Bengals Getting Good Bang For Their Buck
By Doug Orth
Since sports are a microcosm of life, it should come as little surprise thriftiness is often encouraged. After all, who doesn’t like a good deal? But just like the real world, what was once considered a treasure can quickly turn into trash if it doesn’t fulfill the expectations we set for it.
The NFL is no different in the sense that players are commodities whose values fluctuate greatly from one year to the next. Reputation and production aren’t the only considerations either as every front offices spend the offseason weighing this year vs. next year. Age, legal troubles and a whole host of other factors make these personnel decisions an inexact science.
While the general public doesn’t get to make those calls for their favorite teams, we can certainly have an opinion on what players are fulfilling their contract and those that are not holding up their end of the bargain. Again, stats and dollar figures can only tell us so much of the story. Thanks to the thriftiness (or frugal nature, depending on your point of view) of team owner Mike Brown, the Bengals have a ton of cap space - $54 M per ESPN’s Adam Schefter as of March1 – and very few bad contracts.
Because the release of this article will coincide with the start of the new league year, players that are unrestricted free agents will not be considered. Production and reputation (such as Pro Bowls) will be considered as will how a player graded out, the length of his contract and whether or not he passes the all-important eyeball test.
DT Geno Atkins (Average Salary: $801,363; signed through 2014)
Don’t get used to seeing Atkins being in this section for very long. Bengals.com reported in late January the team and agent Pat Dye had “some dialogue” in regards to an extension. Whether the casual NFL viewer knows who he is or not, Atkins is already one of – if not the best – interior defensive lineman in the league. Per Pro Football Focus, the 2010 fourth-round selection led all defensive tackles with 78 combined sacks, hits and hurries (the next-closest one had 58) last season. A two-time Pro Bowler who was named to his first All-Pro team this season, Atkins figures to command in upwards of $12 M per season on his next contract. For now, he’s a menace for opposing offenses in the middle of the Bengals’ defensive line.
OLB Vontaze Burfict (Average Salary: $480,333; signed through 2015)
By the very nature of how they are acquired, undrafted free agents are cap-friendly. Therefore, when one comes along and becomes the team’s leading tackler, it is hardly shocking when his name appears on this kind of list. It is hard to project what Burfict will do going forward given how much baggage he entered the league with last season, so his “value” to the team will likely be determined on a week-to-week basis as much as it is year-to-year. Nevertheless, as the Bengals’ likely starting MLB in 2013, there’s little doubt that Burfict will continue to be a bargain as long as he continues to show the growth he did last season – on and off the field.
QB Andy Dalton (Average Salary: $1,303,550; signed through 2015)
The second-year quarterback may be a “not ready for prime-time player”, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a good bargain. Dalton figures to be working his rookie contract for at least two more years (it’s not like Brown to tear up a rookie deal and pay a player before he absolutely has to). So the savings Dalton’s average salary provides – relative to the $20.1 M average Joe Flacco’s new contract nets him or the $12.75 M Ben Roethlisberger “earns” – gives Cincinnati the option of keeping its own free agents happy in the years to come while also giving them the flexibility to break the bank on a high-profile free agent since quarterback is one position where most teams must set aside at least $8-10 M.
DL Jamaal Anderson (Average Salary: $2,750,000; signed through 2014)
It’s not that Anderson’s contract is going to handicap the Bengals year after year or because he never evolved into the pass-rushing menace his talent suggests he could have been, but rather about how the journeyman warranted anything more than the veteran’s minimum in the first place. Anderson played in only two games after tearing his quadriceps muscle in Week 2, but he has never shown an ability to rush the passer – as he was drafted to do – or shown himself to be an elite run defender. While it is remotely possible that the light comes on for him in his age-27 season, he hasn’t done anything in the league to warrant the 12th-highest average salary on the team.
DB Jason Allen (Average Salary: $4,100,000; signed through 2014)
Everything that was just said about Anderson above (in terms of contract length, inability to play significant snaps last season or the ability to fulfill his talent) could pretty much be said about Allen. It’s not that Allen only played three snaps last season, but more because he hasn’t played well enough in recent years to deserve a multi-million dollar deal. Over his career, Allen has routinely been the cornerback that opponents have targeted as opposed to the cornerback they fear, so the fact he carries the seventh-highest average salary on the team seems a bit ridiculous.
DT Domata Peko (Average Salary: $4,328,571; signed through 2015)
Peko is known primarily a run-stuffing defensive tackle, but it certainly isn’t reflected on his game tape or grading. Pro Football Focus has yet to give Peko a positive grade against the run in the five years they have been charting games. While there may be some truth to the notion that the seven-year veteran is around to tie up blockers in the middle of the field, Peko is a two-down player that isn’t even doing a great job at doing the one thing he is getting paid to do. Peko graded out as the seventh-worst defensive tackle against the run according to PFF in 2012.