NFL Free Agency

Early NFL Free Agency: Sneaky Good Moves

The game of quarterback musical chairs is snagging the headlines early in NFL free agency like every year. If you do not have a quarterback who is at least competent, you have no chance in this league. However, every position matters. Here is a look at some sneaky good moves in the beginnings of the free agent frenzy.

Phil Dawson: Arizona Cardinals

Phil Dawson

Photo: sportsoutwest.com

Yes folks, a kicker. Arizona lost five games by one possession and tied another during last year’s seven-win campaign. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed 11 combined field goals and extra points. These things are not entirely unrelated.

Meanwhile, 42-year-old Phil Dawson missed just four total kicks for the 49ers. As crazy as it sounds, this may be a pivotal move in Arizona’s quest to return to the postseason in 2017.

 

 

 

Ronald Leary: Denver Broncos

Ronald Leary

Photo: hngn.com

Whoever winds up taking snaps for the Broncos next year will have much more protection. This is a heck of a start. Leary did not allow a sack while starting 13 games in Dallas last year. He has been a stalwart on the best offensive line in football since 2014.

Denver’s ability to sack the opposing quarterback in recent years is well documented. In 2016, the Broncos had just two more total sacks than their opponents. That is crazy considering the Broncos have both Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.

Poor offensive line play is also one of the reasons Denver struggled to break 50 rushing yards in a game for parts of 2016. Do not be surprised if center Matt Paradis is the only starting offensive lineman that returns in 2017. Last year’s free agent offensive line signings of Donald Stephenson and Russell Okung proved to be disastrous for Denver.

To become legitimate Super Bowl contenders again, the Leary signing needs to be the first step in another massive offensive line overhaul in Denver. The Broncos have also added former Raiders offensive tackle Menelik Watson to the fold.

A.J. Klein: New Orleans Saints

A.J .Klein

Photo: zambio.com

As long as Drew Brees is in town, the Saints will always be able to score. However, they have finished outside the top 25 in total defense for three straight years. While a single player will not change that, Klein is a step in the right direction.

Playing behind Luke Kuechly limited Klein’s snaps in Carolina. When he did see the field, he was reasonably productive. Klein took part in 137 tackles in Carolina despite starting just 23 games in four seasons. Additionally, three years and $15 million is a fairly cheap price to pay a 25-year-old contributor from a division rival.

           

 

Kevin Zietler: Cleveland Browns

Kevin Zeitler

Photo: stripehype.com

It is no secret that the Browns need work everywhere, and the offensive line is no exception. Zietler was one of three early moves the Browns made up front. The former Bengal is now the highest-paid guard in NFL history.

While the contract numbers are eye-popping and the Browns have an alarming tendency to screw things up, signing a guard from a division rival who has given up just 11 total sacks in five seasons is never a bad move.

March is all about basketball. However, the NFL’s version of March Madness is certainly worth continuing to keep an eye on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Blame for Packers’ Issues is Being Misplaced

Even with their win Monday night, the Green Bay Packers will need to be basically flawless from here on out to make the playoffs. Fans, analysts, and media alike have all chimed in on why the ultra-consistent Packers suddenly find themselves sitting at 5-6. In order to get to the root of the issue in Green Bay, you first have to look at what is not the problem.

I am not sure exactly when the “Aaron Rodgers is no longer any good” campaign got started by fans and media, but it is a joke. In his “off year”, he has thrown for over 3,000 yards, 27 touchdowns, and just seven interceptions through 10 games. He also has a flawed roster (I will get there later) still at least somewhat alive for a playoff spot. My goodness folks, does anyone have any clue how many quarterbacks would take Rodgers’ “off year” as the best of their career?

The Packers have a lot of issues, but Aaron Rodgers certainly is not one of them. With him, they will be playing meaningful games during the last month of the season. Without him, they would be picking in the top five of the 2017 draft.

While Mike McCarthy should not be completely absolved of blame like his quarterback, coaching is also nowhere near the top of the list of problems in Green Bay. Since McCarthy took over as head coach prior to the 2006 season, Green Bay has missed the playoffs only twice. Additionally, McCarthy has an above .500 record in the postseason and has brought home a Super Bowl title. He clearly knows what he is doing.

The whole “he had good players” argument is such a cop out when evaluating any coach. Every good player needs a good coach and vice versa. McCarthy’s record speaks for itself, and if he were let go by the Packers, he would be unemployed for an hour before another team made him their coach.

Also, he did not suddenly become dumb over this past off-season. As Bill Parcells once said, “if they want you to cook the meal, they ought to at least let you buy some of the groceries”. In the NFL, the meal is winning games and the players are the groceries. McCarthy is merely a coach. He has minimal to no control over the composition of the roster.

Packers issues

Photo from rrstar.com

Often times when a team struggles, it is as simple as looking at the head coach and/or quarterback, but this is an exception. In Green Bay, the majority of the blame for the sudden dip in performance should go to one man, General Manager Ted Thompson.

Ever since Thompson took over in 2005, the Packers have been about drafting well and developing their own talent. This approach has and continued to serve them well on offense. Everyone knows about the talent they have at the skill positions, but they are also really good along the offensive line. They have struggled to find a workhorse running back that can stay on the field, but McCarthy gets very creative in order to give the Packers some semblance of a ground game.

However, the same method has failed in grand fashion when building the defense. Prior to Monday night, the Packers had given up 30+ points in four straight games. That had not happened in Green Bay since 1953.

On the Packers website, all but two players on their defensive depth chart were drafted by the Packers. They are 26th in total defense. Quite frankly, I am surprised the ranking is that high after the last month. Their best draft picks like Clay Matthews and Morgan Burnett are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning. The players are giving their best effort, but the vast majority of the secondary and linebacker corps does not belong anywhere near an NFL field at the moment.

Yes, I know the Packers had been hit hard by injuries, particularly in the secondary. The fact is every team in the league deals with a ton of injuries by this time of year. All 53 guys on a roster should be ready to play at the drop of a hat. If the reserves cannot play, that is on the person who put the roster together.

Packers issues

Photo from rantsports.com

Thompson’s approach to free agency is also really starting to hurt the Packers. They are almost allergic to bringing in any sort of noteworthy free agent. In the last handful of years, I came up with only three free agent signings that were designed to make an immediate impact. There are teams who sign that many free agents in a week during the offseason.

Those signings were tight end Jared Cook, defensive end/linebacker Julius Peppers, and defensive tackle Letroy Guion. They are all nice players when healthy, but this roster still has a ton of holes. All this year has done is bring them to light.

I have never been one to advocate breaking the bank in free agency, but you have to look outside your own building for answers more often than the Packers do.

Monday night was a step in the right direction for the Packers. If they somehow sneak into the playoffs, no one will want to face that offense. To blame Rodgers and/or McCarthy for their issues is comical. They are both making the best out of what they have to work with. This franchise will go as far as Rodgers and McCarthy take it for a few more years. In fact, they are the only people keeping it competitive.

You can ‘Like’ The Game Haus on Facebook and ‘Follow’ us on Twitter for more sports and eSports articles from other great TGH writers along with Dylan!

The Worst Recent NFL Free Agent Signings

The money being thrown around in NBA free agency is ridiculous. One dimensional players like Timofey Mozgov are getting $64-million contracts. A conversation with a Laker fan friend of mine after Mozgov cashed in got me thinking. Bad free agency signings are by no means limited to the NBA. Here are four of the worst in recent NFL history.

bleacherreport.com

Photo from bleacherreport.com

Dwayne Bowe (Cleveland Browns, two years, $13 million in 2015)

The Browns needed talent everywhere at the time. Quite frankly, they still do. Thus, signing a guy who never caught less than 45 balls in 8 years with the Chiefs was actually solid logic, but it backfired horribly. Conflicts with the coaching staff were immediate. The shady injury reports came next. Bowe was only active for seven games last year catching just six passes for the season. He was released after just one season. Even at just 31 years of age, it is hard to envision him finding another NFL home. As with all of these deals, only a fraction of the money is guaranteed. This is one major difference between the NFL and NBA. In this case, it was $9 million that the talent starved Browns could have spent elsewhere.

photo from usatoday.com

Photo from usatoday.com

Matt Flynn  (Seattle Seahawks, two-year $26 million in 2012)

This situation is pretty unique. It was a bad deal, but everyone came out smelling like a rose. While starter Aaron Rodgers rested, Flynn started the 2011 regular-season finale against the Lions. He set the Packers’ franchise single-game records with 480 yards and six touchdowns. Based on that one game, Seattle signed Flynn to a big-time free-agent deal. This was another $9 million of guaranteed money. However, the Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson in the same off-season in which they signed Flynn. Wilson beat out Flynn for the starting job and the rest is history. The Seahawks were quite happy to pay their big free-agent signing a ton of money to sit on the bench. Flynn never started a regular season game for Seattle. He was traded to Oakland after one season.

photo from philly.com

photo from philly.com

Nnamdi Asomugha (Philadelphia Eagles, five years $60 million in 2011)

The first two deals I mentioned are a case of hindsight being 20/20. My last two were terrible ideas from the start. Asomugha was the epitome of a shutdown cornerback when he was with the Oakland Raiders. He was thrown at less than 100 times by opposing quarterbacks from 2007-2009. He was named to the NFL’s all decade team in 2010. Yet, when the Eagles signed him to a free-agent mega-deal worth close to $30 million guaranteed, they asked him to play all five positions in the secondary.

Despite being named a Pro-Bowl alternate in his first season as an Eagle, too much was on his plate. He was released after just two seasons in Philadelphia and never regained the mojo he had in Oakland. He always was a shutdown corner. Why would anyone ask him to see playing time at any other position, much less four? I never understood it.

Albert Haynesworth (Washington Redskins, seven years $100 million in 2009)

When it comes to bad free-agent signings, the Redskins should get their own article, and this one is the worst of the worst. Despite being a bit of a problem child in the locker room and a lengthy criminal record, the Redskins signed Haynesworth to one of the largest free-agent contracts in history following the 2008 season. The deal included $41 million guaranteed and $32 million in the first 13 months. Even though Haynesworth was a very productive player with the Titans, this kind of money was and is unheard of for a defensive lineman.

The marriage in DC was doomed from the beginning. Haynesworth publicly criticized the Redskins defensive scheme and was unable to complete head coach Mike Shanahan’s basic conditioning test. In two years with the Redskins, he combined for just 42 tackles and 6.5 sacks, including career lows across the board in 2010. After a few suspensions for “conduct detrimental to the team”, the Redskins finally cut their staggering losses following the 2010 season. Haynesworth had two more unsuccessful seasons with New England and Tampa Bay to close out his checkered career.

Regardless of an organization’s logic, one thing is certain. If a team misses on a big-time free-agent signing, they will be sometimes first, and always second guessed.

Under the Radar Moves That Will Pay Off Big in 2016

With the draft and most of free agency done, NFL rosters are starting to take shape. Here are five under the radar moves that were really smart.

Safety Eric Weddle to Ravens- The Ravens defense was uncharacteristically bad last year, particularly at the back-end. They were not just plain bad though. They just seemed to give up big plays at the worst possible time. I went back and counted at least four games where they blew a fourth quarter leads and lost. Weddle and the Chargers had a messy falling out last year, he didn’t see the field much due injuries. When the five time All-Pro was ready to go, the Chargers opted not to play him. It was just plain odd. He headed to the Ravens via free agency after the season wrapped up. When he is on the field, he is always around the ball and among league leaders for tackles in the secondary. A smart player who almost never gets beat in coverage and can tackle, Weddle solves lots of issues for Baltimore.

Photo from rantsports.com

Photo from rantsports.com

Wide receiver Brandon LaFell to Bengals- This may be the sneakiest good off-season move in the entire league. After an underwhelming start to his career in Carolina, LaFell spent the last couple years as Tom Brady’s favorite target not named Gronkowski in New England. Brady seemed to really trust him. He had 74 catches during New England’s Super Bowl winning season in 2014. If the best quarterback on the planet trusts him, then so should everyone else. He was let go by the Pats after the 2015 season as a salary cap move. He caught 37 balls in an injury plagued season, but is now healthy. With the inconsistent and often injured Marvin Jones off to Detroit, LaFell will be Cincinnati’s number two receiver opposite A.J. Green. He should draw enough coverage to free up Green just a little bit. Throw in tight end Tyler Eifert and the Bengals have the makings for one heck of a passing offense in 2016.

Photo from profootballfocus.com

Photo from profootballfocus.com

 

Wide receiver Mike Wallace to Ravens- The Ravens may have had the best off-season in all of football. Weddle will immediately shore up the defense and Mike Wallace is their new big-play threat on offense. However, the word new implies that they had big-play threat last year, that was not the case. Future Hall of Famer Steve Smith was injured, but isn’t winning any foot races even when healthy. Wallace is among the NFL’s all-time leaders in yards per catch. His lowest yards per catch in his seven-year career is a shade over 12. That is still a first down and then some. Hampered by below average quarterbacks in Miami and Minnesota since leaving the Steelers, I say the 29-year-old still has plenty in the tank. Joe Flacco’s flawless deep ball will be just the thing to revive him.

Photo from baltimoreravens.com

Photo from baltimoreravens.com

 

Linebacker Danny Trevathan to Bears- Von Miller got all the publicity on last year’s Broncos championship defense, but the guy who was next to him for most of it can flat out play. He is always around the ball. He had eight tackles and two key fumble recoveries in the Super Bowl. As a Denver fan, this is the one guy we lost, that I am bummed we could not find a way to keep. I encourage you to find any highlight video of the Broncos defense from last year and watch how many times number 59 is doing something positive, big or small. Former Broncos coach John Fox is no dummy and knows that this is the kind of player his rebuilding Bears defense needs. He is smart, tackles well, rarely is out of position, and covers the pass better than most linebackers.

photo from usatoday.com

photo from usatoday.com

Tight End Martellus Bennett to Patriots for a fourth round draft pick- When will the rest of the league learn to stop giving Bill Belichick really good players for next to nothing? Bennett is coming off three straight 50+ catch seasons for the Bears, including last year, when he missed five games. When he was healthy, he was among the top options for Jay Cutler. After contract issues, he was shipped to the Pats for mid-round draft picks in March. Belichick used similar trades to acquire Randy Moss and Wes Welker a few years back. Those deals resulted in arguably the best offense ever and a near perfect season. While the Bennett deal does not rise to that level, they have looked for a second tight end to pair with Rob Gronkowski ever since the Arron Hernandez debacle. Bennett is an incredible fit to fill that role.

 

There you have it. My five favorite under the radar off-season moves. I chose not to include contract details because I feel all of these players will end up looking like bargains for their new teams.

Cleveland Browns Free Agency Outlook

travis

Travis Benjamin was one of the more fun players to watch last season, and he may play somewhere else next season. Photo: 247sports.com

With the close of the NFL season now past, I don’t really know what to do with my life. There’s no football to watch, so now I’ll have to transition into full-time college basketball watching.

Of course, I’m a firm believer that there’s only an NFL offseason if you let there be an NFL offseason. That being said, I’m not allowing the lull from February to July bring me down. Besides, there’s always the NFL Draft, free agency, and trades that can be completed throughout the spring and summer.

We’ve got a few mock drafts out, so I’ll begin to examine the free agency class of 2016. I’ll inspect each teams free agents, and look at the players’ possible landing spots.

You can find the report on the AFC East here.

Cleveland Browns, 3-13

It was yet another abysmal season for the Cleveland Browns, as all too familiar quarterback controversies plagued their 2015 season. On the bright side, Cleveland won’t see too many key players enter the market this offseason.

The biggest offensive free agent from the Browns is undoubtedly Travis Benjamin. Benjamin proved to be a deep threat in a wayward offense, but was streaky throughout the season. The Miami (FL) product produced 68 catches for 966 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2015. Benjamin also returned one punt for a touchdown as well.

The Browns have a lot of needs, but one of their most glaring need is the need for outside weapons. Without Benjamin, (insert guess for Browns 2016 quarterback here) will have to throw to Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe – yuck. That is of course unless former star wideout, Josh Gordon, gets reinstated by the NFL.

Benjamin produced more catches and yards in 2015 than he did in his previous three seasons combined, and tied his touchdown total from his previous three seasons. He’s a number two receiver in any other offense, and his best attribute is his punt return game. However, Cleveland must give Benjamin just about anything he wants to stay in Cleveland, because without him, the Browns could be even worse (if that’s possible) in 2016.

The Browns offensive line hasn’t actually been as awful as other position groups on the team, but they’re in jeopardy of losing one key component to the line. Mitchell Schwartz, a right tackle who will enter free agency, will get a huge payday either with Cleveland or elsewhere.

Schwartz has started in every game for the Browns since being drafted in 2012. He will be one of the best right tackles to enter the market, so the Browns will have to pay up to retain the UC-Berkeley product. If the Browns can retain both Schwartz and Benjamin, they should be pretty pleased. However, it’s more likely for Schwartz to depart, as he can earn a huge long-term deal from many bidders.

At the ripe age of 25, Tashaun Gipson has seen his contract expire. Gipson decided not to sign an extension last season with Cleveland, so it feels like Gipson may head out of Cleveland for next season.

Gipson has missed time in the past two seasons due to injuries, but it hasn’t been substantial. After signing with the Browns in 2012 out of Wyoming, Gipson has seen plenty of playing time. The former undrafted free agent had 42 total tackles and two picks last season.

Gipson can be considered a franchise player, and no one believes Gipson has a huge amount of interest in returned to Cleveland. Look for Gipson to sign elsewhere as a starter, probably with a winning team.

Other Cleveland Free Agents: Randy Starks, Craig Robertson, Jim Dray, Johnson Bademosi, Scott Solomon, Austin Pasztor, Tank Carder, Jamie Meder, Travis Coons, Don Hones, Terrelle Pryor, Darrian Miller, Kaleb Johnson, Raheem Mostert, Darius Jennings, Pat Devlin

Don’t miss this: Cincinnati Bengals free agency, Pittsburgh Steelers free agency, Baltimore Ravens free agency

Baltimore Ravens Free Agency Outlook

kamar

After a breakout season, Kamar Aiken will look to hit the free agency jackpot. Photo: Baltimore Sun

With the close of the NFL season now past, I don’t really know what to do with my life. There’s no football to watch, so now I’ll have to transition into full-time college basketball watching.

Of course, I’m a firm believer that there’s only an NFL offseason if you let there be an NFL offseason. That being said, I’m not allowing the lull from February to July bring me down. Besides, there’s always the NFL Draft, free agency, and trades that can be completed throughout the spring and summer.

We’ve got a few mock drafts out, so I’ll begin to examine the free agency class of 2016. I’ll inspect each teams free agents, and look at the players’ possible landing spots.

You can find the report on the AFC East here.

Baltimore Ravens, 5-11

Because specialists are people too, it seems fitting to start with the kicker position. Justin Tucker, a kicker at the age of 26, enters free agency as the second best kicker behind Mason Crosby. The Ravens recently place their franchise tag on Justin Tucker, so the kicker will be back in Baltimore next season.

The Ravens have a plethora of wide receivers to retain, and it starts with breakout pass catcher Kamar Aiken. Aiken, like Tucker, is 26, and still has plenty left in the tank. Aiken proved to be the only viable and consistent wideout in a sketchy Baltimore offense in 2015, so the Ravens must prioritize Aiken this spring.

Another offensive juggernaut that may leave Baltimore is offensive guard Kelechi Osemele. The Iowa State product was labeled by Pro Football Focus as the third best free agent guard in the 2016 class. The Ravens desperately need to keep Osemele in order to retain a solid offensive anchor in years to come.

Courtney Upshaw hasn’t lived up to his pre-draft hype, and he’s been a bit of a project for the Ravens since he entered the league in 2012. Upshaw didn’t have a great season in his contract year, meaning he probably won’t receive a high contract. Upshaw won’t be the top target for Baltimore, and the Ravens won’t be devastated to see him go.

Other Baltimore Free Agents: Chris Carter, Jimmy Clausen, Morgan Cox, Chris Givens, Albert McClellan, Kelechi Osemele, Allen Reisner, Matt Schaub, Justin Tucker, Courtney Upshaw, Shareece Wright

Don’t miss this: Cincinnati Bengals free agency, Pittsburgh Steelers free agency, Cleveland Browns free agency

Pittsburgh Steelers Free Agency Outlook

ramon

Ramon Foster could be the Steelers’ top priority. Photo: steelcityblitz.com

With the close of the NFL season now past, I don’t really know what to do with my life. There’s no football to watch, so now I’ll have to transition into full-time college basketball watching.

Of course, I’m a firm believer that there’s only an NFL offseason if you let there be an NFL offseason. That being said, I’m not allowing the lull from February to July bring me down. Besides, there’s always the NFL Draft, free agency, and trades that can be completed throughout the spring and summer.

We’ve got a few mock drafts out, so I’ll begin to examine the free agency class of 2016. I’ll inspect each teams free agents, and look at the players’ possible landing spots.

You can find the report on the AFC East here.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers, 10-6

After an injury filled season, Pittsburgh may be poised to take the NFL by storm next season. However, they have 23 players who’ll hit the market this spring. On the bright side, many of these players contributed minimally, even with the rash of injuries.

The Steelers have just one offensive starter with his contract up in offensive guard Ramon Foster. Foster has been a staple in anchoring Pittsburgh’s offensive line, and at age 30, Foster will probably receive one more substantial contract before it’s all said and done. Expect Foster back with the Steelers for a few more seasons.

Fellow offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum has seen his contract expire. Beachum’s 2015 season ended quickly due to a torn ACL.  He was one of the best pass protectors while playing, and had an elite season in 2014. Beachum’s injury history may hurt his market value, but I think he’ll find his way to a high contract whether it be with Pittsburgh or elsewhere.

Pittsburgh may lose a rash of secondary members. Brandon Boykin, William Gay, and Will Allen may all depart via free agency.

Although Boykin wasn’t technically a starting cornerback for Pittsburgh, he was a very valuable asset as a nickleback and as a starter when one of their top two corners were hurt. Boykin did not play many snaps, nor did he break the box score, but he was still a solid cover corner. Boykin will get looks from NFL teams including Pittsburgh.

Although the secondary of Pittsburgh was suspect for most of 2015, William Gay was the only cornerback to not allow a touchdown in the season according to Pro Football Focus. Gay was the only reliable defensive back in Pittsburgh, and he’s expressed interest to resign with the Steelers. Pittsburgh must make Gay a priority this offseason, and I reckon they will.

An aging cornerback out of #THE Ohio State University, Will Allen’s time in the NFL is evaporating. Allen was slotted to be a backup for 2015, but was thrusted into a starting strong safety role. He underperformed, proving to be slow and poor in space. A deal probably will not get done for a while for Allen as other teams look to sign higher prioritized players.

Other Pittsburgh Free Agents: Steve McLendon, Cam Thomas, Bruce Gradkowski, Robert Golden, Antwon Blake, Will Johnson, Sean Spence, Clifton Geathers, Darrius Heyward-Bey, David Nelson, Doub Legursky, Terrance Gavin, Jordan Todman, Mike Vick, Byron Stingily, Rob Blanchflower, Mitchell Van Dyk

Don’t miss this: Cincinnati Bengals free agency, Baltimore Ravens free agency, Cleveland Browns free agency

Cincinnati Bengals Free Agency Outlook

marvin

The Bengals are in jeopardy of losing multiple starters through free agency. Photo: bleacherreport.com

With the close of the NFL season now passed, I don’t really know what to do with my life. There’s no football to watch, so now I’ll have to transition into full-time college basketball watching.

Of course, I’m a firm believer that there’s only an NFL offseason if you let there be an NFL offseason. That being said, I’m not allowing the lull from February to July bring me down. Besides, there’s always the NFL Draft, free agency, and trades that can be completed throughout the spring and summer.

We’ve got a few mock drafts out, so I’ll begin to examine the free agency class of 2016. I’ll inspect each teams’ free agents, and look at the players’ possible landing spots.

You can find the report on the AFC East here.

Cincinnati Bengals, 12-4

After one of the biggest fits of choking in NFL playoff history, the Bengals find themselves in a far too familiar position. Another first-round playoff loss, and another chance to improve via free agency. Cincinnati has a lot of core free agents to attempt to retain this offseason.

Cincinnati is in jeopardy of losing their number two and number three wide receivers in Mohamad Sanu and Marvin Jones.

Marvin Jones was far superior to Mohamad Sanu in 2015, posting 65 receptions for 816 yards and four touchdowns. Sanu, on the other hand, caught just 33 passes for 394 yards and no touchdowns. Sanu did however find the end zone twice via rushing attempts.

Jones will draw far more interest, and with the vacancy of available wide receivers, teams may overpay for him. New Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson loves Jones, and the Browns desperately need a reliable weapon on the outside. Multiple other teams will bid for Jones, so seeing the UC-Berkeley product back in the Queen City seems unlikely. It feels like a 50-50 chance for Jones to return to Cincinnati.

Sanu will most likely be back in Cincinnati. The Bengals prioritize resigning their own players, so a player like Sanu who doesn’t have a very high market value will be pretty easy to retain. If I had to put money on it, I’d bet at least Sanu will resign with the Bengals, with Jones have a chance as well.

The Bengals also have a pair of starting safeties that will hit the market. Pro Bowler free safety Reggie Nelson and starting strong safety George Iloka will listen to bids from multiple teams, as each were very solid players and have been for years.

Neither of these players are certain to sign with the Bengals, but they do have a capable backup in Shawn Williams. Cincinnati needs to sign at least one of the safeties in order to maintain a solid centerfield. The most ideal situation would be for Cincinnati to resign Iloka to a long-term deal, while retaining Nelson to a one or two-year deal.

In George Iloka’s exit interview, he seemed to foreshadow leaving Cincinnati, as he was filled with regret after not being able to “make history” this season. Iloka will be highly sought after during free agency, so although it’s probably not the best case scenario, I see Nelson back in Cincinnati, and the younger Iloka elsewhere.

Although it may be exhausting, Cincinnati also must try to retain aging cornerbacks Adam Jones and Leon Hall. Jones is 31, and Hall is 32, which means neither will likely earn a long-term deal.

Cincinnati has two cornerbacks that are the future of the secondary in Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard. They both have some polishing to do in their game, and retaining Adam Jones must be the priority. Jones is coming off his best season in the NFL, while Hall has progressively regressed.

The Bengals must target Jones, as he must be of the more popular free agents in Cincinnati for the front office. Although they probably won’t get him for more than two years, he’ll be huge in filling in as they wait for Dennard to progress into an every day starter in the NFL.

Hall has seen his role shrink in recent years, so although the Michigan product has never played for any other NFL team, it is very unliekly for Hall to return to Cincinnati. A normally friendly player to the media, Hall declined exit interviews at the end of the season, seemingly ending his storied career for the Bengals.

Other Cincinnati Free Agents: Andre Smith, Vincent Rey, Emmanuel Lamur, Wallace Gilberry, Eric Winston, Brandon Thompson, Brandon Tate, Pat Sims, T.J. Johnson

Don’t miss this: Pittsburgh Steelers free agency, Baltimore Ravens free agency, Cleveland Browns free agency