The Cincinnati Bengals are coming off their first Super Bowl appearance since 1988. It seemed things changed, but maybe they haven’t.
Last week, the Cincinnati Bengals announced a white, alternate helmet. However, the stripes remained the same. Omen?
Cincinnati put together a Super Bowl team last year, one that was largely ruled by their offense during the regular season but then its resurgent defense in the postseason. Come the playoffs, Cincinnati was less than two minutes from winning Super Bowl LVI despite the Bengals not scoring 30 points in any of their four games.
Along with edge rusher Trey Hendrickson, the best player on that unit? Safety Jessie Bates.
And on Friday, after being given a $12.9 million franchise tag following another strong year, Bates watched as the Bengals’ best offer amounted to a grand total of $17 million over five years.
Bates, correctly, refused to sign.
While the focus will be on when Bates decides to report, that’s missing the bigger story. The real headline is how the Bengals, long seen as cheap, have only furthered that notion and in the process, could derail what is a very promising team.
During OTAs in June, star quarterback Joe Burrow talked about Bates and what he believes both his value is, and what he wanted to see.
“Jessie’s a big part of this team. You can put a price tag on what he does on the field, but I don’t think you can on what he does in the locker room. He’s been a guy that has kind of built what we’re doing here. He was one of the first. Jessie’s exactly the kind of player that I think you want to reward for the work that he’s done for the last four years through the ups and the downs. We weren’t very good for three years while he was here. And then he’s been through it all. We’re hoping that everything works out in his favor.”
Instead, the Bengals gave an insulting offer. Typically, a tagged player and his team start negotiations centered around what two tags would guarantee. In this case, Bates would get $28.5 million across those destinations this year and next. Any offer less than that is a non-starter. Cincinnati barely got halfway there.
Inside the locker room, players would be forgiven if they’re questioning what their personal future has in store. If the Bengals won’t pay a home-grown team captain who plays a relatively inexpensive position, why would they pay almost anybody else?
Last month, I wrote a column detailing what some prominent agents and ex-front office executives believed Joe Burrow could get on his upcoming extension — which he’s eligible for after this season. The prevailing thought was $55 million annually, perhaps fully-guaranteed based off the Deshaun Watson contract with the Cleveland Browns.
One agent laid out his belief the Bengals would need to get a loan to make the money work, as guaranteed dollars must go into escrow at the time of signing. Another agent believed Cincinnati would pay Burrow, but not before a bloody negotiation. All this traces back to owner Mike Brown, who inherited the team from his father, the legendary Paul Brown. While the Browns are certainly rich by any standard, they are cash-poor compared to most other NFL owners.
And this presents what has long been Cincinnati’s problem. It’s the same reason the Bengals, a cold-weather team, have never had an indoor practice facility, something which is finally about to change.
But how much will change in terms of negotiating with players? Although the Bengals have spent $250.75 million in free agency across 2021 and ’22, only $73.75 million was guaranteed.
The good news for Cincinnati fans? The team doesn’t have many key free agents after this year (Bates, fellow safety Vonn Bell and linebacker Germaine Pratt headline the group). Yet they have a slew of them coming after the ’23 season including running back Joe Mixon (team option), receivers Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, tackle Jonah Williams, nose tackle D.J. Reader and linebacker Logan Wilson. All of these players will command a significant commitment, and without guaranteed money, there’s a good chance Cincinnati struggles to retain them.
The Queen City has been waiting three decades to truly contend. The Bengals are there, led by a superstar under center and surrounded by elite talent.
Now Cincinnati has to spend like it never has to make sure the helmets aren’t the only thing changing for the Bengals.
Bottom 10 NFL rosters entering 2022
1. Atlanta Falcons
2. Houston Texans
3. Chicago Bears
4. Seattle Seahawks
5. New York Jets
6. New York Giants
7. New England Patriots
8. Carolina Panthers
9. Detroit Lions
10. Jacksonville Jaguars
“You can’t even imagine the pain. You don’t even know how you feel anymore. You don’t even have feelings.”
– Pedja Komazec, uncle of Tina Tintor, who was killed in the crash involving Henry Ruggs last November
On Tuesday, former Las Vegas Raiders receiver Henry Ruggs III went to court facing myriad felonies including driving under the influence resulting in death. Ruggs’ lawyer argued his blood alcohol content of .161 should be thrown out by the court. The court felt otherwise and denied his claim.
Ruggs is scheduled to next appear in court for a preliminary hearing on Sept. 7.
The Bengals and Giants are the only teams to have perfect records in conference title games.
Info learned this week
1. Chiefs don’t sign Orlando Brown, but long-term future may remain in KC
Orlando Brown wanted record money. The Kansas City Chiefs balked. No deal.
Last week, FanSided reported Brown’s camp was seeking upwards of $25 million per year on a long-term deal, while Kansas City wasn’t willing to meet that price. By Friday, tag deadline day, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach got creative. Per source, Kansas City offered Brown the largest signing bonus in NFL history for an offensive tackle at over $30 million. No dice.
Ultimately, Kansas City laid out a five-year, $95 million deal with a dummy year of $44 million as a sixth year to inflate the total and annual value. As a result, Brown decided to play on the $16.6 million tag in 2022. However, he might find himself in a similar position come next offseason.
After trading receiver Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs are in great cap shape. Between projected cap space and rollover money, Kansas City could have $30 million to spend in 2023, and that’s before a potential release of edge rusher Frank Clark which nets $19 million. Clark’s savings would essentially pay Brown’s second tag, which would be $19.9 million.
My understanding is Kansas City wants to retain Brown long term. The Chiefs value him immensely, and thought he played very well in his first year protecting Patrick Mahomes.
The deal didn’t get done this time, but there’s a good chance we’ll see these two sides negotiating again after the upcoming season.
2. Texans settles 30 cases making claims against Deshaun Watson
The Houston Texans decided to pay up on Friday.
Houston settled with 30 women who each alleged misconduct by former Texans and current Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson. The sum of the settlements is unknown, but in the aftermath, Texans ownership released a statement that read in part:
Although our organization did not have any knowledge of Deshaun Watson’s alleged misconduct, we have intentionally chosen to resolve this matter amicably. This is not an admission of any wrongdoing, but instead a clear stand against any form of sexual assault and misconduct.
Do with those words what you will. While it’s unknown how much the franchise was or wasn’t aware of during Watson’s five years with the team, the McNair family may have been better-suited to settle, put out a brief statement sympathizing with these women, and going home for the weekend.
Meanwhile, Watson still awaits his potential suspension and the length of it, which could come down this week with training camp approaching. That decision is in the hands of Sue Robinson, a former federal judge who is the Disciplinary Officer for Watson’s case.
3. Gesicki, Schultz to play out tags in Miami, Dallas
Of the four franchise-tagged players on Friday, there was little drama around tight ends Mike Gesicki and Dalton Schultz of the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys, respectively.
Per source, there was never deep negotiation between Schultz and the Cowboys. While Dallas certainly values the 26-year-old tight end, he’ll have to prove his worth again to either earn a second tag of approximately $12 million or to hit free agency as a hot commodity.
Schultz broke out in 2020, catching 62 passes for 615 yards and four touchdowns. He ascending further in ’21, with 78 receptions, 808 yards and eight scores. With Amari Cooper now in Cleveland, Schultz should see increased targets. A good spot to be in.
As for Gesicki, the story is similar. He has a nice track record and with a strong 2022, could cash in with Miami or elsewhere. The main difference is while Schultz should see more passes thrown his way, Gesicki could see less. The Dolphins added receivers Tyreek Hill and Cedrick Wilson this winter, potentially lowering the former Penn State tight end down the weapons depth chart.
4. Raiders lead us into start of NFL training camps
It’s finally football season.
On Monday, the rookies will arrive to open the Las Vegas Raiders and Buffalo Bills camps, ushering in the 2022 season. The Raiders are the only teams to begin their slate on the July 18, with seven more beginning their campaigns on Tuesday. The last day to begin camps across the NFL is July 26.
With the relatively new schedule of 17 regular-season but only three preseason games — four for the Raiders and Jaguars who play in the Hall of Fame Game — it’ll be intriguing to see how coaches manage both the contact in camps and then the subsequent time for veterans during the exhibition docket. The guess here? We won’t see much from household names.
5. Bears take chance on N’Keal Harry in low-risk deal
The New England Patriots struggle drafting receivers. N’Keal Harry is the latest example.
In 2019, the Patriots selected Harry with the 32nd-overall pick, and last week, they traded him to the Chicago Bears for a seventh-round choice in 2024. Not ideal value. Harry, who has one year left on his deal is hoping to rehab his value before hitting unrestricted free agency. To this juncture, the former Arizona State Sun Devils star has 57 catches for 598 yards and four touchdowns in his career.
For the Bears, why not take a chance? The risk is almost zero, and on their depth chart, Harry should see significant snaps alongside rookie Velus Jones Jr., and veterans Darnell Mooney, Byron Pringle and Equiminious St. Brown. Frankly, if he can’t, this might be the end of his football road.
As for New England, this is a brutal outcome. The Patriots hoped Harry would become a. top weapon and instead, is one of the biggest busts in franchise history.
Of course, this also speaks to New England’s complete inability to draft top talent at receiver. The last wideout drafted by Bill Belichick in the first three rounds to become a legit contributor? Deion Branch, who was a second-round pick (No. 65 overall) and became Super Bowl XXXIX MVP amidst a nice career.
Not exactly a reason to love the Day 2 choice of Tyquan Thornton this year, but perhaps he changes the narrative.
Don’t sleep on Derek Carr as a potential MVP candidate.
It might seem a bizarre take, but Carr has a few factors in his favor. First, the Raiders have an incredible host of weapons including receivers Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow, and tight end Darren Waller. They also have a horrific defense on paper — save the edge rushers — which means Carr will likely be throwing a ton.
Additionally, the AFC West is the best division in football. If Carr wins it over Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Russell Wilson, he’s going to get national acclaim. This is especially true playing for the Raiders, who are one of the greatest brands in sports.
Is Carr a frontrunner for the award? Of course not, he’s the fourth-best quarterback in his own division. But if the Raiders are good this year and make a run, he might have the combination of huge stats and a great team season.
Inside the league
Last week, ESPN continued to release its positional rankings based on 50 front office votes. To the surprise of some, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson didn’t crack the top-10.
This comes as the Ravens and Jackson are in a contractual stalemate, with only one year left on his rookie deal. Of course, Baltimore has the ability to tag Jackson twice, giving it considerable leverage.
With every passing day, Jackson’s worth becomes increasingly murky. While we’re only talking about an arbitrary ranking, it lines up with what I’ve been told for the past 18 months, including to some degree in my column on May 30.
Bottom line? Jackson is an incredibly unique, talented and hard-working quarterback, who some believe will age poorly due to his style. There are also questions about whether Baltimore can win big come the playoffs with its current offensive scheme, something which is a broader conversation than Jackson and his skill set.
With training camp rapidly approaching, the Ravens and Jackson remain at an impasse. As games unfold, the calculus for a new deal — both favorably and unfavorably for both sides — can change in a moment.
Placekicking in the NFL has come an incredible distance.
Jan Stenerud was the first Hall of Famer who exclusively kicked. Playing 1967-85 with the Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers, the Norwegian made 66.8 percent of his field goal attempts.
In 2021, the Jets’ Matt Ammendola was the only kicker who connected on below 70 percent of his field goals at 68.4 percent.
Jameis Winston has an incredible opportunity ahead in 2022.
While the New Orleans Saints aren’t getting much Super Bowl hype, they have one of the league’s most-talented rosters. If Winston can play a smart, productive brand of ball, New Orleans could be a surprise challenger in the NFC.
Last season, the Saints played most of the games with Trevor Siemian and Taysom Hill under center. They were without star receiver Michael Thomas all year. This season, they’re getting Winston and Thomas back, they added safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye, and receivers Jarvis Landry and rookie Chris Olave.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the clear favorites in the NFC South and should be, but the Saints are fascinating. They have All-Pro caliber players at every level of their defense, three dynamic receivers, a quality offensive line and Alvin Kamara in the backfield.
How successful the Saints are largely comes down to new head coach Dennis Allen, and the maturation of Winston.