The Cincinnati Bengals are in a position they haven’t occupied for a long time. Their bid to be seen as contenders is now being taken seriously—and how can it not, when they just nearly won the Super Bowl? But there’s always a price to pay for success, and when you’re talking about sports, it’s money.
Winning often and winning consistently requires that you have a talented roster, and talent gets paid. Talent that produces wins gets paid even better. And the prevailing thought that colors the Bengals’ entire offseason is the reality that they will, eventually, have to accommodate a future massive quarterback contract, which has a good chance to be record-breaking, for third-year quarterback Joe Burrow. One that could come as soon as next offseason.
With that in mind, they’re planning ahead. They’re taking a conservative approach in free agency, and when they do dip into the pool, they are budgeting, looking for value. Even when they take a splash, they structure the deal in a way that is healthy for the future. Since they could afford large cap hits now, they took them now, rather than pushing it in to the future.
“We don’t want guys who are being paid far above what they actually bring to the football team”, Bengals director of player operations Duke Tobin told reporters at the Combine last week, via Geoff Hobson for the team’s website. “That creates issues in other areas of your football team”.
“Our job, and it’s a tough job, is to put a value on every player. What is this player worth in today’s football, in this year, in this market?”, he asked. “Just because you pay somebody more doesn’t mean they play better. They just get paid more, and that’s less money you can spend on helping your team in another area”.
One example that Hobson brings up is the fact that the Bengals allowed cornerback William Jackson III to leave in free agency. They used the amount that they saved from opting not to re-sign him to instead sign two other cornerbacks, Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton.
That ultimately worked out pretty well for them, as both Awuzie and Hilton produced, and were important members of that defense. Not all of their signings have worked out as well. Trae Waynes, another cornerback signed in 2020, has hardly played since then due to injury. He has a good chance of getting cut shortly.
The 2022 season may be the Bengals’ best chance, though, to win the Super Bowl. There’s a good chance that they get Burrow under contract on a long-term deal after his third season, which would be reached during the 2023 offseason, and once they do, they won’t have cap space to throw around.