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Hobson's Choice: Scouts And Coaches Teamed Up To Make Free Agency Work

Free agency pointed the Bengals back into contention. Trey Hendrickson is Exhibit A.
Free agency pointed the Bengals back into contention. Trey Hendrickson is Exhibit A.

Can we say Taylor's biggest asset is finding/evaluate prospects? Bell,Higgins,Wilson,Chase,AWUZIE,Apple,Hendrickson,Ogunjobi,Hill..! My book: DEY SB bound ;) What about next year? Does Taylor/Tobin get the wallet again in the FA market? Justin Lafontaine, Montreal, Quebec

JUSTIN: Total team effort there. No question Taylor and his coaches have had valuable input on the "team composition" front. But I think one of his biggest talents has been synthesizing and incorporating on the field the free-agent talent the personnel department has acquired.

Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin's department, spearheaded by director of pro scouting Steven Radicevic running point in free agency, has hit grand slams the last two offseasons. Flat out killed it. Radicevic has been a real star and so have all of his colleagues. The scouts not only identified the best players out there, but more importantly, they worked with the coaches to ensure a good and best fit for the team.

(The best deal? Two starting cornerbacks for the price of one. And one of them, Chidobe Awuzie, has been a clear No. 1 cornerback playing arguably the best corner here since Leon Hall. But how do you quibble with your richest free agent ever, Trey Hendrickson, immediately setting the franchise record by getting a sack in virtually every game he's played here?)

While the personnel department historically spent the lion's share of the salary cap on its own – think A.J. Green, Geno Atkins, Tyler Boyd – the past two years have seen heavy spending on free agents while still retaining Joe Mixon (last year) and Sam Hubbard (this year).

Right now the Bengals rank 12th in team salary for 2021 and have committed nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in contracts. So I would imagine they've got to take stock and start locking up people already here, since they have the core of a team that should contend for years.

One thing that's clear is the money is going to be spent. Look for them to focus on retaining their own, but also spending on free agency as well. But at some point, they will have to start thinking about the room they'll need for Joe Burrow (who they can start talking to at the end of 2022), and guys like Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Logan Wilson.

When I see the Bengals weekly release of the upcoming uniform combo I've noticed that the helmet is described as 'primary helmet'. This seems to indicate that a 'secondary helmet' could be on the way. Am I reading too much into this? Kevin Schwab, Taylor Mill, KY

KEVIN: That's an NFL nomenclature issue. The Bengals only have one helmet design, so it is listed as "primary". Any changes to that would have to go through the NFL uniform design process.

Hope all is well and you had excellent Christmas? Can the Bengals win out with confidence or if they too confident do you think they will get fat headed??? I hope they stay humble??!!! Your thoughts are appreciated!!!!WHO DEY!!!! Andy Cella, Johnstown, OH

ANDY: Fine, thank you and I hope you had one as well. I don't think they've been fat-headed, but you raise an interesting point. There is such a fine line between confidence and over confidence. If you win, you're playing with confidence. If you lose, you're cocky.

I think we've been watching a young contending team compete with growing pains. No question their biggest challenge has been finding consistency, so evident in four back-to-back victories yet to be followed by a third. That's one of the many reasons why a win Sunday over the Chiefs would be so sweet. So I don't think it's about swelled heads, just the education of a young roster.

Geoff, Thank you for your excellent coverage. Have you heard anything from the coaching staff regarding why Jackson Carman and Tyler Shelvin haven't been involved in the game plan? 2 huge men they had high hopes for. Lack of experience? Ed Minor, Princeton, TX

ED: Thank you for the kind note. Even though Carman hasn't played much lately after starting five games and Shelvin has been active for just two games, these are two guys for whom they have high hopes down the road.

Carman, who is being used as the sixth lineman, has been coming along in the transition. He changed positions from tackle to guard, he's found his right weight and he's a smart guy that is learning every day. They know he's too big and too good to sit forever. The guy playing in front of him, second-year right guard Hakeem Adeniji, had the edge on him with that one year of experience, and left guard Quinton Spain has been grading out as a top 20 guard by Pro Football Focus.

Shelvin hasn't been playing because defensive tackle has been their deepest position. All the veterans playing in front of him have been really good and only so many guys can be active on Sunday. But again, like you, they love his size and ceiling. So just waiting for an open opportunity more than anything.

I think we could really put the league on notice if we can figure out how to defend tight ends. I know Kittle and Andrews are two of the best but make someone else beat you. What do you think? Baron Von Wildrick, Easton, PA

BARON: How about this? Let them be the only guys that beat you.

Check out a story I wrote Friday. No question that in the last six games, three tight ends have had really big games against the Bengals. But they won two of them and lost one in overtime because nobody else hurt them. The Bengals aren't the only teams having trouble covering these guys. Andrews is over 1,000 yards and Kittle, who had 181 the week before he came to Cincinnati, has 871 yards in just 12 games.

I just think it's the challenge of the position. It takes up a lot of resources, and the Bengals seem to lean to making sure they emphasize coverage on receivers more of a vertical threat than tight ends. They are reluctant to overcommit on tight ends and then let somebody go off on the outside. Such as a Ja'Marr Chase. So, if you can "hold," the Chiefs' Travis Kelce to something like 10 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown, and maybe you keep wide receiver Tyreek Hill from scoring, can you walk out of Paul Brown Stadium Sunday with a win? Who knows? The coaching is going to be fun to watch Sunday.