The Bengals have delved into the second phase of free agency and according to published reports emerging Tuesday night they not only added a starting inside linebacker in Ravens veteran Josh Bynes, but a defensive leader as well. Another report had them agreeing with a backup wide receiver in the Rams' Mike Thomas.
The news came coupled with reports that Bengals starting SAM linebacker Nick Vigil signed with the Chargers on a one-year deal and long-time tight end Tyler Eifert agreed to two years in Jacksonville, more signals they are cleaning house with many of their veteran free agents.
The Bengals basically swapped Vigil for Bynes' one-year-deal, opting for a 30-year-old veteran whose instincts, leadership and production they highly value. All those were on display last season when Bynes came off the couch back on Oct. 2 and stabilized the Ravens defense in time for their run to an AFC playoff bye. Bynes graded consistently higher on profootballfocus.com than any Bengals backer last season.
Bynes, who made the last tackle of the Ravens' final-minute Super Bowl victory over the 49ers seven years ago on a kickoff, can be seen as the captain of the new linebacker room that is under construction during the draft season. In the wake of reports they signed four solid locker-room starters last week, Bynes looks to be another strike in head coach Zac Taylor's culture wars.
He'll line up inside with sophomore Germaine Pratt in the Bengals' hybrid 3-4. The only other backer under contract is fourth-year outside man Jordan Evans. Bynes isn't one of the big money backers they pursued last week, but he's the kind of a guy they think fits a room that is going to need some experienced guys to tell the young ones where to line up. The Bengals figure to draft at least one starting linebacker.
The Bengals had also been talking to Vigil, one of their main linebackers since they selected him in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He's coming off a career-high 92 percent of the snaps this past season. But in the previous two years injuries limited him to an average of about 63 percent of the snaps and he didn't appear to be comfortable in new defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo's scheme.
Profootballfocus.com gave Vigil good marks against the pass but extremely low ones against the run and overall. While Bynes averaged about 30 snaps a game, he was PFF's No. 18th overall rated linebacker. The big number for a defense that allowed the most rushing yards last season? He was rated 17th against the run and the Bengals see him using his reliability effectively in what they deploy.
Thomas had 10 catches in four seasons with the Rams, where he says he had a good relationship with Bengals head coach Zac Taylor. Taylor was the Rams assistant receivers coach in 2017 and the quarterbacks coach in 2018. Thomas hasn't played more than 10 percent of the snaps in a season, but he hopes his career gets jump-started battling for one of the last couple of receiver slots behind a foursome of A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross and Auden Tate
"I always got along well with Zac," said Thomas, undrafted out of Southern Mississippi. "A big thing is that I've been in this offense for three years, so I know the playbook. That's really going to help me. I'm really excited about getting in there and helping on special teams."
Eifert, who turns 30 the opening week of the regular season, is the second former Bengals' first-round pick to join the Jags in days. Slot cornerback Darqueze Dennard, the 2014 first-rounder, reportedly signed a three-year deal in Jacksonville last week.
Eifert, their 2013 first-rounder, had the best season a Bengals tight end ever had in 2015 with 13 touchdown catches. But since tearing ankle ligaments on an incomplete pass in the end zone during the Pro Bowl at the end of that season, he has played in 30 of the next 64 games. And 16 came last season, the first year he didn't miss a game.
The Bengals have moved on. Last week, according to reports, they signed a 2015 first-round cornerback in Trae Waynes and a 2016 second-round slot in corner Mackensie Alexander. Last offseason, they drafted Washington tight end Drew Sample in the second round a month after they extended veteran tight end C.J. Uzomah.