Cincinnati Bengals: vincent rey

CINCINNATI -- When the Cincinnati Bengals declined to match the offer sheet Andrew Hawkins had signed with the Browns last month, Dane Sanzenbacher's return began coming into focus.

Sanzenbacher
It made sense for the slot receiver to come back. With Hawkins officially out of the picture, the Bengals needed a player who could fill the role they envisioned for Hawkins before he left. While not as fast as Hawkins, Sanzenbacher plays similarly to him. He can be tough to keep track of in open space and can catch passes deep across the middle of the field, just out of the reach of safeties who might lose track of him.

It took about three weeks after Hawkins' departure for the Bengals to work out a deal with Sanzenbacher, but it finally happened. Sanzenbacher's status as a restricted free agent ended last week when Cincinnati re-signed him to a one-year, $1.2 million contract.

That's about $230,000 less than the late-round tender the Bengals extended Sanzenbacher, Hawkins and linebacker Vincent Rey just before the start of free agency. Rey, who recorded career highs in tackles (47), sacks (four), and interceptions (two) last season, was the first of the three to sign. He agreed to a two-year deal that could pay him $2.1 million. As part of his deal, he also was given a roster bonus of $1 million. All of that money is guaranteed.

Sanzenbacher's contract isn't as attractive, a deal that will pay him just $200,000 of guaranteed money. His comparative hit on guaranteed money likely has more to do with his status as a reserve receiver who was inactive in seven of the 17 games the Bengals played last season. Rey appeared in all 17 of those games, and started in three of them.

Cincinnati was deep at receiver last season, and figures to be again this year. A.J. Green will continue his reign as the top pass-catcher on the team, and Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu are the first receiving options after him. Brandon Tate also will be in the mix there because of his special-teams contributions. Tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert also ought to have an impact in the passing game, as should running back Giovani Bernard. That leaves relatively few opportunities for Sanzenbacher and fellow reserve wideouts Cobi Hamilton and Ryan Whalen. Then there's still a chance the Bengals could add a receiver in the draft, making the position that much deeper.

Still, Sanzenbacher ought to have a much greater impact in 2014. In two seasons, he's been targeted just 11 times. During his rookie year at Chicago, quarterbacks threw his way 53 times.

On his eight targets last season, Sanzenbacher caught six passes for 61 yards. The Ohio State product hasn't had a touchdown reception since his three with the Bears in 2011.

Below is a quick breakdown of Sanzenbacher's contract, as provided by ESPN's Stats & Information:

Cap value: $1,200,000
Cash value: $1,200,000
Signing bonus: $200,000
Roster bonus: $0
Workout bonus: $50,000
Base salary: $950,000
Guaranteed money: $200,000
CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals reached an agreement with their last restricted free agent Tuesday, re-signing receiver Dane Sanzenbacher.

Sanzenbacher was one of three restricted free agents who the Bengals offered low-round tenders, and his low-round tender came to about $1.43 million for the 2014 season. Terms weren't released with respect to his new deal.

Sanzenbacher
A fourth-year player out of Ohio State, Sanzenbacher remains with the club after joining in 2012. He played for the first time as a Bengal last season, appearing in 10 games, making a start in one. He caught six passes for 61 yards in 2013 to go along with his 34 career catches for 344 yards and three touchdowns.

"Dane is a player with an instinctive feel for the game," Bengals receivers coach James Urban said, "and he should have the chance for more playing time this year than we were able to find for him last year. He's got assets that can help make us better."

Sanzenbacher would at best be the Bengals' fourth option at receiver behind A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Tight ends Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham also figure to be pass-catching options ahead of him. For half of last season, Sanzenbacher was even lower on the receiving totem pole because fellow wideout Andrew Hawkins was still on the roster. The speedy, shifty player caught 12 passes for 199 yards appearing in just eight games because of an ankle injury.

Hawkins was another one of the three players who was tendered last month. A couple weeks after receiving his low-round tender, Hawkins fielded a much larger offer from the Cleveland Browns that the Bengals ultimately were unable to match. Hawkins left, joining the Browns and leaving open a hole at receiver that Sanzenbacher had been expected to fill.

Sanzenbacher joins linebacker Vincent Rey as a restricted free agent who the Bengals re-signed. After receiving the low tender, Rey signed a two-year deal worth $2.1 million. Of that amount, $1 million is guaranteed.
CINCINNATI -- Spring appears to have finally come to the Queen City.

Monday may not be a national holiday, but here on the banks of the Ohio River, many of the region's workers are taking the day off anyway. Why? Because baseball has returned.

Opening day in Cincinnati is a little different than it is in most major league cities. It always begins with a parade and ends with an afternoon game at the Reds' Great American Ballpark.

The Cincinnati Bengals may be taking a backseat in this city on this particular day, but it doesn't mean we can't talk football anyway. As the Reds prepare to showcase their opening-day lineup, let's take a quick look at a possible Week 1 Bengals base rotation. Yes, there are still more than five months until the start of the NFL's regular season, but it's not too early to start contemplating the Bengals' lineup, right? Naturally, any number of unforeseen offseason events could change all of this, so remember, this is only a projection.

In the coming weeks, we'll have a more detailed look at a possible starting lineup. Compared to most teams, the Bengals are quite fortunate. They haven't lost as much starting talent this offseason, meaning their depth chart this fall ought to rather closely resemble the one from last year.

Lineup: Base Offense
QB Andy Dalton -- Should make his 49th career regular-season start in Week 1.
RB Giovani Bernard -- Ought to have role expanded to have more touches, snaps.
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis -- Will still be a key piece of the rushing offense.
WR A.J. Green -- He already has millions of reasons why he's the No. 1 receiver.
WR Marvin Jones -- Earned the chance to be the No. 2 wideout after his play in 2013.
TE Jermaine Gresham -- He and Tyler Eifert are hoping for another productive year.
LT Andrew Whitworth -- Pro Bowler who doesn't have Anthony Collins behind him.
LG Clint Boling -- He expects to be fully recovered from ACL surgery by Week 1.
C Mike Pollak -- Bengals have several options at center. He could win the starting job.
RG Kevin Zeitler -- Looking to make his 28th career start.
RT Andre Smith -- Another veteran tackle who shouldn't be challenged for first-team snaps.

Lineup: Base Defense
LDE Carlos Dunlap -- Expected to emerge as the top playmaking defensive end with Michael Johnson gone.
DT Geno Atkins -- He expects to be fully recovered from ACL surgery by Week 1.
DT Domata Peko -- Recently re-signed lineman will bring leadership back to the line.
RDE Margus Hunt -- Three players will rotate at this position, but Hunt could win starting job in training camp.
SLB Vincent Rey -- Several could audition to play "Sam" linebacker, including Rey.
MLB Rey Maualuga -- After a solid enough 2013 season at middle linebacker, he should be back there.
WLB Vontaze Burfict -- He went to the Pro Bowl playing "Will" linebacker last season.
S Reggie Nelson -- Look for Nelson to continue blitzing out of the backfield.
S George Iloka -- Training camp challenges could come for Iloka, but he should start in Week 1.
CB Terence Newman -- The veteran will be back starting on the outside; a healthy Leon Hall will play nickel.
CB Adam Jones -- A productive 2013 will keep Jones in the 2014 base starting lineup.

Lineup -- Specialists
K Mike Nugent -- He had two game-winning field goals last season.
P Kevin Huber -- He'll be back from a broken jaw.
DS Clark Harris -- The long-snapper remains in the rotation.
PR Adam Jones -- Jones gets back to punt-return duty with a healthy secondary.
KR Brandon Tate -- Tate was re-signed a one-year deal to primarily return kicks.
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.

[+] EnlargeJason Campbell
Matt Sullivan/Getty ImagesIt 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?
On the ninth day of free agency, the Cincinnati Bengals were given a quarterback. Will any other players come their way on Day 10?

As we reach the halfway point of the second week of the free agency period, here's another update on where things stand for the Bengals and the offseason personnel moves they have made.

At the start of Day 10, here is their free-agency scorecard:

Signed
OG/C Mike Pollak (re-signed the Saturday before free agency)
WR/PR/KR Brandon Tate (re-signed last Tuesday)
DE Dontay Moch (signed off waivers from Arizona on Friday)
LB Vincent Rey (re-signed Saturday)
S Taylor Mays (officially signed Monday)
QB Jason Campbell (ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported that he signed Wednesday night; the Bengals haven't formally announced yet)

Gone
DE Michael Johnson (signed with Tampa Bay last Tuesday)
C Kyle Cook (cut last Tuesday)
OT Anthony Collins (signed with Tampa Bay last Thursday after mulling offer from Cincinnati)
LB James Harrison (cut last Thursday)
CB Brandon Ghee (signed with San Diego last Thursday)
WR Andrew Hawkins (signed Browns offer sheet; Bengals didn't match it Tuesday, so he's off to Cleveland)

Visited
OG Uche Nwaneri (visited Friday after being cut by Jacksonville)
OG Vladimir Ducasse (visited Friday; UFA who spent 2013 with the Jets)
OT Marshall Newhouse (visited Tuesday; UFA who spent 2013 with Green Bay)
DE Robert Ayers (visited Tuesday; UFA who spent 2013 with Denver)

Other remaining 2014 free agents
OT Dennis Roland (UFA)
LB Mike Boley (UFA)
S Chris Crocker (UFA)
P Zoltan Mesko (UFA)
TE Alex Smith (UFA)
WR Dane Sanzenbacher (RFA)
We've reached Day 9 of free agency and the Cincinnati Bengals have remained comparatively quiet while also losing several of their own players in order to free up additional cap space, presumably for future signings.

This is normal for this organization. You won't hear many stories about the team going out and landing major, big-splash free agents during the first few days of the signing period. It's in the draft where the Bengals like to make their personnel noise, and anticipate doing so again this May.

While they have made a push to bring in and review a few external free agents who should draw relatively cheap price tags, they aren't in the market for making many big-name signings, even if they still have close to $26 million in cap space. Again, look for a good chunk of that money to go toward the future re-signings of A.J. Green, Vontaze Burfict and Andy Dalton.

Including one or more of those three, the players who will be signed by the Bengals between now and the beginning of May will primarily be those who already had contracts with the team. So far, those are the only ones who they have signed. (Dontay Moch was claimed off waivers from Arizona, but he was originally drafted by the Bengals and spent the first two seasons of his career in Cincinnati)

To help you get caught up on where things stand with the Bengals at the start of Day 9, here's a scorecard:

Signed
OG/C Mike Pollak (re-signed the Saturday before free agency)
WR/PR/KR Brandon Tate (re-signed last Tuesday)
DE Dontay Moch (signed off waivers from Arizona on Friday)
LB Vincent Rey (re-signed Saturday)
S Taylor Mays (officially signed Monday)

Gone
DE Michael Johnson (signed with Tampa Bay last Tuesday)
C Kyle Cook (cut last Tuesday)
OT Anthony Collins (signed with Tampa Bay last Thursday after mulling offer from Cincinnati)
LB James Harrison (cut last Thursday)
CB Brandon Ghee (signed with San Diego last Thursday)
WR Andrew Hawkins (signed Browns offer sheet; Bengals didn't match it Tuesday, so he's off to Cleveland)

Visiting
OG Uche Nwaneri (visited Friday after being cut by Jacksonville)
OG Vladimir Ducasse (visited Friday; UFA who spent 2013 with the Jets)
OT Marshall Newhouse (visited Tuesday; UFA who spent 2013 with Green Bay)
DE Robert Ayers (visited Tuesday; UFA who spent 2013 with Denver)

Other remaining 2014 free agents
OT Dennis Roland (UFA)
LB Mike Boley (UFA)
S Chris Crocker (UFA)
P Zoltan Mesko (UFA)
TE Alex Smith (UFA)
WR Dane Sanzenbacher (RFA)
Linebacker Vincent Rey will get $1 million guaranteed in 2014, the first year of a two-year deal he agreed to with the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday.

Rey

If he ends up making the full amount of his contract, he will end up receiving a nice annual bump in pay from what he had previously been making as an undrafted backup and special teams star. After receiving a career-high $630,000 in 2013, Rey will earn $1 million in base salary in 2014 and $2 million in base salary in 2015. With bonuses factored in, he holds an overall cap value of $2.1 million in each of the two seasons.

Rey was re-signed about a week and a half after receiving a low-round tender from the Bengals. He was one of three Bengals' restricted free agents to receive the tender that equaled $1.43 million. Receivers Andrew Hawkins and Dane Sanzenbacher also received the tenders. Hawkins currently holds a four-year, $13.6 million offer sheet from the Cleveland Browns that the Bengals have until 11:59 p.m. ET Tuesday to match. If they don't match it, Hawkins will leave for Cleveland, and the Bengals will be left empty-handed. Because each of the low-round tenders were undrafted free agents, the Bengals won't receive draft compensation if any of them signs with another team.

While he still was mostly a backup in 2013, Rey ended up having the best season of his career.

He set career-highs in tackles (47), sacks (4) and interceptions (2). Against the Ravens in Week 10, he became the only player in Bengals history to record three sacks and an interception in the same game. It is expected that he might start training camp behind Vontaze Burfict at the "Will" outside linebacker position, but he also could play at the middle, or "Mike," position after adequately relieving Rey Maualuga for three games there last season.

Here's a look at the breakdown of Rey's new Bengals contract (specifics come from ESPN's Stats & Information):

2014
Cap value: $2,100,000
Cash value: $2,100,000
Signing bonus: $0
Roster bonus: $1,000,000
Workout bonus: $100,000
Base salary: $1,000,000
Guaranteed money: $1,000,000

2015
Cap value: $2,100,000
Cash value: $2,100,000
Signing bonus: $0
Roster bonus: $0
Workout bonus: $100,000
Base salary: $2,000,000

Free-agency review: Bengals

March, 18, 2014
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Most significant signing: To this point, Cincinnati's most significant free-agent signing has been a re-signing. By inking restricted free-agent linebacker Vincent Rey to a two-year deal, the Bengals maintained their depth at outside linebacker and kept a vital special-teams piece. The Bengals aren't known to make major free-agency splashes with players from the outside, so it was even more significant that they retained a well-regarded player who not only provides depth but also can start regularly.

Collins
Johnson
Most significant loss: Anthony Collins' decision to sign with Tampa Bay wasn't a big surprise, but it was the biggest loss the Bengals have had so far this free-agency period. Defensive end Michael Johnson's departure was long expected because of the higher price tag he was likely to command. The team still felt it had a chance late with Collins, even an outside chance. The cuts of linebacker James Harrison and center Kyle Cook were big moves, too, but ones the Bengals should more easily move on from.

Biggest surprise: Cincinnati's biggest free-agency surprise actually came two weeks ago, when the Bengals extended low-round tenders to restricted free agents Andrew Hawkins, Dane Sanzenbacher and Rey. The decision to give a low-round tender to Hawkins was perhaps the most curious decision, as it gave the rest of the league free reign to bid as high as they wanted on the player who was the Bengals' third-leading receiver in 2012 (an injury limited him to just half the season in 2013). Cleveland jumped at the chance to give Hawkins an offer that is expected to go unmatched. Since he was an undrafted player, the Bengals won't receive any draft-pick compensation from Cleveland if they fail to match its offer. Lesson learned: The Bengals should have given Hawkins a second-round tender in order to keep him from being poached so easily.

What's next? Although the Bengals lost a couple of big pieces in Johnson and Collins -- not to mention their starting center and "Sam" linebacker -- they will return in the fall with a roster that has very few glaring holes. The good news is that their biggest contributors are already in place, and other backups, like recently re-signed guard/center Mike Pollak, could end up taking over starting jobs. Still, expect the Bengals to keep trying to build their defensive-line and offensive-line depth via free agency and the draft. Linebackers also could be draft targets, as could any number of defensive backs.
We've reached Day 5 of free agency and the Cincinnati Bengals have remained comparatively quiet while also losing several of their own players in order to free up additional cap space, presumably for future signings.

This is normal for this organization. You won't hear many stories about the team going out and landing major, big-splash free agents during the first week of the signing period. Now that the first week is nearing the end, it certainly doesn't look like that will be the case. It's in the draft where the Bengals like to make their personnel noise, and anticipate doing so again this May.

The players who will be signed by the Bengals between now and the beginning of May will primarily be those who already had contracts with the team. Much like linebacker Vincent Rey, who re-signed with the club early Saturday morning.

To help you get caught up on where things stand with the Bengals at the start of Day 5, here's a scorecard:

Signed
OG/C Mike Pollak (re-signed last Saturday)
WR/PR/KR Brandon Tate (re-signed Tuesday)
DE Dontay Moch (signed off waivers from Arizona on Friday)
LB Vincent Rey (re-signed Saturday)

Gone
DE Michael Johnson (signed with Tampa Bay on Tuesday)
C Kyle Cook (cut Tuesday)
OT Anthony Collins (signed with Tampa Bay on Thursday after mulling offer from Cincinnati)
LB James Harrison (cut Thursday)
CB Brandon Ghee (signed with San Diego on Thursday)

Up in the air
S Taylor Mays (reportedly re-signed Tuesday, but Bengals still haven't announced)
WR Andrew Hawkins (signed Browns offer sheet of four years, $13.6 million; Bengals not expected to match)

Other remaining 2014 free agents
OT Dennis Roland (UFA)
LB Mike Boley (UFA)
S Chris Crocker (UFA)
P Zoltan Mesko (UFA)
TE Alex Smith (UFA)
WR Dane Sanzenbacher (RFA)
CINCINNATI -- In need of as much help at linebacker as they can get, the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday announced they re-signed fourth-year linebacker Vincent Rey. He becomes the third Bengals free agent that has re-signed, according to the team.

Rey

Along with two other restricted free agents, Rey earned a low-round tender from the Bengals last week. That meant he was slotted to make $1.4 million in 2013 unless he signed an offer sheet of greater value from another team. If the other team made an offer, the Bengals would have five days after receiving the offer to match it. None of that appears to have happened with Rey.

He reportedly agreed to a two-year deal.

Rey has been with the Bengals since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2010. The Duke product spent his first three seasons primarily playing special teams, but saw his overall role increase dramatically last season as he started on defense, too.

When starting "Mike" linebacker Rey Maualuga went down with a knee injury in the middle of last season, Rey replaced him, starting in three contests. Even when Maualuga returned, he shared more time at linebacker with him than he had at points before the injury.

Rey's 47 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions in 2013 were career highs. Three of those sacks and one of the interceptions came in the Week 10 overtime loss at Baltimore. He's the only player in franchise history to have that many sacks and an interception in a single game.

In addition to stepping up defensively, he also continued contributing on special teams, playing a key role on the various kick and punt coverage and return teams.

"Vinny is a tough guy and a pleasure to coach, and it's great to have him back in the fold," coach Marvin Lewis said in a news release. "He really helped us in winning the division title last year."

Rey joins receiver/return specialist Brandon Tate and offensive guard/center Mike Pollak in re-signing with the Bengals this offseason. Defensive back Taylor Mays also has reportedly signed, but the Bengals have not yet announced that news. Mays was reported to have signed Wednesday.

The news of Rey's re-signing also comes hours after the team announced that defensive end Dontay Moch, a 2011 third-round Bengals draft pick, was coming back to Cincinnati. After playing four games last season for the Cardinals, Moch cleared waivers late Friday afternoon.

Cincinnati's other two restricted free agents, receivers Andrew Hawkins and Dane Sanzenbacher, also were extended low-round tenders last week, but neither has signed elsewhere or with the Bengals yet. Hawkins has signed an offer sheet with the Cleveland Browns, but Cincinnati has until Tuesday to match it. The Bengals still have not made a decision about what they will do, although ESPN.com has reported that they likely won't match the four-year, $13.6 million offer.

Free-agency primer: Bengals

March, 7, 2014
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Key free agents: DE Michael Johnson, OT Anthony Collins, S Taylor Mays, S Chris Crocker, WR/KR/PR Brandon Tate, OG Mike Pollak

Where they stand: Last week the NFL's franchise/transition tag deadline came and went without the Bengals using either designation for the first time in three years. Johnson, who held the team's franchise tag in 2013, enters free agency with the ability to go anywhere he picks up a quality offer. The Bengals are hoping to extend a strong-enough offer to him, but teams like the Vikings and Falcons could enter the stakes and raise his price tag even higher. Cincinnati is also currently at a standstill with Collins, another big-name free agent who could soon call another city home.

Earlier this week, the Bengals tendered restricted free agents Andrew Hawkins, Vincent Rey and Dane Sanzenbacher. Since they weren't drafted, the Bengals won't be receiving any draft-pick compensation in the event they don't match other offers that those three will receive.

What to expect: Some teams are always heavy players in free agency. That's not really the case for the Bengals. They'll do what they can to re-sign the 14 free agents they currently have, but outside of that, don't expect much wheeling, dealing and spending. Johnson and Collins will receive the bulk of the Bengals' attention early in the free-agency period, with other players being handed offers in the background. Mays, Tate and Pollak in particular are unrestricted free agents whose fates remain somewhat uncertain. Tate and Pollak have more of a legitimate chance at being re-signed, although Mays could still assist in the team's defensive backfield depth. Don't expect punter Zoltan Mesko to be re-signed. The player he replaced in December, Kevin Huber, is still rehabbing from a broken jaw but should be fully healthy long before the 2014 season begins.

If the Bengals make any external additions during free agency, they are most likely to do so with fairly cheap veteran players who could assist with immediate depth. Defensive ends, cornerbacks and running backs are among those who could be added.
Now that the Cincinnati Bengals have placed tenders on all three of their restricted free agents, let's take a look at the value each player brings to the team.

With the low-round tender option, the Bengals would pay all three $1.4 million next season if another team doesn't reach out and try to woo them away. If another team does make a higher offer when free agency starts next week, the Bengals' tender gives them the ability to match that same offer. Normally, if they didn't match the other team's offer, the Bengals would be compensated by that team through the draft. Whichever round the respective free agent was originally drafted, the Bengals would receive a selection in that round.

Since all three of these players went undrafted, though, the Bengals won't be getting draft-round compensation.

So should the Bengals try to match offers and keep these three? Or should they be content to let them go if higher offers come? We'll briefly examine each player's value here. We've already looked at receiver Andrew Hawkins and linebacker Vincent Rey. Up next:

WR Dane Sanzenbacher

The good: A fan favorite in Cincinnati from his days at Ohio State, Sanzenbacher has a sizable following here. He's spent only two seasons with the Bengals after starting his career with a one-year stint in Chicago. That season, though, was the most productive of his career. He caught 27 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns. His production that year proved that he could be a contributor as a third- or fourth-option receiver. After a couple of key departures from Cincinnati's 2011 team, namely Jordan Shipley's and Jerome Simpson's, the Bengals needed to add to their depth at receiver. Along came the slot playing Sanzenbacher.

The bad: Opportunities haven't been the greatest for Sanzenbacher since his Queen City arrival. There has been a relative backlog of talent at the third- and fourth-receiver spots with Marvin Jones, Hawkins, Mohamed Sanu and Brandon Tate all cycling through those spots on the receiver's depth chart at some point the last two seasons. Although Tate only caught one pass in 2013, he has been a problem for Sanzenbacher's playing time because of his ability to return punts and kickoffs. At times last season when the Bengals needed to make a cutoff at receiver for pregame inactives, Sanzenbacher and Ryan Whalen were the first to be benched to accommodate having Tate in the lineup. In all, Sanzenbacher was declared inactive seven times last season, including the wild-card round playoff game against San Diego. During the 10 games he was active, he caught six passes for 61 yards.

His anticipated future role: Sanzenbacher's future depends in part on Tate's future. If the Bengals are able to re-sign the unrestricted free-agent return specialist this month, then getting Sanzenbacher on the field next fall could continue to be a difficult proposition. Very little will change about the Bengals' receiving ranks this offseason. If Hawkins gets re-signed, the same top four receivers will all return, as will the top two pass-catching options at tight end. If Tate doesn't return, then that could open up more opportunities for Sanzenbacher to avoid the inactives. It would mean someone from another position group would take Tate's place on return teams, helping to possibly allow for another receiver to be active each week. Regardless what happens in free agency, Sanzenbacher would remain down on the Bengals depth chart if he gets re-signed.

Try to keep him? Of Cincinnati's three restricted free agents, Sanzenbacher appears to be the most expendable. His re-signing, however, depends on what happens in free agency with respect to Tate and Hawkins. Cincinnati has good reason to want to go after the other two a little harder than Sanzenbacher simply because of what they have been able to do lately. Tate was a strong kick returner and had a timely punt return or two last season. Hawkins was injured half of 2013, but posted some of the Bengals' best receiving numbers the year before. Since Sanzenbacher and Hawkins play similar roles, the Bengals have a compelling reason to hold onto him in case the faster Hawkins gets away.
Now that the Cincinnati Bengals have placed tenders on all three of their restricted free agents, let's take a look at the value each player brings to the team.

With the low-round tender option, the Bengals would pay all three $1.4 million next season if another team doesn't reach out and try to woo them away. If another team does make a higher offer when free agency starts next week, the Bengals' tender gives them the ability to match that same offer. Normally if they didn't match the other team's offer, the Bengals would be compensated by that team through the draft. Whichever round the respective free agent was originally drafted, the Bengals would receive a selection in that round.

Since all three of these players went undrafted, though, the Bengals won't be getting draft-round compensation.

So should the Bengals try to match offers and keep these three? Or should they be content to let them go if higher offers come? We'll briefly examine each player's value here. On Wednesday, we took a look at receiver Andrew Hawkins. Up next:

LB Vincent Rey

The good: If there is a quintessential "locker room guy," Rey is it. He's well-liked by his teammates, well-respected by his coaches and admired around Cincinnati. The fact that he has gone from undrafted special teams player to rising backup linebacker star is a testament to Rey's attitude and work ethic. When Mike Zimmer was still the Bengals defensive coordinator, he spoke often about how Rey would be among those putting in extra time studying opponents' film and breaking down his own play. Because of that, more often than not, Rey was in the right position to make plays in 2013 when he was needed following an injury to middle linebacker Rey Maualuga. Posting a career high in tackles (47), sacks (4) and interceptions (2), Rey had the most productive year defensively of his career.

The bad: Rey has been the unfortunate recipient of poor timing when it comes to playing on defense. Since he's been in Cincinnati, there's been a "Mike" (middle) or "Will" (outside) linebacker listed on the depth chart ahead of him, forcing him to focus the majority of his attention on standing out on special teams. That actually hasn't been a bad thing. The more he has impressed on special teams, the more he has earned opportunities to play defensively when they present themselves. It's just that with commitments to Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict, it has been tough for him to see much starting action.

His anticipated future role: If he remains in Cincinnati, Rey's future role won't change much from what it has been. Again, Maualuga and Burfict will be getting the bulk of opportunities ahead of him, and a healthy Emmanuel Lamur will be playing often as an extra coverage linebacker in most pass-defense packages. Still, you have to imagine that if the Bengals are able to hold on to Rey that they will have a number of plays drawn up that will get him onto the field. Not only did he impress Zimmer, but he also impressed the other defensive coaches who are still on staff, namely former linebackers coach Paul Guenther, who is the team's new defensive coordinator. Special teams have always been a key part of Rey's game in the NFL and will continue to be if he returns to Cincinnati.

Try to keep him? Rey most certainly will field offers from other teams not only because of how well he played in all of 2013, but particularly because of how he looked in relief of Maualuga across a four-game, mid-season stretch. Cincinnati likely will have to hand over more cash than the $1.4 million tender they offered him, but will only be forced to do so if indeed it plans on matching a higher offer another team makes. Last year's depth hit at linebacker proved a team can never have too many contributing players at that position. When Lamur went down at the end of the preseason with his season-ending injury, the Bengals' linebacker plans were thrown into disarray. They already were missing rookies Sean Porter and Brandon Joiner because of injuries. So, before ultimately signing veteran Michael Boley to a one-year contract in Week 5, they tested out using defensive back Taylor Mays in some Nickel packages as an extra cover player of sorts. In order to keep depth at the position, it would behoove the Bengals to keep a player like Rey who they feel they can trust.
Now that the Cincinnati Bengals are expected to place tenders on all three of their restricted free agents, let's take a look at the value each player brings to the team.

With the low-round tender option, the Bengals would pay all three $1.4 million next season if another team doesn't reach out and try to woo them away. If another team does make a higher offer when free agency starts next week, the Bengals' tender gives them the ability to match that same offer. Normally if they didn't match the other team's offer, the Bengals would be compensated by that team through the draft. Whichever round the respective free agent was originally drafted, the Bengals would receive a selection in that round.

Since all three of these players went undrafted, though, the Bengals won't be getting draft-round compensation.

So should the Bengals try to match offers and keep these three? Or should they be content to let them go if higher offers come? We'll briefly examine each player's value the rest of this week. Up first:

WR Andrew Hawkins

The good: There's a lot of good when it comes to Hawkins. Signed out of the CFL as an undrafted free agent ahead of the 2011 season, he quickly became a fan favorite in Cincinnati. His combination of elite speed and smaller size -- the Bengals list him at 5-foot-7 -- earned the respect of Bengals fans. When he became the team's third-leading receiver in 2012, catching 51 passes for 533 yards and four touchdowns, that admiration grew. It was that production that had Hawkins and others anticipating a breakout season for him in 2013.

The bad: As he tried to make an athletic catch during a preseason practice last August, Hawkins suffered a serious ankle injury that forced him to the injured reserve/designated for return list. He ended up missing the first eight weeks of the 2013 season because of the injury, and was still trying to work himself back into midseason form when he returned to action in Week 9. For the first half of the season, the injury negated a key part of the Bengals' offensive plans. He finished with just 12 catches during the regular season.

His anticipated future role: Hawkins was mostly known as a slot receiver in the offense previously coached by Jay Gruden. Under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's watch, it's possible to see him line up at virtually any spot on the field. OK, maybe not offensive line. At 5-7, 180 pounds, he might not be the right person to block for Giovani Bernard flanked just off the right tackle. Still, it's possible he could be used in a fashion more like how Seattle used Percy Harvin in the Super Bowl. Hawkins could be flanked out wide catching screens or out routes. He could be used, like he has in the past, in reverses or fake reverses or double reverses. He also could remain in the slot, continuing to be a matchup mismatch for Nickel cornerbacks who might not be able to keep up with his shifty speed.

Try to keep him? By setting the tender so low on Hawkins, the Bengals have made it clear they don't expect to get into too high a bidding war with another team that tries to take him away. If the Bengals end up deeming a team's offer too high, they will pass. But should they? Obviously that depends on how high the offer goes. In part because of the injury it's hard to imagine Hawkins will be fielding offers higher than the maximum tender level compensation of $3.1 million that he and the other restricted free agents could have received. As long as the opposing offers are reasonable, the Bengals, to me, have to match and keep him. Yes, there are a variety of other playmakers on offense between A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Bernard, but Hawkins gives the unit a measure of added athleticism and speed that can be tough to replace. Much like the difficulty opposing defenders say they have in locating the smaller and shifty Bernard, they are similarly leery of spotting Hawkins in traffic, too.
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CINCINNATI -- You are going to hear the following phrases a lot this week and next: "great burst," "explosive legs," "powerful hip turn," "downhill runner," "could be a great professional football player."

Beware of what you hear. Proceed with caution when reading or watching TV.

By May, it might all mean nothing.

Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict knows that fact all too well.

On Friday, the annual hyperbole fest known as the NFL combine begins in Indianapolis, where more than 300 draft prospects will showcase their skills in a week of drills that will test how well their talents might translate to the sport's highest level. Interviews with media, scouts and front office officials also will be on tap for the former all-conference stars and small-college heroes who are hoping an NFL franchise goes out on a limb and drafts them later this spring.

You'll read from me and countless others these next few days about how great particular players' strengths are, and how damaging their various weaknesses could be. It's the nature of this time of year. No matter how hard one tries to avoid it, it's easy to get wrapped up in hyping how fluidly a receiver runs his routes, while also admonishing him for dropping multiple passes. During an event predicated on players demonstrating as close to perfect performances as possible, it's easy to nit-pick the bad and overstate the good.

For that reason, be careful with what you read and hear, and remember Burfict.

Two years ago, Burfict arrived at the combine with a dark cloud hanging over his head. The Arizona State product came heavy and out of shape. Scouts were looking for any little tell-tale sign that would suggest he was as lazy as many had believed. Owners and general managers were curious as to why they had mostly heard about discipline issues with him. They wanted to get a gauge as to why he and his college coach apparently had friction.

They must not have gotten the answers they needed in order to draft him. Burfict, once deemed one of the top defensive prospects in his draft class, slipped completely out of it. Not long after the selection process was over, though, the Bengals came calling. He was signed as an undrafted free agent.

Burfict is currently entering the final year of a three-year deal earning the league minimum. While making less than $500,000 during the 2013 season, Burfict, in his second year, earned his first Pro Bowl selection and led the league in tackles by setting a franchise record with 171. His first year wasn't too bad, either. As a rookie, he had 127 tackles after coming in and playing due to early-season injuries above him.

Last week, ESPN's Tedy Bruschi and Jim Basquil talked about Burfict's road to redemption in this ESPN.com video. Even though Bruschi still has some concerns about Burfict's on-field maturity -- he was fined three times for $52,000 in 2013, and was penalized 13 times for 150 yards -- he still applauds him for having completely changed the narrative that existed before he was signed in 2012.

"It didn't look good for Vontaze Burfict coming out of Arizona State. You didn't know if he was going to be able to overcome some of those issues, those character problems," Bruschi said. "But Marvin Lewis really showed that he had faith in him and now you have a linebacker that looks like hes going to solidify your defense for years to come."

After it was announced in late December that he made the Pro Bowl roster, Burfict spoke fondly about the many phone calls he shared with Lewis between his Pro Day at Arizona State and the draft.

"He was pretty much the only person who kept reaching out and who kept talking to me and who kept me motivated and telling me to keep my head up and stuff like that," Burfict said.

It was at Burfict's pro day -- after the combine -- when Lewis first got to know the controversial linebacker. During a dinner at a P.F. Chang's in Tempe, Ariz., he first realized how much Burfict reminded him of Ray Lewis, the soon-to-be Hall of Fame former Baltimore Ravens linebacker who now serves as an analyst for ESPN. Their mannerisms were the same, their humility was similar and their respect for the position was comparable, Marvin Lewis said.

"I told [owner] Mike Brown, 'I don't mean to overstate this, but he's special,'" Marvin Lewis said. "He reminds me of another guy I've coached. ... They're not full of themselves. It's all about, 'How do I get better? How do I help the team win?'"

Burfict isn't the only undrafted free agent who has become a recent Bengals star. Backup linebacker and longtime special teams standout Vincent Rey emerged as a viable defender in 2013 after he was claimed in undrafted in 2010. Rey became even more of a fan favorite for the way he helped carry the defense when Rey Maualuga went down with a knee injury around midseason. Jayson DiManche and Andrew Hawkins are other undrafted players of note who have become possible key pieces to the Bengals' 2014 season. Neither were even invited to the combine their respective years.

As much as first-round guys like Leon Hall and A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert have formed a significant part of the Bengals' backbone, blue collar players like Burfict, Rey, DiManche and Hawkins have, too.

So as you go through this week of half-truths and half-exaggerations, keep in mind players like them. Don't believe all of the hype because as great as some prospects might seem this week, they may not end up having the same impact in September as the guy who didn't show up at the combine, or the one who was a flop during it.

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