Bengals Free Agency Preview: What Offensive Players Should Keep Their Stripes?
Free agency is always an unpredictable and invigorating element of the NFL year in and year out. Many teams use free agency to varying degrees to put themselves in the best possible position to win games in the upcoming season. While everyone gets excited about the potential of signing a new star, many people often seem to look past is the importance of keeping “homegrown” players whose contracts have expired. The Bengals are one of the many teams who need to put their focus on who to keep and who to let go before they look for new players elsewhere.
Joe Sorensen wrote a piece about which defensive players on Cincinnati should be re-signed and which should not earlier in the week. In the same style, this article will focus on the free agents on the offensive side of the ball who fall under the same description.
Must Re-sign: LT Anthony Collins
Collins was a vital piece of the Bengals’ offensive line in 2013. He was a force in pass protection last season, which contributed to the team’s eighth-ranked passing offense. Holding on to Collins would also allow Cincinnati to leave Andrew Whitworth at left guard – where he may be a better fit for new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson’s power running game – instead of forcing him to move back to left tackle. Collins is only 28 and should have some of his best years ahead of him, so the team would be wise to do whatever it can to keep him on the roster.
Low Priority: WR/KR Brandon Tate
There is no arguing that Brandon Tate is one of the best kick returners in the game. He ranked sixth in kick-return average in 2013 and is averaging 9.9 yards/return on punt returns for his career. As such, it would seem like a bad move to let Tate go. But in a league where athleticism in young players is becoming easier and easier to find, it shouldn’t be very hard to replace Tate with a player later in the draft or a cheaper free agent. Tate had a single catch in all of 2013, so clearly the Bengals don't have much interest in using him in the passing game. While Cincinnati doesn't have the best receiver corps, a talented draft class awaits, so expect that to be addressed come May 8-10.
Not An Option: TE Alex Smith
While the receiving corps isn't as deep as it could be, the Bengals don't need to hold on to unnecessary assets at tight end. Alex Smith recorded three catches for a total of 12 yards and one TD. Smith played in every game last year – including a start over injured Jermaine Gresham – and it goes without saying that is not the type of production you want to see from a player who played in 16 games. Smith is also the oldest tight end on the roster at 31, so there is no need to give Smith a contract. The top two options at the position are Jermaine Gresham (25 year old) and 2013 first-round pick Tyler Eifert (22), making Smith expendable.
Two notable players not mentioned above are WRs Andrew Hawkins and Dane Sanzenbacher. Barring an unlikely drop of one or two highly-regarded receivers on draft day, both veterans should expect to remain in Cincinnati.