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Recapping Bengals' busy New Year's Day

3/11/2015

CINCINNATI -- The mantra coming into the start of this year's free-agency period was the same for the Cincinnati Bengals as it has been: re-sign their own, and bolster the roster with a couple key second- or third-tier additions.

It's a simple philosophy, really. It's one that focuses on keeping player spending costs comparatively low, while continuing to develop and sharpen the talent that has helped the organization experience the longest run of consistent success it has had in franchise history. Granted, it's a run that doesn't include a playoff win, but four straight trips to the postseason is nothing to look past, either.

Other teams have relied on this formula in the past, too, but this season, the Bengals are confident they will see even better results from it for themselves.

Something else that defined this year's free-agency push were comments from coach Marvin Lewis at the Senior Bowl in January that the Bengals would be more aggressive. He didn't fully explain what that meant, but it's clear he wasn't just talking for the sake of talking.

The Bengals were indeed active Tuesday as free agency began with the start of the new league year.

  • First they brought back veteran offensive tackle Eric Winston, ensuring the swing tackle position would have an operator in the 2015 season. Even after signing Marshall Newhouse last offseason to take Anthony Collins' place, there still were questions about whether the Bengals had found a reliable backup. Those questions grew louder each time Newhouse was inserted in a game in relief at the right tackle spot. They only faded after Winston was brought out of street free agency in the final weeks of the 2014 season.

  • After Winston was re-signed, the Bengals announced offers with restricted and exclusive rights free agents Emmanuel Lamur and Chris Lewis-Harris. Neither has signed anything, but appear to be coming back to aid the depth at their positions. A one-year deal also was offered to reserve defensive tackle Devon Still, who has to decide whether he wants to sign somewhere else or if he'll come back again. Family concerns will dominate that decision.

  • In addition to extending those offers, the Bengals agreed on a contract with linebacker A.J. Hawk, addressing one of their biggest free-agency needs. The veteran who spent his first nine years with the Packers is headed back home. A native of nearby Kettering, Ohio, the 31-year-old will be playing again with former high school and college teammate, Mike Nugent, who was re-signed to a two-year deal Monday. With Hawk, the Bengals get an insurance policy in case Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict doesn't return as effectively nor as quickly from microfracture surgery as they hope. They also get a big-name player who knows what it takes to win.

  • After Hawk was re-signed, ESPN's Josina Anderson reported that free-agent defensive tackle Nick Fairley was headed to Cincinnati on Wednesday to visit coaches and front office personnel. If the Bengals were to sign him, Fairley would be a welcomed addition to a defensive line that needs immediate pass-rush help.

  • Then, late Tuesday night, reports began circulating the Bengals were close to re-signing left offensive guard Clint Boling. As the cap to a successful day, news about Boling's return means the offensive line, regarded at times this past season as one of the league's best, will return a complete starting lineup.

All in all, it was a much busier day than expected. But it was one that still was true to the Bengals' free-agency mission.