Morning Stripes: Bring on free agency


Good morning from chilly Bristol, Conn.

If you follow me on Twitter @ColeyHarvey, you probably saw Monday where I mentioned that I was spending the day bouncing around airports and making my way to ESPN's main campus with the rest of our NFL Nation reporters. I'm looking forward to coming back to Cincinnati in a couple of days with even more ideas for where I'd like to take my Bengals coverage over the next year.

In the meantime, if you're a daily follower of the blog, you've probably seen where Morning Stripes posts like this one have kind of slowed down. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that they likely would as the news around the Bengals begins to slow. With a nearly complete roster returning, the draft and free agency storylines revolving around this team aren't quite as ripe with drama as some of those circulating around other teams.

There was activity around the franchise Monday, though, as the league's deadline for naming franchise/transition tag players passed without the Bengals making a move. Unrestricted free agents Michael Johnson and Anthony Collins were the two most likely to draw tag consideration, but the Bengals passed on that option, meaning they are ready to go into free agency in order to see if they can convince one or both players to stick around for a longer-term deal.

This marks the first time in three offseasons that the Bengals did not use a franchise tag on a player. Johnson played with the tag in 2013, making more than $11 million. He would have made more than $13 million in 2014 had he been given the franchise tag for a second straight year. Just before Johnson, kicker Mike Nugent spent 2012 as the franchise-tagged player before signing a two-year deal last offseason. That contract expires next year.

Since none of their unrestricted free agents are franchise tagged, the Bengals now must compete in the open market with any team that wants to bid for the services of any of the 11 players. It's time to bring on free agency.

Cincinnati will make pitches to both Johnson and Collins once the free-agency period begins next Tuesday, but they may not be enough. The salary-cap mathematics may not add up in a way that ensures both will have deserving contracts. Even with about $30 million to spend this offseason, the Bengals have other pressing needs to be addressed, including tendering the three restricted free agents and trying to sign extensions for players whose contracts expire next year. If both Johnson and Collins re-sign, they could be doing so at a hometown discount.

We begin this Tuesday's Morning Stripes with a look at how the Bengals want to stay in-house as much as possible with the start of free agency:

  • Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson has this story about the way the organization will be entering free agency talking to as much of the talent it already has. The new $133 million salary cap should help some of those conversations move along, but it still might not work out for efforts at bringing both Collins and Johnson back.

  • Hobson also has this breakdown of the Bengals' defense as Bengals.com begins a look at the roster this week.

  • One more from Bengals.com. Here's a feature from the weekend on linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, who is completing rehab from a preseason injury that kept him out all of 2013. Lamur figures to play a key role in Cincinnati's defense next season, working as a cover linebacker. While he's undergoing a personal transformation the last three months, it has been Lamur's hope that a strengthened spirit will translate to more discipline on and off the field.

  • The Cincinnati Enquirer over the weekend completed the Bengals beat writer transition from Joe Reedy to Paul Dehner Jr. I've known Paul several years now, so I'm doubly proud to see him on the beat full time now. He's already started breaking down positions, too.