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Thursday, March 27, 2014
Do Bengals deserve a 'C' in free agency?

By Coley Harvey

It's been a rough free agency period for Cincinnati Bengals fans envious of the free-spending moves by other teams.

I can't tell you how often I've been asked in the past three weeks about the Bengals signing free-agent center Alex Mack, or possibly pursuing Philadelphia receiver DeSean Jackson, or if they had any interest in entering the DeMarcus Ware sweepstakes a few weeks ago.

That's a no, no and no.

Jason Campbell
It wasn't the big splash fans wanted, but adding QB Jason Campbell was a good move by the Bengals.
Just Wednesday, one Bengals fan I've come to know in Cincinnati lamented to me his lack of interest in reading each day about the team signing a backup offensive tackle or a backup cornerback. Like many others, he wants a big name from the outside. He wants a fresh, new free agent to be excited about.

Yep, and Mike Brown wants Jerry Jones' annual cash flow.

I understand it, I definitely do. But the reality is the Bengals operate on a different financial model and personnel philosophy than many other teams. It's been written ad nauseam, but it's true: the Bengals like building from the ground up with draft picks and cheaper, younger free agents. The veterans they typically bring in are past their earning prime and help serve as mentors for some of the younger players they are trying to cultivate and keep before other teams start luring them with bigger contracts than the Bengals care to pay.

This offseason the Bengals don't have quite as many needs at key positions as some of their counterparts. They have no need to sign a new starting offensive tackle. They have two. They have no need to sign a new starting cornerback. They have a fleet of first-string-caliber corners.

So the Bengals really didn't need to make a big splash in free agency. That's a big reason ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando gave them a "C" in his team-by-team free agency grades Insider.

"The Bengals got worse in free agency when [Michael] Johnson found riches in Tampa Bay, [Anthony] Collins got away and [Andrew] Hawkins landed in Cleveland after receiving the lowest possible tender as a restricted free agent," Sando wrote. "Cincy didn't necessarily need to step up for any one of these players, but losing all three wasn't ideal."

It's true. As good as Johnson was, the Bengals still have quite the reserve at defensive end. Adding Marshall Newhouse ought to give the Bengals enough experience at offensive tackle to make up for losing Collins. And Hawkins was in the middle of a receiving pack that still brings back a number of playmakers.

To help illustrate his point, Sando spoke to ESPN NFL Insider and former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian.

"They didn't do much, but they didn't need to," Polian said.

The Bengals' departures might have displeased some fans as much as the lack of signing big-name free agents, but just know that the Bengals still have made their share of key moves this month.

Jason Campbell's signing was the smart and right move to make at quarterback. Starter Andy Dalton finally has that veteran mentor he has missed his entire career. Keeping Mike Pollak gives Cincinnati depth on the offensive line's interior. Keeping Vincent Rey stabilizes a linebacking corps that lost "Sam" backer James Harrison this month.

A "C," in my opinion, is probably right on target. What do you think? Is a "C" the right grade? Or do the Bengals deserve something else?