CINCINNATI -- Free agency officially begins in less than a month as the 2016 league year gets underway.
Which of the Cincinnati Bengals’ 15 unrestricted free agents will be back under their control that day? It's a question both the players and the team will spend the next four weeks scrambling to answer. Before we get too deep into the offseason, let's take a daily look at each of Cincinnati's free agents. Tuesday, we continue with:
WR Mohamed Sanu
Bengals service time: Four seasons (drafted in the third round in 2012)
2015 cap charge: $1,682,813 (72nd among receivers)
2015 stats: 33 catches, 394 yards, 2 fumbles, 0 drops, 0 TDs
The lowdown: Much like the previously discussed safety position, the Bengals have multiple players at receiver whose contracts are up for renewal. Along with Sanu, pass-catchers Marvin Jones and Brandon Tate’s current deals are expiring. At the moment, the odd man out of that rotation appears to be Jones, who reportedly is seeking a deal that will compensate him about $7 million per year. Jones has disputed that claim on Twitter. Whatever he's seeking, Jones certainly will be earning his share of coin this offseason. He's already vowed not to provide the Bengals with a "hometown discount," opting instead to get his maximum value. He figures to be one of the more attractive free-agent options at receiver, too. So it will be interesting to see how much he ultimately earns.
Sanu, on the other hand, likely will make considerably less than $7 million annually on his next deal. Quite simply, he didn't have the same overall impact as Jones in Cincinnati's offense this past season. Some of that was a function of the offense. Make no mistake, Sanu had some big, timely catches in 2015, but he didn't have any in the end zone. He also played a considerably muted role after being thrust into the limelight the year before because of injuries to Jones, A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert. Forced into being the Bengals' No. 1 receiver in 2014, Sanu caught a career-high 56 passes for 790 yards and five touchdowns. He also had a career-high seven drops. He wasn't quite able to handle the load of being the team's premier receiver. Unless placed in a similar situation later in his career, it's just not the role that best suits Sanu. But it could suit Jones ... at least on a team that doesn't already have Green on its roster.
Credit Sanu for completely cutting out the drops this past season, albeit in dramatically fewer chances. Also credit him for having the type of versatility that should please an offensive coordinator. A strong-armed thrower who still has a perfect NFL passer rating, Sanu can pass, run reverses (and apparently kick), while generally being a weapon who can confuse defenses if used appropriately.
Stay? Or go? What type of deal could Sanu receive? It's hard to say given the way he's been used over the years and his unique skill set of versatility. Jarius Wright’s four-year, $14.8 million extension with the Vikings last September could be a good indicator, though. A 2012 fourth-round pick, Wright has averaged 31 receptions the past four seasons. He also has only seven career touchdowns (Sanu has 11). With Cordarrelle Patterson, Stefon Diggs, Mike Wallace and tight end Kyle Rudolph as Minnesota's primary receiving options, Wright plays a complementary role that's similar to Sanu's. (Green, Jones, Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard paced the Bengals' pass-catchers in 2015)
We'll see how close Sanu comes to making the $3.7 million annually that Wright got. It seems likely that unless another team makes him a significantly better offer than the Bengals', Sanu should end up staying.