For those calling on the Bengals to drop some serious cash on other team's players during free-agency, an early response would be, don't bank on it.
It happens, but rarely because the Bengals have learned some costly lessons when it comes to doling out the dough for high-demand players they themselves did not bring into the league. Even with last offseason's coup and the signing of defensive end Michael Johnson away from Tampa Bay, Cincinnati added a former Bengal, and received a compensation draft pick to boot for losing Johnson to the Buccaneers in the first place.
Here's a number you need to know: 44. That's how many players who were on the Bengals’ season-ending 53-man roster that began their NFL careers with Cincinnati. Those who didn't include defensive end Wallace Gilberry, long-snapper Clark Harris, linebacker A.J. Hawk, cornerback Adam Jones, safety Reggie Nelson, kicker Mike Nugent, running back/special teams ace Cedric Peerman, wide receiver Brandon Tate and guard Eric Winston.
Not a big-splash free-agent signing in the group, although you could argue that the Bengals have received their money's worth, particularly with Jones, Nelson and Peerman, all of whom were in last month's Pro Bowl.
So, expect the Bengals to sign as many of their own top free agents as financially possible, and generally look the other way when it comes to seeing if the grass is greener on another side. They will spend a lot of loot on certain unrestricted free-agents, possibly including Jones, Nelson, fellow safety George Iloka, linebackers Vincent Rey and Emmanuel Lamur, and wide receiver Marvin Jones after shifting a lot of cash to this offseason in anticipation of the number of potential free-agents on the roster.
If the price is right, offensive tackle Andre Smith could make a return, especially if the Bengals don't believe their 1-2 draft picks of last year aren't quite ready for the starting job at right tackle. The Bengals can't keep them all, and Smith, who has been injury-plagued, is certainly a candidate to go. Jones is one of the few established top-flight receivers in this year's free-agent class, and may prove to be too expensive for the Bengals.
Others on the way out could be a player of the caliber of receiver Mohamed Sanu, depending on cost and who else might leave. The Bengals last year threw a lot of cash at Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green. It appears that they are ready to green-light more money to Jones. That's a lot of green at wide receiver, which may not leave enough stew for Sanu, no matter how bad the team would like to keep the versatile, playmaking receiver in the mix.
That's fueling speculation the Bengals will go the cheaper route with more upside and draft as close to a sure-thing NFL-ready receiver in rounds one or two as a measure to replace the potentially departing Jones and/or Sanu. There's no guarantee the Bengals will be able to sign Jones, leaving the door open for a Sanu deal as a face-saving measure and one that would help keep some continuity in the passing game for a team with a first-year offensive coordinator in ex-quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese.
Even versatile vets such as defensive end/tackle Wallace Gilberry and cornerback/safety Leon Hall are candidates to stay, at the right price. So too is receiver/return man Tate, despite advancing age and loss of break-away speed. Tate took over in 2015 as the Bengals' all-time leader in punt returns with 153 and punt return yards with 1,411, which supplanted Mike Martin's career totals. If Jones leaves, the Bengals may want to keep Tate.
The least likely of the Bengals' 14 UFAs to stay would appear to be the more one-dimensional players such as slow-to-develop defensive tackle Brandon Thompson and hot and cold defensive tackle Pat Sims, but you never know. Although he would appear to be on the way out, there could be room on the books for aging but still useful veteran offensive lineman Eric Winston, who can play tackle and guard.
Free-agency begins with the start of the NFL calendar year, at 4 p.m ET, March 15, but the Bengals could make some moves before the doors swing open to this year's meat market.
Feb. 22 is the first day teams are permitted to use franchise or transition player tags. That's this coming Monday. Beginning at noon ET March 7, clubs are permitted to contact and enter into contract negotiations with agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents, upon the expiration of their 2015 player contracts, at 4 p.m. ET March 15. A contract, however, can't be executed with a new team until 4 p.m. that day.