process. You have to look at the next three-to-four years. That’s why you saw guys getting released over the last week or two,” said Lewis. “Some teams look at this as a one-two year deal and then they get unrealistic and have to release the player because they had too much of a percentage of cap room.”
Lewis was asked about AFC North rival and Super Bowl champion Baltimore, which lost defensive players in Paul Kruger to Cleveland and Dannell Ellerbe to Miami.
“They didn’t have a rough day. They had what they expected,” said Lewis. “Their plan was already in place. What they expected to happen happened. They drafted a year ago to allow these things to happen and this is what they do. They’re ahead of schedule. It is not a one-year cycle unless you get an injury to create a void.”
6:15pm – Pat Sims signs with the Oakland Raiders.
Thursday, March 14
6:15 p.m. – A quiet day on the free agency front for the Bengals. The team did confirm that wide receiver/kick returner Ted Ginn Jr. and quarterback Josh Johnson have made visits but no deals have been completed. The Bengals are in the market for both of those positions; backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski has moved on to join Pittsburgh while returners Adam Jones and Brandon Tate are unrestricted free agents.
The Bengals would like to bring back Jones, who is coming off a good season at cornerback but Ginn and his six career returns for touchdown would easily fit into the role Tate has played the last two seasons.
Reports have surfaced that cornerback Terence Newman visited Oakland. Newman was signed last offseason as an insurance policy but proved to be much more than that in Mike Zimmer’s system as he finished with 75 tackles, 14 passes defensed and two interceptions.
He was second to safety Reggie Nelson in tackles amongst secondary players.
There has been no movement on the Andre Smith front. St. Louis has hosted Miami left tackle Jake Long, who shares agent Ben Dogra with Smith. Long, New England’s Sebastian Vollmer and Smith have been considered the top free agents available. Several lower-ranked players have signed deals, including Phil Loadholt (Minnesota), Jermon Bushrod (Chicago) and Gosder Cherilus (Indianapolis), which should set the bottom boundary of Smith’s market value.
Friday, March 15
11:30 a.m. – Reserve linebacker and special teams stalwart Dan Skuta agreed to a two-year deal with San Francisco late Thursday night. Skuta joined the Bengals as an undrafted free agent out of Division II Grand Valley State but steadily progressed from strictly special teams to being a player the Bengals could count on to play all three linebacker spots whenever needed.
12:10 p.m. – Michael Johnson has signed his franchise tag tender offer of one-year, $11.2 million this morning. Rick Smith, Johnson’s agent, and the Bengals confirmed the signing. Johnson was a third-round draft pick in 2009 and is coming off his best season when he made 70 tackles, had 11.5 sacks (second on the team to Geno Atkins’ 12.5 sacks), three pass breakups and one interception.
Johnson has gone from being a project player and pass rush specialist to now being an every-down player. Johnson was part of a scheme the Bengals dubbed the “Fisher-Price package” along with Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap. The Bengals would use all three as subs in passing situations. All three are now vital cogs of a defense that was ranked in the NFL’s top 10 in yardage and points allowed in 2012.
“We are glad to have this accomplished and to know we’ll have Mike with us for all of our offseason work,” said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. “As I’ve said, making Mike our franchise player was part of the process to keep our defense together. It’s been a good defense the last couple years and with the right work it can be better. Mike has worked hard to improve himself every year during his time as a Bengal, and we have every reason to believe he will continue to grow as a leader and productive player. And we will stay in contact with Mike’s representatives about possibly doing a longer deal.”
“This guy has come up in our system, he plays about 85 percent of our snaps, and he’s the kind of guy we love to have around,” said defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. “He’s hard-working and a great team player. He’s an outstanding run defender in addition to his pass rush production. He’s got great length and size, and great speed off the edge.”
By signing the tender offer, Johnson and the Bengals have until July 15 to work out a long-term contract. If they cannot work out a deal by then, Johnson will play the 2013 season under this one-year contract and then be eligible for free agency again next offseason. It’s not a situation the Bengals want to see happen as both Atkins and Dunlap will be eligible for free agency after next season as well.
The Bengals have also re-signed veteran defensive linemen Robert Geathers and Wallace Gilberry this offseason.
Monday, March 18
11:48 a.m. – Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga has been re-signed after a brief stint on the open market. Maualuga visited Arizona last week but will return for his fifth season. He has played in the middle the last two seasons after beginning his career on the outside as the SAM linebacker in the Bengals’ 4-3 defensive scheme. He was second on the team in tackles last season with 152, behind only the 174 credited to rookie WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
Terms of the deal were not announced but Albert Breer of the NFL Network reports that it is a two-year contract worth $6.5 million. Maualuga is the eighth player re-signed by the Bengals, who have yet to sign a player from another team.
Maualuga has been a polarizing figure for the Bengals. A second-round pick in 2009, he came to the Bengals following a heralded college career at Southern California. The move to the inside has been less than spectacular for him despite high tackle totals.
Maualuga admitted after the playoff loss to Houston this past January that he wasn’t sure if he would be back with the Bengals because of his own poor play in that game.
“Everyone is remembered by their last game and I felt like I want to come back and re-identify myself and make me better,” said Maualuga. “I think it can only get better. My pass coverage. My tackling. Making sure I get to the ball carrier and get him down. I think every aspect of my game has to get better. I’m just going to going for it and going at it and hopefully the coach, Paul Guenther, can make me into the linebacker that I know I can become.”
He has two believers in head coach Marvin Lewis and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
“Rey has been a fine young player for us, and he continues to grow on and off the field,” said Lewis. “He is passionate about becoming a great player, and we’re excited to have him back as we work with these signings to keep our defense together.”
It could be possible to see Burfict moved inside this season with Maualuga moving back outside.
“I talked to coach and he talked about maybe not even changing anything,” said Maualuga. “Wherever I can play and best help the team. That’s definitely what I want to do. If it’s SAM, I wouldn’t mind playing SAM. If it’s MIKE, then I’ll be the best MIKE linebacker I can be.”
The weekend was a quiet one for the Bengals as the team leadership traveled to Phoenix for the annual owners’ meetings. The Bengals did meet with former quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, recently released by Buffalo, about returning to Cincinnati to back up Andy Dalton.
The signing of tackle Jake Long by St. Louis should be good news for the Bengals in their negotiations with Andre Smith. Long’s deal for four years totaling $36 million provides a top-end barrier for the tackle market. There hasn’t been much noise about Smith making visits so far. The Bengals have made re-signing their right tackle a priority this offseason.
Thursday, March 21
Adam Jones has agreed to terms to return to the Bengals. The cornerback, who will be in his seventh NFL season in 2013, posted on his Twitter account Thursday morning that the deal is for three years.
Jones said loyalty played the biggest role in his re-signing.
“Pretty much all of it. Knowing that these guys have been with me through thick and thin,” said Jones. “Plus, the city of Cincinnati had a lot to do with it, too. I like it here, I’ve built a great fan base here and I do a lot in the community. And I’m content. My family is happy. It’s a nice place for us to build a home.”
Jones, 29, is coming off one of his best seasons as a pro when he made 43 tackles, had one sack and broke up 11 passes. He played in all 16 games, with five starts, but he teamed with Leon Hall and Terence Newman to give the Bengals a solid cornerback trio. He was also integral to the return game, averaging 11.6 yards on 26 punt returns, including an 81-yard return for a touchdown against Cleveland in Week 2. He was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.
“I don’t think it takes away from me on the defensive side of the ball,” said Jones. “(Special teams coordinator) Darrin (Simmons) does a great job of getting us prepared. He knows what’s too much and what’s not too much. I’m content with all of it but I love playing special teams and punt return. There’s nothing else that thrills me more than that except catching an interception and taking it back.”
Jones was one of six former first-round cornerbacks on the Cincinnati roster last season along with Leon Hall, Terence Newman, Nate Clements, Jason Allen and Dre’ Kirkpatrick. Newman, Clements and safety Chris Crocker are all unrestricted free agents. The Bengals have been seeking to bring back Newman, who has reportedly been getting interest from Oakland.
Hall is signed long-term through the 2015 season and the Bengals expect 2012 first-round pick Kirkpatrick to be a presence this season after injuries limited him to just five games played as a rookie. Allen played in just four games last season and is entering the final year of a two-year contract.
Jones was Tennessee’s first-round pick in 2005, No. 6 overall, but his first five years he was known more for what he did off the field that tended to keep him off the field. The NFL suspended him for the entire 2007 season for violating the personal conduct policy, and he received another six-game suspension in 2008 after Tennessee traded him to Dallas for under the same policy. His problems kept him out of the NFL for the 2009 season.
The Bengals signed him in 2010, taking a gamble that he could live up to the potential as a player while maturing off of the field. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer coached Jones in Dallas in 2008 and has gotten him to succeed as a Bengal.
It has paid off for the team, and now Jones.
“I hope that I can stay healthy through camp and win the starting job. We’ll see how it goes but I had a great year last year and I expect to be a lot better this year,” said Jones. “I’m just happy to be a part of something special that we’re building here.”
Friday March 22
Backup offensive tackle Dennis Roland has been re-signed, while the Bengals still have not officially announced the signings of cornerback Adam Jones or quarterback Josh Johnson. Jones confirmed his new deal on Thursday afternoon, while reports surfaced Thursday night that Johnson, a former backup with Tampa Bay and Cleveland, and the Bengals agreed to a contract.
The Bengals do not officially announce player signings until all of the paperwork has been signed, sealed, delivered and approved by the NFL.
Roland has been with the Bengals since 2008. He has made 30 starts in 66 appearances but has been used most extensively as an extra tight end in short-yardage situations.
“Dennis is a solid pro who has helped us make the playoffs three of the last four years,” said assistant head coach/offensive line coach Paul Alexander. “He’s a known quantity, a guy we have relied on, and we are glad to have him back for 2013.”
Monday March 25
Let’s get caught up on some transactions that have taken place the past few days while I’ve been traversing the area covering basketball, none of which have anything to do with right tackle Andre Smith…
Today the team made official the re-signing of cornerback Adam Jones as well as announced it has re-signed returner/wide receiver Brandon Tate. Jones announced last week that he had agreed to terms to return to the team but all of the paperwork with the NFL didn’t get finalized until today.
Tate has spent the past two seasons in Cincinnati after beginning his career with two seasons in New England. He has averaged 24.2 yards on 74 kickoff returns with the Bengals and a franchise-best 10.1 yards on 72 punt returns with one touchdown, displaying a capability to hit the big play in special teams but also some poor decision-making at times. The Bengals have also used Jones as a returner.
Tate did get more action on offense last season, catching 13 passes for 211 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown against Cleveland in Week 2.
The Bengals have now re-signed 11 players who were eligible for unrestricted free agency.
The Bengals announced over the weekend that they had re-signed backup tight end Richard Quinn as well as made official their contract with quarterback Josh Johnson. Quinn did not play in any games last season; he was inactive each of the 15 weeks he was on the 53-man roster, plus the playoff game at Houston.
Johnson is the first – and at this point only – free agent signed by the Bengals from another organization. He is expected to be the No. 2 backup behind Andy Dalton, although Zac Robinson will get a shot at that position as well after spending the past two seasons on the practice squad.
Johnson was a fifth-round draft choice by Tampa Bay in 2008 when Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden was an assistant under his brother Jon, then the Buccaneers’ head coach. Johnson played in 26 games with five starts in four seasons with Tampa Bay. He signed with San Francisco last offseason as a free agent but didn’t make the 49ers’ regular season roster. He signed with Cleveland for the regular season finale, getting into the game against Pittsburgh without attempting a pass.
“We’ll be in a competitive situation for our backup quarterbacks,” said head coach Marvin Lewis, “and Josh is known to Jay Gruden from when they were both with Tampa Bay. We like Josh’s ability and experience added to our mix.”
Saturday March 30
10:15 a.m… After some soul searching, cornerback Terence Newman has decided to re-sign with the Bengals.
Paperwork is not completed with the NFL offices and the Bengals have not made any announcement on a deal but reports, including by the NFL Network and Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer, say the contract will be for two years and worth $5 million.
Newman announced late Friday night via his Twitter account that he intends to return to Cincinnati, in large part because of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Newman wrote that he was offered more money by Oakland but he felt more comfortable with Zimmer and the Bengals. Zimmer had been the defensive coordinator in Dallas for the first four seasons of Newman’s career after the Cowboys selected him with the fifth overall pick in the 2003 draft.
Newman enjoyed a resurgent season with the Bengals in 2012 after playing nine seasons in Dallas. The Bengals signed him last April in a move that many saw as insurance in case Leon Hall wasn’t able to fully recover from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in 2011. Hall recovered well but Newman exceeded outside expectations by starting 15 games plus the playoff game at Houston and finishing with 75 tackles, two interceptions and a team-high 14 passes defensed.
Newman’s Twitter timeline read:
“After much time and thought, I’m heading back to Cincy. And for those of you who think it was about money, the Raiders offered more.”
“I came in with Mike Zimmer and feel its only right that I leave as him coaching me. Thanks to Raiders Nation for showing me such love”
The deal will keep intact the cornerback trio of Newman, Hall and Adam Jones, who re-signed last week to a three-year contract. The Bengals are also expecting Dre’ Kirkpatrick, last year’s first-round pick, to become a factor in the defense after missing the majority of the season with injuries.
Kirkpatrick played in just five games. He was originally slowed by a knee injury suffered prior to the start of training camp. He suffered a concussion at San Diego on Dec. 2 and the reoccurrence of the knee injury eventually landed Kirkpatrick on injured reserve. The Bengals have the 21st pick in the first round of this year’s draft. The re-signing of Jones and Newman lessens the probability of them choosing another cornerback in that slot. They will still be in the market for another safety to pair with Reggie Nelson in the secondary, however.
Monday April 1
10:45 a.m. … The Bengals have made official the re-signing of Terence Newman.
“Terence has always had great talent, and he’s become a smarter player every year of his career,” said Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. “He sees things well and challenges receivers. He’s tough. He takes care of his body and doesn’t miss reps. He’s the kind of guys we want back as we work to keep our defense together.”
Zimmer was the defensive coordinator in Dallas during Newman’s first four seasons in the NFL (2003-06) and was instrumental in the Bengals signing Newman last April. This new deal is for two years and is worth $5 million.
4:05 p.m. … Running back Brian Leonard has agreed to terms with Tampa Bay on a one-year deal, according to his agent Mike McCartney. Leonard will be reunited with Greg Schiano, his college coach at Rutgers. Leonard was originally a second-round pick of St. Louis in 2007 and played two seasons with the Rams. The Bengals acquired him in a trade for defensive tackle Orien Harris in 2009.
Leonard played in 53 games for the Bengals over four seasons, playing on special teams and as a third-down back. While he had just 86 carries for 336 yards, Leonard caught 83 passes for 631 yards and one touchdown.
He played in 15 games last season.
Wednesday April 3
5:15 p.m. … The battle to back up Andy Dalton got a little more interesting as the Bengals claimed quarterback John Skelton on waivers from the Arizona Cardinals this afternoon.
After losing veteran Bruce Gradkowski to Pittsburgh in free agency, the Bengals have added Josh Johnson as a free agent and now Skelton to go along with second-year player Zac Robinson behind Dalton. Skelton started 17 games over the last three seasons for the Cardinals but was released this week. Arizona made a trade with Oakland on Tuesday to acquire former Bengals starter Carson Palmer, making Skelton expendable.
“We’re glad to add John to cultivate a competitive situation behind Andy Dalton,” said head coach Marvin Lewis in a press release. “He’s a young player but he has valuable experience starting and leading a team in the NFL.”
One of Skelton’s starts came against the Bengals in 2011 when he nearly rallied the Cardinals from a 23-0 deficit at Paul Brown Stadium. He completed 23 of 44 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns that game but also threw three interceptions. The Bengals sacked him five times that game.
Skelton started six of the seven games he appeared in last season for Arizona. For his career, Skelton has completed 320 of 602 passes (53.2 percent) for 3,707 yards with 15 touchdowns and 25 interceptions.
The Bengals also announced the re-signing of exclusive rights free agent linebacker Vinnie Rey. The team had tendered Rey an offer on May 7. Rey originally signed with the Bengals as an undrafted college free agent out of Duke in 2010 and has played in every game the last two seasons.
Rey was third on the team with 12 tackles on special teams last season while also getting his first extensive snaps on defense. He finished with 18 tackles on the season, and got his first career sack in his first career start against Cleveland and quarterback Brandon Weeden.
Wednesday April 10
The Bengals released cornerback Jason Allen. A former first-round pick of Miami, Allen was with the Bengals for just one season and was limited to four games because of injuries.
Friday April 12
Running back Bernard Scott has agreed to terms to re-sign and return with the Bengals, while the team has confirmed it has signed guard-center Mike Pollak from Carolina to the roster. Both players are expected to battle for backup roles.
Scott played in just two games last year because of injuries. His season ended against Miami on Oct. 7 when he tore an ACL after gaining 40 yards on five carries, including a 29-yard run. The Bengals drafted Scott in the sixth round in 2009 out of Abilene Christian where he rushed for more than 4,300 yards and scored 73 touchdowns in just two seasons.
He has gained 1,035 yards and scored four touchdowns on 255 carries with the Bengals. His best season was in 2011 when he gained 380 yards on 112 carries and scored three times. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden had been hoping to utilize Scott more on offense but last year’s injury derailed those plans.
Pollak has played in 59 games, including 41 starts, in his five seasons. All of his starts came with Indianapolis in his first four seasons. He played just one game for the Panthers last season because of a shoulder injury but if healthy he will provide solid depth on the interior of the offensive line.
The Bengals also announced on Friday that they have waived wide receiver Lavasier Tuinei with a non-football injury. He was signed to the offseason roster on Jan. 1.
Tuesday April 16
12:45 p.m… Veteran tight end Alex Smith has agreed to terms with the Bengals, with an announcement of his official signing expected later today. Smith was a third-round pick out of Stanford by Tampa Bay in 2005 and has played a combined eight seasons with the Buccaneers, Philadelphia and Cleveland. He accumulated the majority of his 160 career receptions, 1,461 yards and 12 touchdowns during his four seasons in Tampa Bay.
Smith gives the Bengals four tight ends on the roster; starter Jermaine Gresham remains at the top of the depth chart, with second-year player Orson Charles and Richard Quinn backing up Gresham.
On Monday, the team announced the official signing of running back Bernard Scott. Safety Jeromy Miles, a restricted free agent, and wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, an exclusive rights free agent, also signed their one-year tender offers from the team and were at Paul Brown Stadium as the offseason conditioning program began.
1:30 p.m… The Bengals have made the Alex Smith signing official.
2:25 p.m… Smith spoke with Cincinnati media on a conference call this afternoon. He said the Bengals were the only team he had spoken with in free agency and he was excited about the prospect of re-connecting with Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. Gruden was an offensive assistant coach at Tampa Bay from 2002-08 under older brother Jon.
“I’ve always had a comfort level with coach Jon Gruden and coach Jay Gruden,” said Smith.
Gresham will be entering his fourth season since the Bengals selected him in the first round of the 2010 draft. He’s been to two consecutive Pro Bowls and has three straight seasons of at least 50 receptions but has the potential to increase his role even more. A veteran presence like Smith could help unlock some of that potential.
“I think we have a fairly young room in the tight end room and I think my experience from the years I’ve played I can come in here and be a good leader, be a good role model and show the guys the way of the ropes,” said Smith. “Whatever is asked of me I’m comfortable doing, whether it be the blocking guy, whether it be the motion guy coming out of the backfield. Whatever it is I’m comfortable doing. I just want to be a positive influence on those guys and hopefully I can contribute.”
Re-signed RB Cedric Peerman (restricted free agent) DE Robert Geathers DE Wallace Gilberry LS Clark Harris P Kevin Huber K Mike Nugent DE Michael Johnson (franchise tag, 1-yr, $11.2 million) LB Rey Maualuga CB Adam Jones OT Scott Roland TE Richard Quinn WR Brandon Tate CB Terence Newman LB Vincent Rey (exclusive rights) RB Bernard Scott S Jeromy Miles (restricted free agent) WR Andrew Hawkins (exclusive rights) OT Andre Smith
Signed (previous organization) QB Josh Johnson (Cleveland) G/C Mike Pollak (Carolina) TE Alex Smith (Cleveland) LB James Harrison (Pittsburgh)
Waiver claim QB John Skelton (Arizona)
Unrestricted free agents DB Nate Clements S Chris Crocker LB Thomas Howard
Released CB Jason Allen
Signed with other teams K Josh Brown (NY Giants) QB Bruce Gradkowski (Pittsburgh) LB Manny Lawson (Buffalo) DT Pat Sims (Oakland) LB Dan Skuta (San Francisco) RB Brian Leonard (Tampa Bay)