Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin didn't drop any Oprah bombshells in his first media availability of the offseason, but he also made it clear Monday that they aren't going to shy away from making news when free agency starts next week.
"We're not going to sit on our hands," Tobin said and he didn't wait to make a headline when he indicated the Bengals are trying to find a way to bring back eight-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins. He didn't rule out a new deal for Atkins, scheduled to count what many believe to be an untenable $13 million plus against the salary cap in a season he turns 33.
"We'll see as we go. We'll see what if any of the room we need to do some other things," Tobin said. "It's a fluid situation. I don't have any updates on it right now. I know we have high regard and high esteem and he's been a Bengal his whole career. We'll see if we can keep that going."
Tobin adhered to the club's principles in the Zoom with the Cincinnati media. They'll entertain trades, but they're will not deal a bunch of draft picks. They'll weigh trading back from the fifth pick in the first round, but they won't trade themselves out of a top player. They kept head coach Zac Taylor because they believe stability and quarterback Joe Burrow can turn it around with a promising core of youth.
"I think we've got one of the premier, best young quarterbacks in the game, and we're going to do everything we can to build around him and give him the opportunity to really shine and show what he can do, " Tobin said. "And, then beyond him, I think we've got a good receiving corps. I think we've got a young, exciting receiver (Tee Higgins). I think we've got a consistent proven veteran in Tyler Boyd. It's going to be great to have (running back) Joe Mixon back in the lineup. You know, I think we've got a good tight end group once it's healthy again.
"Defensively, it'll be great to see (cornerback) Trae Waynes on the field there. You know, we haven't gotten that yet. (Nose tackle) D.J. Reader coming back off of injury, that's something to build around. We really like our young linebacking core. I think it's really going to come into its own in the second year. I think we've got a great safety tandem that I'm excited with, and we've got to fill in some spots, for sure. But I see a lot to get excited about. And it's number one, seeing the guys that didn't get to play much actually get on the field and produce at the level that we know that can produce.
But Tobin realizes work is needed to get back into the division chase and he's starting with favorable finances.
As NBC's Peter King has pointed out after perusing overthecap.com, half of the NFL teams either are over the projected $180 million salary cap or barely have the $8-10 million rookie pool available. Over The Cap has the Bengals in the top 10 when it comes to space. As teams grapple with a salary cap that could still be slashed by $15 million if they settle on a reported $185 million, Tobin acknowledged the Bengals are dealing from strength.
Although the economic outlook was bleak last year because of the pandemic, the Bengals staged a record spending spree in the $150 million range to guys like Waynes (who never played in a game with a shoulder injury) and while the numbers probably won't be as gaudy thanks to the new cap, it sounds like they're going to test the waters again.
"I can't predict it. I know there are teams that are in trouble from the cap standpoint and how they manage through that I know there will be a lot of renegotiations," Tobin said. "Maybe some of the teams that don't look like they are going to be players can manage to get themselves in position. I just don't know. From our standpoint the way we have managed our cap and hitting it this year the way that we are I think that we've got certainly an advantage we are going to look to take advantage of."
The first big move may be delayed. The Bengals are mulling using the franchise tag on one of their own free agents in a decision that keeps them on the roster for a year with a huge salary that is average of the league's top five paid players at the position. If they do decide to use it, it's believed they'll tag either edge rusher Carl Lawson or cornerback William Jackson III.
But the deadline to dole out the tag may be pushed back from 4 p.m. Tuesday as teams wait for the NFL to finalize the salary cap number. Tobin said the Bengals want to get that number before making a call.
"Right now we're doing a deep dive onto what it might take to get guys signed, both our own guys and out there guys and how best to attack it to get the biggest bang for our buck," Tobin said. "Over the past 10 years, the Cincinnati Bengals have been a top half of the league spending spending team. We are going to spend on players, but we've also maintained a cap that's allowed us to be flexible. This year, we have flexibility, which is a good position to be in. We're trying to best manage that number and come out of this free agency and the draft with the most help we can possibly get for our team."
Here's what is also in play. Solid starters who become sudden cap casualties as the numbers bump and grind through the process. The Bengals know the other 31 rosters, too.
"It doesn't take much thought to look at their highest paid players. They're either going to re-do or they're going to ask them to take less or they're going to cut them loose," Tobin said. "So we have an awareness of the other 31 teams, the situations they have and the players that might be in play there. And then we don't operate in a silo. We talk to other teams. We have a pretty good idea of maybe some guys who have been floated on the trade market."
But don't look for the Bengals to give up a lot of draft picks for an established, older player. And don't look for them to give up on Atkins without trying. A fourth-round pick in 2010 and certain Pro Football Hall of Famer, Atkins is also the Bengals' reigning Man of the Year for community work.
After injuring his shoulder in the last scrimmage before the 2020 regular-season opener, Atkins tried to play before he eventually went on injured reserve late in the season and underwent surgery. Atkins, who turns 33 in training camp, ended up with just one tackle and had no sacks after a promising camp he looked to have a powerful chemistry with Reader.
"The Geno we saw heading into the season during camp was the old Geno and he had the issue, he battled through. I have nothing but high regard for Geno Atkins," Tobin said. "He's a homegrown product, really a success story and a guy I have loved watching grow over the years. He gave us what he had last year but it was not near what he's used to and what we are used to seeing."