NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2020 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from Bill Barnwell. The new league year began March 18, which meant free-agent signings can be made official after that. The first round of the 2020 NFL draft begins April 23.
D.J. Reader, DT
The Bengals agreed to a four-year, $53 million contract with former Texans defensive tackle D.J. Reader.
What it means: The Bengals added a significant piece to fortify the middle of their defensive line. Reader doesn't put a ton of pressure on opposing quarterbacks or fill up the stat sheet, but he can be an imposing presence. But perhaps more importantly, Reader's acquisition shows the Bengals are willing to spend a significant amount on external free agents to improve the roster. With Cincinnati experiencing its worst season since 2002, the Bengals are in need of several upgrades across a roster that is in the middle of a deep rebuild.
What's the risk: Cincinnati's front office has been hesitant to spend in free agency. If Reader doesn't work out, it could have an adverse effect on how talent is added in future years. And Reader's strengths may not necessarily solve the defense's major problems. Getting improved play from its linebackers could still help an ailing Cincinnati defense. And the Bengals still need to increase the effectiveness of the pass rush. Reader has never registered more than 2.5 sacks in a single season. With Reader committed, Cincinnati may not be willing to spend more cash this offseason to address other major concerns on one of the league's worst defenses.
Trae Waynes, CB
The Bengals agreed to a three-year, $42 million contract with former Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes.
What it means: Waynes will help the back end of a defense that allowed several big plays through the air in 2019. Last season, the Bengals allowed 70 completions of 20 yards or more, according to ESPN Stats & Info, the third-highest total in the league. With a three-year deal worth $42 million, the Bengals are looking at Waynes to be a starting outside cornerback. The 27-year-old out of Michigan State is also a former first-round pick. Two Bengals starters in 2019 drafted that high were also outside cornerbacks -- fifth-year player William Jackson and 2012 pick Dre Kirkpatrick, who are also still on the roster.
What's the risk: Waynes had seven interceptions in five seasons with the Vikings. He had only one in each of the past two seasons. The Bengals need to create more turnovers in 2020. While Waynes is a major upgrade, he will still need to increase the number of takeaways to make the most of his contract. Last season, the Bengals had 11 interceptions, which tied for 22nd in the league.
A.J. Green, WR
Why he was franchise tagged: Green didn't play a single snap in 2019 after he tore multiple ankle ligaments during the first practice of the preseason. It added to an injury history that has increased over the years. He has missed 23 of the past 24 games. He is scheduled to make a projected $18.5 million for the 2020 season under the franchise tag after the two sides were unable to agree on a long-term deal.
What he brings: When healthy, Green is one of the league's most dynamic receivers. And if the Bengals take Joe Burrow with the No. 1 overall pick as expected, Green could be a massive asset to aid the quarterback's development during his rookie season. The Bengals also need another dynamic receiver to open up the passing attack.
The Bengals reached a three-year deal with Su'a-Filo.
What it means: Cincinnati has been very proactive in shoring up the middle of their offensive line. The Bengals added Su’a-Filo hours after they released starting offensive guard John Miller, who signed a three-year deal last offseason. Su’a-Filo should be expected to compete for one of the starting guard positions next year. Second-year player Michael Jordan will also be in the mix for starting spot in 2020. Su’a-Filo comes to Cincinnati with six years of experience under his belt. During a career that includes stops in Houston and Dallas, he has made 53 starts.
What's the risk: Su’a-Filo did not play more than 11 games in his two-year stint in Dallas. In 2019, he made four starts for the Cowboys after starting eight games in 2018. The Bengals need improved play from an offensive line that ranked 27th in the league last season in Pass Block Win Rate, an ESPN metric powered by NFL Next Gen Stats. If Su’a-Filo and the rest of Cincinnati’s line can’t take care of business, it will make things difficult for potential rookie quarterback Joe Burrow.
The Bengals have agreed to a one-year, $4 million contract with the former Vikings cornerback.
What it means: Alexander is the second cornerback to leave the Vikings for Cincinnati. Alexander, a former second round-pick out of Clemson, joins Waynes, who agreed to a three-year deal earlier this week. Alexander’s signing comes after the Bengals lost Darqueze Dennard to the Jaguars. Alexander, like Dennard, is mostly a slot cornerback, but Alexander’s $4 million contract is much more affordable than Dennard’s three-year deal worth $13.5 million. Given how well Dennard played both the pass and the run, Alexander will have a key role for a defense that was one of the worst in the NFL last season.
What's the risk: Fairly minimal. It’s a manageable short-term contract that fills a key void left by Dennard. Cincinnati can also use some of the cap savings that came with cutting cornerback B.W. Webb earlier this week. Alexander can be a valuable addition for a team trying to balance defensive upgrades with staying within the front office’s budget, one that still has to account for an incoming draft class and various other costs for the upcoming season. If Alexander works out, he’ll have a strong case for a long-term deal in 2021.
Josh Bynes, LB
The Bengals are bringing in former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Josh Bynes on a one-year deal.
What it means: On the surface, this may not seem like a big move for the Bengals. But for a defense depleted at linebacker, landing Bynes was a very necessary one. After Nick Vigil opted to sign with the Chargers on a one-year deal, Cincinnati was very thin in the middle of the defense. Outside of Germaine Pratt, no other linebacker on the roster played more than 8% of the team's defensive snaps. Pratt, a third-round pick in 2019, moved into that role during the middle of the year. Bynes is a vital addition at this point in free agency.
What's the risk: With Bynes on a one-year deal, there is very little risk in adding him to the roster. Given Bynes' previous experience in Baltimore, he is a player the Bengals are very familiar with. If the 30-year-old doesn't end up being a key contributor, Cincinnati's defense will likely be in serious trouble in 2020. Bynes started seven games in his lone season with the Ravens, so he should receive significant time in the Bengals' linebacker rotation.
Vonn Bell, S
The Bengals are bringing in former New Orleans Saints safety Vonn Bell on a three-year deal.
What it means: Cincinnati’s overhaul of its secondary continued during free agency’s second week. Bell, a former second-round pick, gives the Bengals a legitimate starting option at safety. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo will have more flexibility at the top of his secondary after having constraints last season. Theoretically, Anarumo can put Bell and Jessie Bates behind at the two traditional safety slots while spinning Shawn Williams into a nickelback. Williams lined up as a linebacker for most of 2019 and could help solve the depth issue at that position in 2020.
What's the risk: Bell’s contract is a considerable investment at this point in free agency. So far, Cincinnati has spent at least $145 million during free agency, with a bulk of that going toward overhauling one of the league’s worst defenses last season. If Bell doesn’t pan out and there’s a still a fair amount left on his deal over the next two season, that could delay Cincinnati’s rebuilding process. That also increases the difficulty of ending a 4-year playoff drought.