Brandon LaFell caught the Bengals' two-year deal Wednesday.
With the free agency signing period set to begin Thursday at 4 p.m., the Bengals got one in Wednesday when wide receiver Brandon LaFell agreed to a two-year deal believed to max out at $10 million.
LaFell is on a list of their own free agents they have targeted, headed by Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth, starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, and starting right guard Kevin Zeitler, as well as running back Rex Burkhead. According to reports the first three have all had interest from other clubs and they can start signing and/or visiting those other teams at 4 p.m. Thursday. It's believed the Bengals have also been part of those talks.
Also getting play elsewhere is long-time nose tackle Domata Peko, linked to the Vikings and old friend Mike Zimmer. The Bengals would like Peko to return, but most likely at a reduced rate as they groom Andrew Billings, last year's fourth-rounder.
LaFell, 30, was everything the Bengals envisioned when they signed him last season about a month after the Patriots cut him. With Pro Bowler A.J. Green (hamstring tear) on the shelf for the last seven games, LaFell finished with 64 catches for 862 yards and six touchdowns. It virtually matched the 65 catches, 816 yards, and four touchdowns wide receiver Marvin Jones had in 2015 before he left via free agency.
The Bengals also covet LaFell's enormous intangibles. Wide receivers coach James Urban is fond of telling a story about a week last season when Green and other receivers were out of a Wednesday practice. LaFell, who wasn't in the morning walk-through because of a sore knee, saw the low numbers and suited up for the practice.
Reached en route to a Pro Day Wednesday night, Urban happily welcomed back his most experienced receiver. Despite other suitors, LaFell let it be known he wanted to play for Urban and with Green and didn't let the process play out very long.
"What he did this year caught notice around the league," Urban said. "He's got the respect of everybody who walks around this building. He wants to be here and aren't those the guys we want? He's just a solid guy and a solid player who is great for the locker room and great for my room."
LaFell joins Green as a mentor for the emerging next generation of receivers in last year's rookies Tyler Boyd and Cody Core and what is expected to be at least one receiver in this year's draft. But it was pretty clear why he re-signed.
"Now we've got to win," said Urban of what LaFell told him when the deal was done.
The Bengals are also hoping to bring back their most noted locker room leader in Whitworth, linked to the Broncos. They look to be trying to fend off their division rivals for Kirkpatrick and Zeitler. The Steelers, along with the Titans, are reportedly pursuing Kirkpatrick and the Browns, along with the Jaguars, are stalking Zeitler.
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