Updated: 3 p.m.
The Bengals on Monday officially announced the signing of wide receiver/kick returner Brandon Tate, which has been reported as a one-year deal. The move locks up virtually all of the club's key special teams performers from a unit that finished first when combining the NFL's top 10 categories.
The Bengals come into the week hoping to wrap up their final two free-agent priorities in right tackle Andre Smith and cornerback Terence Newman and it looks like they may be in the home stretch of getting them resolved either way. Over the weekend the Patriots agreed to terms with right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and Smith agent Ben Dogra, which would appear to open the door for a deal. Also, Sunday night Newman tweeted he's looking to finalize a deal, although he didn't say if it's in Oakland or Cincinnati. After he agreed to his contract earlier in the week, cornerback Adam Jones said he thought Newman was headed back.
The Tate signing won't prevent the Bengals from looking at another receiver/returner in the draft with 10 picks at their disposal. Still, even if they had signed Ted Ginn Jr., off to Carolina for a one-year deal, their hope was also to bring back Tate, the man that has returned kicks and more than half of the team's punt returns the past two seasons.
After beginning last season as a regular wide receiver, Tate wasn't as explosve as he was the year before. His long punt returns in the second half of games against Buffalo, Seattlle and St. Louis were huge factors on the road to the playoffs in a 2011 season he set the franchise record for combined kickoff and punt returns in a season (93), as well as for total punt return yards (543) and most punt returns (51).
But Tate was splitting time this year with cornerback Adam Jones and while Jones finished seventh in the NFL with an 11.6 average on his 26 attempts, Tate was 18th with nearly nine yards per his 21 punt returns. He finished 13th in the NFL this past season averaging nearly 25 yards per kick return.
Rookie receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones supplanted Tate, but the coaches like his speed, work ethic and toughness and what he offers on special teams. And, it took him just two years, but Tate is the franchise's career leader with a 10.1-yard average on punt returns.
On Saturday the Bengals officially announced the signing of backup quarterback Josh Johnson, as as well as an agreement with tight end Richard Quinn. Quinn was on the roster for 15 games last year, but never played.
"We'll be in a competitive situation for our backup quarterbacks," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said in a news release, "and Josh is known to (Bengals offensive coordinator) Jay Gruden from when they were both with Tampa Bay. We like Josh's ability and experience added to our mix."
With Tate in the fold, it's estimated the Bengals have spent about $33-34 million in salary cap dollars since March 1. Since they're rolling over $10 million into next year to brace for big extensions with key players, they're not looking to do much beyond getting deals for right tackle Andre Smith and cornerback Terence Newman. They'll do some deals (backer, safety, QB?) but those most likely won't be major as thoughts turn to trying to get an extension with two-time Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins.
Tate and Jones return to a special teams corps that has also returned kicker Mike Nugent, punter Kevin Huber and long snapper Clark Harris, as well as top tacklers Jeromy Miles and Vincent Rey, and gunner Andrew Hawkins. The major loss is Dan Skuta, the club's leading special teams tackler two of the last three seasons and the de facto special teams captain.
Also Monday the club officially announced the Adam Jones signing, which he says is for three years.