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Friday, March 7, 2014
Bengals RFA value: Dane Sanzenbacher

By Coley Harvey

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.