Updated: 9:15 p.m. Free agency dawned Tuesday afternoon and in a marked contrast to last year the Bengals watched the opening flurry while reaching out to several free agents that included their own as well as others.
After spending more than $120 million in cash last season in wake of the frenzy that followed the lockout, the Bengals touched base with their own free agents before they went on the market at 4 p.m. and then lined up visits with other free agents.
The Bengals don't confirm visits but indications from NFL sources as well as published reports said they spent Tuesday setting up multiple trips into Cincinnati. Numerous outlets reported that Giants starting Super Bowl right cornerback Aaron Ross is headed for a visit to Cincinnati this week.
Ross, a first-round pick in 2007 out of Texas, has started 41 games for the Giants and 31 in the last two seasons. Ironically, he was selected a pick ahead of Florida safety Reggie Nelson, one of seven Bengals starters that hit the market Tuesday. ProFootballTalk.com also reported that Bears tight end Kellen Davis, a 6-7, 265-pound masher, has scheduled the Bengals for one of his visits and various outlets also have former Titans and Rams guard Jacob Bell headed here. Bell is a Miami University product with 100 NFL starts. But indications are the Bengals are planning to contact several more players as the market takes shape.
Defensive end Frostee Rucker, one of Cincinnati's starters, has already begun visiting other teams with agent Jimmy Gould. Gould wouldn't name the teams but he did say he continues to have "ongoing talks" with the Bengals.
Nelson and end/tackle Jon Fanene appear to be in the same boat. Nelson's agent, Hadley Engelhard, said Monday night that Nelson would go to market while also talking to the Bengals.
The Bengals emerged from last year's first 48-hour free-agent rush with three defensive starters. But with the salary cap again set at $120 million and the club's biggest names looking at free agency in the next two years, this time around the club appears to be seeking mid-tier free agents as well as its own players.
An ESPN.com Tuesday night that said teams had a choice to take their extra $1.6 million cap room from the Redskins and Cowboys in 2012 or 2013 seemed to confirm Cincinnati has its young stars in mind. The Bengals chose 2013. That's when the contracts of Pro Bowlers Geno Atkins and Jermaine Gresham, as well as left end Carlos Dunlap, are up. And their first shot to extend franchise players A.J. Green and Andy Dalton comes at the end of the '13 season.
As 4 p.m. rang and the NFL ushered in its new year Tuesday, the Bengals apparently talked to some of their free agents but as both sides expected no deals were reached.
The Bengals began the day tying up the last bit of paperwork and tendered about $3 million in one-year contracts when they offered restricted free agents Dan Skuta and Clark Harris and exclusive rights free agent Jeromy Miles. All three players were key figures for a special teams unit that ranked 12th in the NFL among all statistical categories.
Published reports have put the Bengals about $48 million under the cap and the paperwork put some dent into it. Kicker Mike Nugent's $2.6 million franchise tag, $2.5 million in tenders to Skuta and Harris, and about a $3 million hit for exclusive rights free agents and fullback Chris Pressley's two-year deal account for about $8 million.
The Bengals also have a rookie pool in the $7 million range and traditionally save about $4 million for injuries and potential contract extensions for a total of what looks to be about $19 million as they head into free agency to re-sign or replace 14 starters and regulars.
Harris, the long snapper, has played in all 44 games since signing with Cincinnati early in the 2009 season and has not had an unplayable delivery in his 395 snaps.
Miles, a safety who was the club's Pro Bowl special teams nominee last year, has played in every game since Game 11 of his rookie season of 2010 and last year led special teams with 15 tackles.
Skuta, a linebacker, has played in every game since Game 14 of his rookie season in 2009 and last season had a career-high 34 tackles and tied for second in special teams tackles with 13. He led special teams with 16 tackles in 2010.
"All three of these guys made real contributions to our reaching the playoffs last season," said head coach Marvin Lewis in a news release. "We are glad to have Jeromy back in the fold, and it's certainly in our plans to have Clark and Dan back as well."
Harris and Skuta can negotiate with other teams as restricted free agents, but the Bengals have the right to retain the players by matching any offer. It's believed the Bengals offered each the lowest RFA tender of $1.26 million. If an RFA does not sign with another team, he can remain with his original team by signing the one-year tender or by negotiating a longer contract.
Harris entered the NFL as a seventh-round draft choice of the Packers in 2007 and if the Bengals declined the offer, the team signing Harris would be required to give its seventh-round choice in this draft. Compensation is not a factor for Skuta since he was a college free agent.
The deadline for a restricted free agent to sign an offer sheet from another team is April 20. Any RFA who has not signed an offer sheet by that date will have his 2012 NFL rights revert exclusively to his 2011 club. As an exclusive-rights player, Miles also has the option of signing the tender or negotiating a long-term deal.