- Coley Harvey, ESPN Cincinnati Bengals reporter
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Most significant signing: After vowing in January that the Cincinnati Bengals would have a free-agency period that went against the franchise's "status quo," coach Marvin Lewis' words appear to be coming to fruition. It had long been the Bengals' habit in free agency to focus on building up their roster from within by attempting to sign their own unrestricted free agents, and then bidding adieu to the ones who were too expensive to bring back. This year, Cincinnati has signed all of its key targets and has even added players at important positions from the outside. The most significant signing was Sunday's four-year, $20 million deal that brought defensive end Michael Johnson back from Tampa Bay. It made sense because the organization still knows Johnson well, and expects him to be a solid locker room fit and instant contributor to the defense.
Most significant loss: Last year, the Bengals were reeling a bit during free agency after losing both Johnson and offensive tackle Anthony Collins to the Buccaneers. Receiver Andrew Hawkins also left as the Bengals botched the handling of his restricted free agency. So far this March, the Bengals have had only one free-agency hit. Tackle Marshall Newhouse signed a first-week deal with the New York Giants. At one point, there was fear the Bengals would lose offensive guard Clint Boling, who fielded multiple outside offers before ultimately agreeing last Tuesday night to stay a Bengal. Technically there hasn't been a significant loss yet. Newhouse's departure arguably upgraded the offensive line.
Biggest surprise: The biggest Bengals surprise of this free-agency period had to be the $7.1 million cap charge the team agreed to letting linebacker Rey Maualuga take this season. Six days before the start of the new league year, Maualuga returned to the Bengals on a three-year, $15 million extension. While the back end of his contract was structured commensurate to his playing time the past two seasons, that first year was rather alarming. While he will be -- for the foreseeable future -- the Bengals' starting middle linebacker, Maualuga has primarily been a run-support specialist, and a frequent entrant in the team's training room. He missed three games in 2013 because of a knee injury, and was out four in 2014 due to a bad hamstring. So with pending priorities that include Boling's new deal and signing a starting defensive end, why did the Bengals feel Maualuga deserved so much money up front?
What's next? Chief on the Bengals' remaining free-agency list is determining what to do at tight end. There aren't many top targets available at the position. Jermaine Gresham is still among the best on the board. It's been stated before that many around the team were displeased with the way Gresham declined playing through injuries in two of the more important late-season games last year. As a result, many don't want him back. But the Bengals still have a need for a good blocking tight end and could welcome him back on a lower contract than he probably expected at the start of free agency. Aside from that concern, the Bengals likely will re-sign others who were under contract last season, such as quarterback Jason Campbell and running back Cedric Peerman. A couple of other low-tier free agents could be signed just ahead of the draft.
This year, the Bengals have signed all of their key targets and have even added players at important positions from the outside in free agency.