1. The biggest fish the Bengals reeled in (both figuratively and literally) during the first week of free agency was D.J. Reader, who received a four-year, $53 million deal from Cincinnati. What are your thoughts on the value of that contract for what Reader brings to the table, and what are the reasons that he was a prime target for the Bengals?
I’m here to tell you right now that Bengals fans didn’t care about any value here. When they saw the player and contract and the word #Bengals next to them, there was a collective elation in Cincinnati. They never do this, literally. This is the biggest contract the Bengals have ever given to an external free agent, EVER. We’re still waiting to see the details of Reader’s contract, but his average annual value matches what overthecap.com projected he’d make almost exactly. It’s a good deal for a very good player. Reader is known as a nose tackle but played 66% of his snaps as an under tackle last year, which was also his best year with the Texans. The Bengals love that he can play multiple techniques effectively and provide a pass rushing presence next to Geno Atkins while still being a run-stopping menace. They also value his character and believe he can be a leader in the locker room, which is important to them as much as it is a cliche to everyone else.
2. In addition to Reader, the Bengals handed a second top-tier contract on the defensive side to former Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes. Where does Waynes fit into the Cincinnati defense, and how much of an upgrade do you think he will be over what the Bengals got from the cornerback position in 2019?
Waynes will start as the left cornerback in the Bengals defense with William Jackson III keeping his spot at right cornerback. This means Dre Kirkpatrick is almost surely out of a starting job, and Waynes is an...interesting replacement for him. Waynes is a better tackler and more physical at the line of scrimmage, and that’s what the team has said they love about him, but the two are extremely similar in terms of coverage ability, and that trumps run support by a mile for cornerbacks. I think ultimately they’ll get similar production with less missed tackles with Waynes, and that’s probably not worth the contract they gave him.
3. The Bengals let former first round pick Darqueze Dennard walk after a season in which he only played nine games, but appeared to be solid when healthy. How would you summarize Dennard’s Bengals career? Where will the Bengals look to replace Dennard, and do you agree with their decision to part ways with him?
It took a while, but Dennard eventually turned into one of the best slot defenders in the league. Because of that, I don’t consider him a bust by any means. The problem was that he wanted to prove himself as a boundary corner and he couldn’t stay healthy. That’s why the Bengals wanted to look in a different direction, and I completely understand it. Luckily, they’ve replaced him with Mackensie Alexander, another former Vikings cornerback, who brings a very similar skillset that Dennard had. And they got him for cheap. They handled this situation correctly.
4. Andy Dalton remains on the Bengals’ roster as he is set to have a $17.7 million cap hit in the final year of his contract. With the Bengals presumably getting set to name Joe Burrow their franchise quarterback in about a month, what does Dalton’s future in Cincinnati look like?
There is no future with him in Cincinnati. With Cam Newton recently getting cut by the Panthers, that should be the telltale sign that the same will ultimately happen to Dalton. They want his contract off of the books and already ruined any chance of him getting traded. It’s only a matter of time at this point.
5. Yes, we are only slightly over a week into the new league year, but how do you feel about the early goings of Cincinnati’s offseason? Patching holes, acquiring long-term pieces, finding value, salvaging scheme fits, avoiding harmful mistakes, maintaining cap flexibility. . . what would your letter grade be for Cincy’s ability to achieve those goals thus far?
I’ll give them a B. The Reader and Alexander signings are objectively great. The Waynes deal is a tough pill to swallow but there’s a chance he can become a slightly better player in a different scheme. They signed OL Xavier Su’a-Filo for what’s essentially a one-year deal but it seems like they expect him to start at right guard, which is a bad idea. He’s not helping their offensive line problems and they still haven’t signed a single linebacker, which means they’ll be looking to solve that issue in the draft, which is another risky venture. But I appreciate their knowledge of positional value and their willingness to be more aggressive. It was a much better week than most people thought it would be.