Preston Brown was Jim Haslett's top-rated backer in free agency.
We said when this week began anything goes. But the Bengals had no idea the first week of free agency would work out like this.
It was so good that they’re all but turning the open sign to close after going over their free-agent budget by about $10 million with a series of uncharacteristic moves spearheaded by the trade for Bills left tackle Cordy Glenn.
“It’s been a good day. It’s been a good week,” said offensive coordinator Bill Lazor Saturday after successfully recruiting back-up quarterback Matt Barkley. “We had some things we wanted to accomplish. We did a great job as an organization, I thought. Coaches and personnel together evaluating what the options were. And then we went out and got it done. I couldn’t be happier.”
Lazor changed the topography of his offense with an NFL proven left tackle in a trade, retained a potential game-breaking tight end in Tyler Eifert that Lazor has never had available as a play-caller, and picked up old friend Barkley as an unrestricted free agent.
Throw into the mix NFL tackling leader Preston Brown at middle linebacker, another unrestricted free agent and a local guy the Bengals coveted but never thought they had a chance of signing as linebacker coach Jim Haslett’s top free agent, and well, they’ll deal with the $10 million later.
Try early May. The Bengals figure to jettison some contracts but it’s doubtful they would do it before the draft.
It also means they have to go into the draft looking for a center because all indications are they don’t have room to sign Russell Bodine. In fact, it looks like they’re down to veteran minimum deals.
Head coach Marvin Lewis indicated shortly after their second straight losing season that all options were on the table and the front office delivered. They didn’t think they could find a sanely priced left tackle in free agency and were happily stunned when the Bills agreed to talk about swapping Glenn and their first-round picks.
It’s not the type of thing the Bengals do, but they haven’t had a left tackle need like this in almost 20 years, either. The last time they traded for a guy that started 10 games the next season was cornerback Deltha O’Neal 14 years ago.
The Bengals also don’t like to sign UFAs because it puts a dent in their ability to get compensatory draft picks. But they thought Brown was too good to pass up and Barkley returns to Lazor in comfortable re-union that gives them a veteran back-up with AJ McCarron’s similar experience.
Plus, there’s also this working in the Bengals’ favor to get picks. Their two UFA signings (Brown and Barkley) haven’t been exactly blockbusters and the Bengals UFAs keep going. Running back Jeremy Hill became the fourth to leave when he signed with the Patriots Friday and they’re keeping an eye on Bodine and cornerback Adam Jones.
Jones could always come back at a reduced rate as a nickel corner/returner. But at the moment it looks like they’re on hold after six days they went out of the box to get better.
“We’re on the right track,” Lazor said of his offense.