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Hobson's Choice: Bengals Delve Into Free Agency Period

D.J. Reader: One of the greatest Bengals free-agent signings of all time.
D.J. Reader: One of the greatest Bengals free-agent signings of all time.

Hi Geoff, while I'd love to have B.J. Hill and Ogunjobi back, you have to wonder, with all the money tied up in contracts for the rest of the DL, whether they'll try to go cheap there and devote more resources to OL. What do you think? Brad Mollmann, Madrid, Spain.

BRAD: I think I get what you're asking, but I bristle a bit when I hear the word "cheap," thrown around the Bengals. You've got to remember, in 2021 they went $5 million over the salary cap and had the 12th highest cap in the NFL. Cheap with players is one thing they haven't been since they've been in Paul Brown Stadium.

As an example, defensive line spending is a big reason they got to the Big Game. (Same thing with the other Super Bowl team.) And, the Bengals are more limited now given those large contracts the past two years for nose tackle D.J. Reader and edgers Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard. The D-line currently accounts for a massive 20 percent of the Salary Cap without any new signings.

However, that deep rotation of tackles stoked last year's Super Bowl run and they know what it meant to them.

So they figure to make a big effort to keep at least one of the D-Tackle tandem of Larry Ogunjobi and B.J. Hill and I think they will. I also think along with adding a couple of interior offensive line veterans, they may very well add another D-Tackle from another club if they lose Ogunjobi or Hill. Wouldn't it be nice to see free agency land a couple players on each of the O- and D-lines?

If you were a GM in the NFL, which strategy would you pick between the Rams trade draft capital/win now mode. Or someone like the Browns who consistently stack up on draft capital year after year. I'm interested to hear your reasoning! Jack Butsch, Cincinnati, OH

JACK: The NGL. The No Guarantees League, no matter what you do. I like what the Bengals are doing. I like first-round picks. Especially when they're Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase. Yet I don't think you can tie up every team in a neat bow and say, 'They won doing just this.'

Look, it depends on where your team is, right? It's just like what makes a great coach in the league. You don't force your philosophy on the talent you have and make them try to do what you want them to do. You do what your players do best.

Same with a general manager. You have to deal with the roster you've got.

The Rams had a Super Bowl team three years ago, couldn't get back with Jared Goff at quarterback even though they still had a lot of good players and figured they were close enough to keep dealing first-rounders for vets. They haven't had a first-round pick since 2018 and won't get one until 2024. And they gave up a second and third to get Von Miller.

It paid off. Barely. Half-a-second more and the first-round pick of the current year, Chase, would have beaten the guy the Rams gave up two-first-rounders to get, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, for the Super Bowl winning play. So pick your roster. Different ways can work.

The Bengals were at the opposite end of the spectrum. By the time the Rams were going to that first Super Bowl in 2018, the core and coaches that led Cincinnati to two division titles in three years and five straight playoff berths were done. The Bengals had no choice but to rip it up with a new head coach and new quarterback.

They had a mix, though. In order to get to the Super Bow, they needed to spend money in free agency to replace the Dunlaps, the Genos, the Tezes and Kirkpatricks to supplement their draft picks.

So the Rams won it all and the Bengals almost did. I like the youth of the draft. By the time the 2023 season ends, Burrow is 27, Chase is 23 and Tee Higgins (a second-round pick) is 24 while Ramsey will be 29 Miller will be 34 and quarterback Matthew Stafford will be 35. You can skin a cat, as they say, all kinds of ways. But the Cincinnati cats should have more staying power.

The Rams did what was right for them right now, just like the Bengals did. You wonder, though, if the Rams are going to be missing those first-rounders as 2024 dawns.

Always enjoy your reporting/opinions going all the way back to the Cincinnati Post. What a difference a year makes. Of all our free agents who do you think Zac and Co. have to resign? John Thacker, New Richmond, OH

JOHN: Thank you very much for sticking with it for three decades. Always good to hear from the Lions' den. A couple of disciples of Ohio High School Hall of Fame coach Vince Suriano have made a big impact on the football team in your neck of the woods in new head coach Brian Pitzer and former OC Ben Osborne.

They already started by tagging free safety Jessie Bates III and keeping him for at least this season. He was so good last offseason, when he helped head coach Zac Taylor get virtually perfect attendance at the voluntary workouts, and the postseason, when he made a big play in each of the four games. That's the only place to start.

It's probably pie-in-the-sky to ask for both defensive tackles, but it would certainly seem like Larry Ogunjobi or B.J. Hill is a must. Ogunobi started and played 200 more snaps but Hill played well, too, off the bench. They'd like to get both, but they may be able to only afford one.

I would think tight end C.J. Uzomah is a priority, too. Terrific in the locker room and always seems to be there when Joe Burrow needs a security blanket on a big down.

Geoff, I really enjoy reading your articles on the If you were able to recruit some free agents to the Bengals for 2022, who would talk to and convince them of the direction of this team and franchise moving forward? Who Dey Dan Mathias, Tiffin, OH

DAN: Thank you for reading and writing in. How about a trade? They could use a right tackle and I'd love to get La'el Collins, supposedly being shopped at $10 million per year by the Cowboys. Give them a fourth? Yeah, he's had some injury problems, but he'll only be 29 Opening Day and he played for Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack in Dallas.

Like they did last year on defense when they inked young guys on their second contracts, I'd love to see them do that with a couple offensive interior players. Start with Rams center Brian Allen. Just 26, Allen ran a wide zone scheme similar to the one Pollack runs with Zac Taylor, a descendant of Rams head coach Sean McVay's wide zone run scheme. I'd also love to see them keep center Trey Hopkins in some way as a versatile center-guard-adviser. So smart and so good in the locker room and the community.

I love Hobson's choice, keep up the great work. Regarding the O-line, what roles do you see for Carman and D'Ante Smith this year? If they make a year two jump, that could fill two spots on the line. Yet I'd be worried to count on either. Wade Harwood, Sanborton, NH

WADE: Thanks so much for the kind words. An honor to hear from the retirement home of the great Don Kent, WBZ's legendary meteorologist, who, like my dad, served in the Coast Guard during World War II after growing up in the Wollaston section of Quincy, Mass.

I hear you. Both guys drip with potential, but that's not going to help Burrow on third-and-seven. Still, these guys were taken early enough in the draft (Carman in the second round, Smith in the fourth) that they're not going to be one and done. They think they can develop them and I wouldn't be surprised if after the smoke clears from free agency one of them could end up as the starting right tackle.

With Carman, there was a lot going on his rookie year. He was coming off back surgery, he was looking for the right playing weight and he not only switched from college tackle to NFL guard, he went from the left side to the right side. So he should have a better grip in his second year and the guy has NFL talent and size to play either tackle or guard. But he seems more natural on the left side.

We saw how much they think of Smith right out of the gate. The scouts love how his length (6-5, 310 pounds) and arm length (35 inches) translates to either guard or tackle. Pollack moved him from tackle to guard and in the first practice after 40 snaps in the preseason opener, Pollack promptly put him at first-team left guard.

Injuries soon knocked Smith out of the mix and he played just 50 snaps in the regular season. But 47 of them came in the last game in Cleveland at left tackle, when he held his own against 16-sacker Myles Garrett. Garrett got Smith for just a sack and another quarterback hit in a game he had 22 rushes in what amounted to Smith's NFL debut.

Smith then played a combined dozen snaps in the AFC title game and in the Super Bowl on six-man lines and showed up. The guy just needs to stay healthy and it looks like they've got a potential tackle. But you ask a good question. How long will it take?

Is the Bengal's policy of never resigning a first round guard still the policy? Remember Kevin Zeitler. And if so should they focus on another position in the first round besides OL? Who-Dey!!! Ryan Kenney, Juneau, AK

RYAN: I don't think you can have a policy of never re-signing a first-round guard since Zeitler is the only guard they've ever taken in the first round. So maybe that's where the discussion should begin. But the Bengals don't mind paying guards well. Remember Bobbie Williams and Clint Boling? And when Andrew Whitworth got the first of his three contract extensions, he had more starts at left guard than left tackle.

And they figure to dole out some pretty good guard deals this free agency.

Butch: As John McEnroe would say, you can't be serious. Solve the o line problem by hoping the rookies get better? You realize Joe was sacked 51 time, 19 more in playoffs and he ended both seasons with knee injuries? Come on man. Bill Huffman, Hamilton, OH

BILL: Yeah, I got the memo. As they would write about McEnroe, he was nasty.

Look, no one said that's the only way they're going to solve the problem. I've written that they're expected to go into free agency and the draft to upgrade the offensive line. The point is simply that they've got what they believe is some young talent up there, players they've already spent some high picks. Don't forget those guys, that's all. Chill, my good man.

Take a look at the three young linebackers they drafted in 2020. In 2021, those guys were a strength of the team. Young guys do get better. That simply has to be part of a successful NFL program. Logan Wilson is emerging as one of the best, if not the best, linebacker in the NFL.

Kiper's mock has us taking a CB 1st. and picking up OL help via FA. What are your thought? Louis Pertofes, Jupiter, FL

LOUIS: Probably not a bad call. For one thing, they need some help at cornerback with Trae Waynes expected to get released and Eli Apple going on the market, leaving the corner opposite Chidobe Awuzie bare. Even if they re-sign Apple, they need some depth.

But there's a more immediate need on the offensive line and a rookie taken at No. 31 probably isn't going to be ready to do that, so that's why they figure to take a run at veterans in free agency. No matter, they're always adamant about drafting the highest graded player, so that opens up everything but quarterback or wide receiver, you would think.

Have the Bengals ever thought of using Auden Tate as a hybrid tight end plus as their fourth receiver? The guy seems like he can catch anything that comes close to him. Great guy to have to keep the drive going. Come come pretty cheap too. Kenny Lidard, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

KENNY: I think that was a thought once upon a time, but only in certain packages. Just not quite big enough to do a steady diet of that and they barely use the H-Back, anyway. With Tate headed to free agency, hard to see them outbidding a team for a fourth receiver. A third or fourth-round pick is probably where they'll find a guy to replace him.

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