The Bengals get to move the pieces on that $40 million chessboard folded out by Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis in the offseason for the first time Tuesday at 11 a.m. when they hold the first of nine voluntary practices at Paul Brown Stadium before the June 10-12 mandatory minicamp.
Lewis has scheduled 10 workouts over the next three weeks (they aren't open to the public), but one of those is usually a team-bonding field trip. Yet after the Bengals shelled out an estimated $40 million in hits under the 2013 salary cap in free-agent deals that totaled nearly $90 million, chemistry should be the last of this team's problems.
That's because the bulk of the money in what is one of those rare offseasons that translated virtually flawlessly from the grease board to the depth chart went to re-signing players vital to the club's back-to-back playoff appearances.
Combined with the critical acclaim for a draft that brought the Bengals two more weapons for quarterback
"I love the offseason they had," says former Bengals safety Solomon Wilcots, one of the heavy hitters in NFL punditry as a CBS-TV and NFL Network staple. "We can see the Bengals as an organization doing as good a job developing their roster as any team in the league.
"I think the money was used wisely. They brought back significant players they could have lost.
The Bengals started out by re-signing all three specialists that anchored a group that finished first in the NFL's 10 major special teams categories. Then they used the $11 million franchise tag on Johnson, their 11.5-sack right end, to spearhead the re-signing of three other starters (left end
The offense made more noise in the draft, but by making right tackle Andre Smith their highest-paid signing of the year (figure about $6 million per year if he plays), the Bengals have a shot at lining up on Opening Day with at least four starters in the same spot on the offensive line from the previous Opening Day for the first time since 2010.
"That's a big thing for any offensive line," says Charley Casserly, the former NFL general manager now in the studio. "Sometimes the best offseasons you have don't come down to additions, but who do you keep? Who don't you lose? They stayed at home and from what I can see, they did a great job keeping guys that were integral for a young team that has been to the playoffs the last couple of years.
"I thought they had a nice solid effort in the draft. (Notre Dame tight end
No doubt the offense is going to draw the most attention during the next month as offensive coordinator Jay Gruden tries to integrate Eifert and Bernard. His biggest question seems to be trying to decide on the No. 2 receiver opposite two-time Pro Bowler
Also on display this month are the Bengals rookie offensive linemen. With left tackle
But also on parade is going to be defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's intriguing new toys. First he wanted the shot to build off a defense coming off last year's punishing last eight games in which it allowed slightly less than 13 points per game, and now he's got everybody back for an encore.
"But it's a new season," Zimmer said. "It's good to have the guys back after what happened last year, but we think we've got plenty of competition, too."
Chief among Zimmer's concerns between now and training camp are if third-round pick
"(Hunt) is going to be a phenomenal player. He could potentially develop like a J.J. Watt kind of player. A significant player on the defensive line," Wilcots says. "You know (special teams coach) Darrin Simmons would get some use out of him."
Zimmer also needs to look at the three young cornerbacks that virtually didn't play last year because of injury: 2012 draft picks
"We'll know better after these nine practices how we'll use these guys," Zimmer said.