CINCINNATI -- Each of the last three offseasons, the Cincinnati Bengals' personnel plans were easily identifiable.
As they turned the page from a disastrous four-win 2010 season and tried to carve a fresher path under coach Marvin Lewis and his renewed contract, they made a clear and obvious focus on youth. The idea at the time was to spend those drafts selecting the best talent available and to continue molding the other young stars from the 2009 and 2010 classes that were already on the roster. They felt if they could build from the bottom, a playoff team could be created.
Three straight postseason appearances later, it seems they were right.
But now that much of that recently drafted talent has started maturing and entering second contract deals, the Bengals have realized they need to attack this offseason's personnel changes slightly differently. The youth movement is all but over. As their last few free-agency signings will attest, these days the Bengals are riding a new wave of roster additions that are all about age.
Experience, leadership and mentorship are at the forefront of the last two free-agency adds and extensions, in particular.
The latest elder added to the Bengals' ranks was 31-year-old safety Danieal Manning, a nine-year veteran who spent the last three seasons with the Texans. He played a key role in helping stop the Bengals in the 2011 wild-card round playoff game by recording seven stops, and he was part of a Houston team that beat Cincinnati in the 2012 postseason, too.
Another trait Manning has in common with that trio is familiarity. Not only did Peko recommit to the team on a two-year contract extension that will keep him in Cincinnati through 2016, but Newhouse is coming from Green Bay getting set to play with the quarterback he helped protect for three years in college. Campbell's signing last month meant that he and his former Oakland Raiders head coach and offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson, are reunited. Manning will have his own reunion of sorts by reconnecting with Vance Joseph, his former secondary coach who the Bengals hired earlier this offseason to help lead the safeties.
Aside from Newhouse, who is 25, age is another tie that binds the Bengals' latest free-agency signings. Peko will be 30 in November. Campbell will be 33 in December and Manning will turn 32 in training camp.
More than all those common characteristics, though, Manning's addition -- just like Peko's, Newhouse's and Campbell's -- has to do with the Bengals wanting to sign a seasoned veteran who can give quality minutes and help take Cincinnati's youngest stars through the next stage of their development. Now that players like second-year safety George Iloka have played regularly since their rookie seasons, it's time for them to get added guidance they may have missed with so few veterans playing alongside them.
In Campbell, Andy Dalton now has a quarterback who he can truly learn from and talk to off the field. In Newhouse, the offensive line might have a new voice in the huddle, but it's one who knows how to handle Dalton. In Peko, the entire team just got back a leader whose words and actions helped inspire the organization through its three-year transition.
It's a transition that appears to have come to as much of an end as a youth movement in the NFL can. When the draft comes next month, the Bengals won't focus on adding must-start rookies like they had been. They'll instead look for players who will add to their depth and who can be groomed into their system.
For now, that's a good thing for the Bengals. It means they feel so good about the on-field side of their team that the focus is on creating additional off-field influences. When a team's personnel moves are dictated in part by the mental and psychological nurturing of its core, that's a clear sign it feels more than confident in the everyday talent it already has.
It's all part of a new wave of age that is on its way to Cincinnati.