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