AFC North Free Agency Watch Day 1: Cincinnati Bengals

If you’re a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, then the opening day of free agency was basically a total snoozefest, outside of the front office evidently prank calling Darrelle Revis’ agent, unless there is some other reasonable explanation for that communication.

But that wasn’t the case around the rest of the AFC North, with the other three division teams making moves and losing some of their own free agents. The Cincinnati Bengals are included in that list, who used the opening day of the new league year to do a little bit of everything.

There were three moves made on Tuesday that were relevant to the Bengals, including one signing, one re-signing, and one departure.

The signing was of free agent linebacker A.J. Hawk, who was released by the Packers. The veteran graded poorly last season, but is being brought in to provide depth at the position for the Bengals.

The move to shore up the depth at the linebacker position was spurred on, of course, by the injury suffered by starter Vontaze Burfict, who is trying to come back from microfracture knee surgery. The Bengals also tendered linebacker Emmanuel Lamur to this same end.

Former NFLPA president Eric Winston is returning to football for another year after spending most of 2014 out of the game as a player. He was signed late in the year after right tackle Andre Smith went down.

He played well in his time back, and is returning to serve as the Bengals’ swing tackle, barring some other event. The team is trying to bring back starting left guard Clint Boling. Failing that, one option would be to move Andrew Whitworth from left tackle to left guard and put Winston in the starting lineup.

The Bengals did lose one free agent on the day, as the New York Giants signed reserve offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse. He was the first one to fill in for Smith’s injury, but he did not play well at all. Now they have a much better swing tackle option in Winston, so Newhouse’ loss isn’t much of one at all, and they probably had little intention of re-signing him in the first place.

There’s still plenty of movement ahead for the Bengals of course. They are in the market for a tight end as they brace for the loss of Jermaine Gresham, who is fielding offers and planning visits from a number of teams. Anthony Fasano is one early name that has been tied to the team.

The Bengals are also desperately looking to improve their pass rush, to that end releasing veteran Robert Geathers earlier in the process. Cincinnati was near the bottom of the league in terms of producing sacks in 2014, and Geathers was no longer getting it done.

The team is reportedly interested in bringing back Michael Johnson if he becomes available. He had a strong 2013 season for the Bengals before signing with Tampa Bay in the offseason.

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