Vonn Bell

Latest On Bengals’ Secondary

Breakdowns in the secondary played a key role in the Bengals missing the postseason in 2023, and the team has made a number of moves in that area in recent months. The safety spot has seen the arrival of one veteran (Geno Stone) along with a reunion with another (Vonn Bell).

The latter was in Cincinnati from 2020-22, serving as a full-time starter alongside Jessie Bates during that time. Bell departed last offseason by inking a three-year Panthers pact, although he only wound up playing a single campaign in Carolina. Bell and the Bengals reunited on a one-year deal worth the veteran’s minimum in March.

The 29-year-old is, to no surprise, in line to reprise a starting role in his second Cincinnati stint. Bell took first-team reps during offseason practices, as detailed by Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic (subscription required). He and Stone occupying starter’s workloads would relegate Jordan Battle to a depth/special teams capacity. The 2023 third-rounder logged seven starts last season, but he was one of a number of Bengals defensive backs who struggled in coverage. The additions of Stone and Bell will provide the team with experienced options, although it will be interesting to see if Battle can compete for a full-time defensive gig in training camp.

Of course, one of the other main offseason developments the Bengals have seen is the transition of Dax Hill from safety to perimeter corner. The 2022 first-rounder was lauded for his positional versatility coming out of college, but things have not gone according to plan for him so far. Hill primarily played in the slot when he was used at corner with Michigan, making this summer an important time to acclimate to spending time on the outside.

If Hill manages to get comfortable with his new position, a starting role should await him in the fall. The 23-year-old worked with the first-team defense this spring, per the Dayton Daily News’ Laurel Pfahler. Hill and 2023 second-rounder DJ Turner could be competing for a starter’s spot during camp in a cornerback room which lost Chidobe Awuzie in free agency. Veteran slot man Mike Hilton and 21-game starter Cam Taylor-Britt are still in place from last season.

Cincinnati ranked 31st in the league in passing yards allowed last season, and the play of the team’s secondary will be worth watching closely in 2024. New faces at safety could provide needed stability on the backend while Hill’s success in playing at corner will no doubt go a long way in determining the team’s willingness to pick up his fifth-year option after the season ends. With three years remaining on their respective rookie deals , meanwhile, Battle and Turner will have plenty of time to regain first-team roles if they start the year in a rotational capacity.

Bengals To Bring Back S Vonn Bell

As they did with Hayden Hurst‘s deal, the Panthers bailed on Vonn Bell‘s three-year contract a year after authorizing it. The latter will have a bounce-back opportunity in a familiar place.

The Bengals have reached an agreement to re-sign Bell, according to his agency. Cincinnati had hoped to retain Bell in free agency last year; the team will now circle back to a player who spent three seasons as a starter with the team.

Offset language will help the Bengals on this deal as well. The Bengals will only be on the hook for veteran-minimum money to re-sign Bell on a one-year contract, with NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport noting the Panthers are responsible for another $6MM due to the recent cut. Like the Russell Wilson development, Bell’s minimum Bengals salary will cut into the amount the Panthers owe.

Bell spent three seasons starting alongside Jessie Bates in Cincinnati. While the Bengals were prepared to let Bates walk after franchise-tagging him in 2022, they wanted to keep Bell. A three-year, $22.5MM Panthers deal that featured $13MM guaranteed at signing nixed that plan, but after Carolina changed coaching staffs for a second straight year, it moved on from Bell earlier this week.

Now 29, Bell spent a year toiling for a 2-15 team. Despite the Panthers retaining DC Ejiro Evero, the team did not view the former Saints second-rounder as a fit for a second year. Pro Football Focus did view Bell as having slipped from his Cincy level, ranking him outside the top 60 among safeties. The Bengals will bet a return to Lou Anarumo‘s defense will benefit the Ohio State alum.

Bell started 48 games as a Bengal from 2020-22. PFF slotted the ex-second-rounder as a top-25 option at the position from 2020-21 and placed him 35th in ’22. His 12 tackles for loss from 2020-22 ranked sixth among safeties. The Bengals are also retooling at the position, having released Nick Scott one year after signing the ex-Ram. Cincinnati is also determining where to slot former first-round pick Daxton Hill. PFF rated the Michigan alum as a bottom-five safety last year, and Bengals player personnel director Duke Tobin said (via the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Kelsey Conway) the team is still determining the 2022 draftee’s position.

Hill, who trained behind Bates and Bell in 2022, played in the slot at Michigan. Tobin also said outside cornerback is also an option. As the Bengals pin down Hill’s role, Bell will provide the Bengals a proven option at safety.

Panthers To Move On From S Vonn Bell

Vonn Bells time with the Panthers has proven to be short-lived. The veteran safety will be traded or released, ESPN’s David Newton notes.

Bell inked a three-year, $22.5MM deal with the Panthers just last offseason. He was due a $3MM roster bonus later this week, and the Panthers decided to ultimately cost their losses and move on.

Bell’s lone season with the Panthers wasn’t a disaster by any means. He started each of his 13 appearances, finishing with 69 tackles and one interception. Pro Football Focus ranked the veteran only 61st among 95 qualifying safeties, although that ranking was partly dragged down by his poor run defense score.

Pro Football Focus previously gave Bell much higher scores, ranking him as an above-average safety in four of his five seasons between 2018 and 2022. Bell spent three of those five campaigns in Cincinnati, starting all 48 of his appearances while compiling five interceptions. He also started all seven of his playoff appearances for the Bengals, including the 2021 AFC Championship Game where he had a key overtime interception on Patrick Mahomes. The defensive back began his career with the Saints, with the former second-round pick starting 45 of his 61 appearances.

With a new general manager in Dan Morgan and new head coach in Dave Canales, the Panthers have been focused on shaving some of the fat off their roster. The organization is also set to move on from the likes of tight end Hayden Hurst, center Bradley Bozeman, and cornerback Donte Jackson.

Jonah Williams Trade Market Limited; Bengals T Blindsided By Brown Signing

Jonah Williams requested a trade out of Cincinnati shortly after the team gave Orlando Brown a four-year, $64MM contract. While many around the league view Brown’s best position as right tackle, the Bengals are accommodating the former Ravens and Chiefs blocker’s wish to play on the left side.

When the Bengals signed Brown, Williams learned about it like the rest of the football world did. The three-year Cincinnati left tackle starter was “blindsided” by the move, Kelsey Conway of the Cincinnati Enquirer tweets. The Bengals have talked about wanting Williams at right tackle, but Conway adds they did not communicate those plans to the former first-round pick ahead of time.

It is not exactly uncommon for teams to move forward with big-picture plans without informing players those strategies will affect, though franchises have made a habit of alerting quarterbacks to future additions at the position in recent years. The Bengals, however, did not expect to land Brown. The Pro Bowl tackle’s reps contacted the team, according to Bengals director of pro scouting Steven Radicevic (via The Athletic’s Paul Dehner Jr.).

Nearly three days after the legal tampering period gave agents permission to negotiate with teams, Brown remained unsigned. The Bengals entered free agency wanting to re-sign Vonn Bell, Germaine Pratt, Hayden Hurst and Samaje Perine, Dehner adds, noting the team viewed Jessie Bates as out of its price range. Bates signed a four-year, $64MM Falcons deal on the tampering period’s first day. Bell’s age prompted the Bengals to set a firm ceiling on his negotiations, leading the eighth-year safety to the Panthers, who later signed Hurst to what turned out to be this year’s top tight end deal. Perine defected to the Broncos for terms nearly identical to what the Bengals offered.

Brown’s camp showed interest in the Bengals on March 14; the sides agreed to terms March 15. Seeking a job on another contender, Brown said Joe Burrow‘s presence attracted him to Cincinnati; the Bengals will give him $42.4MM in the deal’s first two years. The upfront cash sealed the deal, per Dehner. The Bengals were looking at free agent tackles, Dehner adds, but initially eyeing lower-priced options. One of those coming to Cincinnati may not have led to Williams being moved off his starting spot without competition, but Brown’s pedigree will. As a result, Williams wants out.

Zac Taylor said this week he expects Williams to be back and partake in a competition at right tackle, a position the former has not played since his freshman season at Alabama. Going into a contract year, Williams wants to stay at his position.

We want guys that are willing to do to help us win games,” Taylor said, via Conway. “And I understand there’s comfort levels playing certain sides. Trust me, I played quarterback so I’m not going to sit there and pretend that I’ve got experience moving from right guard to left guard. I know that there’s some reps that need to take place to feel completely comfortable with that, but most of these guys have done it at some point in their career. So they’ve at least got experience doing it and that’s just the way it will go for us.”

Williams’ 6-foot-4, 305-pound frame was a factor in the team prioritizing the 6-8, 340-pound Brown, Conway adds, and Dehner notes Collins’ injury issues — which also included a back problem that prevented the ex-Cowboys standout from practicing on Wednesdays last season — and struggles in pass protection led to the Bengals pursuing tackles. Bengals O-line coach Frank Pollack has said the plan is for Collins to compete for the job, and Taylor alluded to former second-round pick Jackson Carman — a converted guard the team moved to tackle to replace Williams during the playoffs — being part of it as well.

Although an early report surfaced indicating Williams was generating interest from several teams, Outkick.com’s Armando Salguero notes no team has proven willing to send the Bengals a high draft choice for their hopeful right tackle. Williams is due $12.6MM on his fifth-year option this season. Teams like the Colts, Jets and Buccaneers would make sense as Williams destinations, but as of now, he is ticketed for what would be an unusual position battle with Collins, whom the Bengals gave a three-year, $21MM deal in 2022, and potentially Carman.

Both Williams and Collins are coming off season-ending knee injuries; Williams suffered a dislocated kneecap and Collins ACL and MCL tears. These maladies played a major role in the Chiefs prevailing in the teams’ AFC championship game rematch despite a gimpy Patrick Mahomes. Brown switching sides in this rivalry may lead to another falling domino, but as of now, no Williams trade is imminent.

Panthers, S Vonn Bell Agree To Deal

Both the Bengals’ starting safeties became eligible to negotiate with other teams Monday. While Jessie Bates has not committed to a deal yet, Vonn Bell is planning to leave Ohio.

The Panthers intend to sign Bell, Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL.com report. Bell will head back to the NFC South, joining his third NFL organization. Bates is expected to land a deal far north of his 2022 franchise tag price. This Bell-Carolina agreement points to the Bengals losing both their starting back-liners.

Bell agreed to a three-year deal worth $22.5MM, Albert Breer of SI.com tweets. He will be guaranteed $12MM, Joe Person of The Athletic adds (on Twitter). The Panthers are guaranteeing $6MM of Bell’s 2024 base salary, giving the veteran defender a bit of security. This contract marks a slight raise for Bell, who played out a three-year, $18MM Bengals deal last season.

The Bengals did come to terms with Germaine Pratt, keeping the fifth-year linebacker in the fold. This Bell departure may be the cost of that business. The Panthers, however, will be employing one of the NFL’s more consistent safeties. The former Saints second-round pick notched a career-high four interceptions last season. Despite going into his eighth NFL season, Bell is just 28.

Pro Football Focus viewed Bell as a top-25 safety in both 2020 and ’21. Last season, PFF slotted Bell 35th overall. But Bell was a constant in run support with the Bengals, posting 114- and 97-tackle seasons in 2020 and ’21. He also deflected eight passes in both 2021 and ’22. Bell will join Jeremy Chinn and Xavier Woods in Carolina, for the time being.

Although the Bengals retained Pratt, Kelsey Conway of the Cincinnati Enquirer notes they wanted to bring back Bell as well. Lou Anarumo expressed concern about the Bengals losing both Bates and Bell. That reality could be upon the AFC North champions, though they did begin preparing for at least one such departure by drafting Dax Hill in the 2022 first round. Hill did not see too much time as a rookie, but that will change in 2023.

2023 Top 50 NFL Free Agents

Super Bowl LVII provided the latest example of the value free agency can bring. The Chiefs revamped their receiving corps on last year’s market, while the Eagles acquired three defensive starters — including sack leader Haason Reddick. The Jaguars also used a March 2022 splurge to ignite their surprising surge to the divisional round.

Beginning with the legal tampering period, which starts at 3pm CT on Monday, and continuing with the official start to free agency (3pm Wednesday), the next several days represent a highlight on the NFL calendar. Which teams will change their 2023 outlooks for the better next week?

While the 2023 free agent class has absorbed its share of body blows and indeed lacks depth at certain spots, a few positions will bring waves of starter-level talent. Right tackle will invite some big-money decisions, and the safety and off-ball linebacker positions feature considerable depth. A few ascending talents and hidden gems appear in this class as well.

This list ranks free agents by earning potential. In terms of accomplishments, Bobby Wagner, Fletcher Cox and Lavonte David would lap most of the players included here. With each defender going into his age-33 season, however, the standouts’ ability to command big contracts is certainly not what it once was.

In terms of possible destinations, not every team is represented equally. Some teams will bring more needs and cap space into this year’s marketplace than others. With some help from Adam La Rose, here is this year’s PFR top 50 free agents list, along with potential landing spots for each player.

1. Orlando Brown Jr., T. Age in Week 1: 27

As the 49ers did two years ago with Trent Williams, the Chiefs will let Brown hit the market. This could end up benefiting the veteran tackle, who was offered a deal with an average annual value north of Williams’ tackle-record $23MM per year before last July’s franchise tag deadline. Citing insufficient guarantees, Brown turned it down. Kansas City’s offer did contain a bloated final year to bump up the AAV to $23.1MM, but will Brown – a quality left tackle but not a top-shelf option at the position – do as well this year? He will soon find out.

Brown has now made four Pro Bowls and carries positional versatility that would intrigue were he open to a return to right tackle, which by all accounts he is not. The 363-pound blocker can struggle against speed-rusher types, but he is set to be the rare accomplished left tackle in his prime to hit the market. The Chiefs sent a package including a first-round pick to the Ravens for Brown, whose bet on himself led to a $16.6MM tag and an open market. The bidding will run high, though it might not reach the places the Williams pursuit did in 2021.

The Chiefs’ exclusive negotiating rights with Brown end March 13; they have had nearly two years to complete a deal. The market will determine if the league views the sixth-year blocker as an elite-level left tackle or merely a good one. Then again, bidding wars drive up the prices for O-linemen on the market. O-line salary records have fallen four times (Williams, Corey Linsley, Joe Thuney, Brandon Scherff) in free agency since 2021. This foray could give Brown the guaranteed money he seeks, and it puts the Chiefs at risk of seeing their two-year left tackle depart. The Ravens also passed on this payment back in 2021, in part because they already had Ronnie Stanley on the payroll.

The defending champions have Brown and right tackle Andrew Wylie eligible for free agency; some of their leftover funds from the Tyreek Hill trade went to Brown’s tag. Although some among the Chiefs were frustrated Brown passed on last year’s offer, the team will be hurting at a premium position if he walks. Given the importance the blindside position carries, fewer teams are in need compared to right tackle. The Titans losing Taylor Lewan and continuing to clear cap space could point to a run at Brown, though the team has a few needs up front. The Jets likely have needs at both tackle spots. Would the Bears relocate Braxton Jones to the right side? Ryan Poles was with the Chiefs when they traded for Brown, and the Bears could outmuscle anyone for cap space.

Best fits: Titans, Chiefs, Commanders

2. Mike McGlinchey, T. Age in Week 1: 28

Teams in need of right tackles will participate in one of the more interesting markets in recent memory. Above-average-to-good offensive linemen do well in free agency annually, and this year will send three experienced right tackles in their prime to the market. A five-year starter in San Francisco and former top-10 pick, McGlinchey has a good case as the best of this lot. The five-year vet’s run-blocking craft eclipses his pass-protection chops exiting Year 5, but he will walk into a competitive market. The former Notre Dame left tackle should have a lucrative deal in place during next week’s legal tampering period.

Although mutual interest existed regarding a second 49ers-McGlinchey agreement, John Lynch acknowledged the only viable path for McGlinchey to stay in San Francisco would be his market underwhelming. That seems unlikely, so right tackle-seeking teams – and there are a handful – will jockey for the sixth-year veteran. McGlinchey turned 28 in January, making this his obvious window to cash in. He rated fifth in ESPN’s run block win rate stat last season, bouncing back from the quadriceps injury that ended his 2021 season.

There is no shortage of Kyle Shanahan– or Sean McVay-influenced schemes around the league. The Bears employ Luke Getsy as their play-caller; Getsy worked for Shanahan/McVay tree branch Matt LaFleur, and the Bears’ cap space dwarfs every other team’s. After fielding a shaky O-line (on a team full of substandard position groups), Chicago needs a better idea of Justin Fields’ trajectory. Outbidding the field for the top right tackle available is a good start. The Patriots want a right tackle – on a line without a big contract presently – and the Raiders might have a say here as well. In need at multiple O-line spots, Las Vegas will have cash as well if it passes on a big QB investment.

Best fits: Bears, Patriots, Raiders

3. Jawann Taylor, T. Age in Week 1: 26

As expected, the Jaguars took Evan Engram off the market via the franchise tag. The tight end tag being $7MM cheaper than the $18.2MM offensive lineman tag always pointed Taylor toward free agency, and after never missing a start in four Duval County seasons, Taylor will be tough for the Jags to retain. They already drafted Walker Little in the 2021 second round, and no team that is currently paying a left tackle top-10 money (Cam Robinson is seventh) has a top-10 right tackle contract on the books. Taylor is expected to land at least a top-10 right tackle deal, with a $17MM-AAV figure being floated. That would place the former Florida Gator in the top five at the position, depending on how McGlinchey fares next week.

Taylor resembles the genre of player that usually populates the top of a position’s free agency market: a dependable performer who checks in below the top tier at his job. Taylor enjoyed his strongest year in his platform campaign. The former second-round pick dropped his hold count from 11 in 2021 to two in 2022. While PFF charged Taylor with five sacks allowed, Football Outsiders measured his blown-block rate at a career-low 1.3%. Offering a disparate skillset compared to McGlinchey, Taylor has fared better as a pass protector than in the run game. PFF slotted him as a top-10 pass protector among right tackles but viewed him as a dismal run-blocker.

The Jags have presumably made Taylor an offer, but other teams will probably top it. The Dolphins gave Terron Armstead a five-year, $75MM deal in 2022 but have needed a right tackle ever since Ja’Wuan James’ 2019 exit. They were forced to start in-season pickup Brandon Shell for much of the year and have cleared more than $45MM in cap space over the past two days. The team just picked up Tua Tagovailoa‘s fifth-year option, and the league’s lone southpaw starting QB needs better blindside protection after a season in which he suffered at least two concussions. Overspending on O-linemen is not the Patriots’ M.O., but they have a need at right tackle and do not have big dollars devoted to quarterback or any position up front. New England is on the hunt for a right tackle upgrade, and the team’s 2021 free agency showed it would spend when it deemed expenditures necessary.

Best fits: Dolphins, Patriots, Jaguars

4. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB. Age in Week 1: 31

The quarterback market cleared up this week, seeing Geno Smith and Daniel Jones extended and Derek Carr’s lengthy street free agency stretch end with $70MM in practical guarantees. Garoppolo’s injury history will affect his value, but teams kind of make it a priority to staff this position. The former Super Bowl starter is in his prime and on the market for the first time. How high this market goes will depend on what the Raiders want and what Aaron Rodgers decides.

The 49ers’ 12-game win streak that included Brock Purdy’s stunning displays began with Garoppolo at the controls. Guiding San Francisco to four straight wins, Garoppolo was at or close to his best when he suffered a broken foot in Week 13. He sported a 7-0 TD-INT ratio during that win streak and closed the season 16th in QBR. He would have walked into a better market had the injury not occurred; the setback came after a string of health issues. He tore an ACL in 2018, missed 10 games in 2020 after an ankle sprain and was significantly limited by the end of the 2021 slate due to a three-injury season. Garoppolo’s March 2022 shoulder surgery hijacked his trade market.

Ideally for Garoppolo, Rodgers returns to Green Bay or retires. While that is looking unlikelier by the day, it would put the Jets in a desperate position following Carr’s decision. The Raiders represent the other wild card. Garoppolo would slide into Josh McDaniels’ system seamlessly, given the parties’ three-plus years together in New England. The Raiders have operated a bit more stealthily compared to the Jets; they have been connected to Rodgers, Garoppolo and rolling with a rookie. Plan C here would be a tough sell given the presences of 30-year-old skill-position players Davante Adams and Darren Waller, but Las Vegas’ plans cloud Garoppolo’s market. If the Raiders pass and Rodgers chooses the Jets, Garoppolo’s earning power could drop.

McDaniels not fancying a Garoppolo reunion opens the door for the Texans, who hired ex-49ers pass-game coordinator Bobby Slowik as OC, and others. Houston’s situation may not appeal to Garoppolo, but Slowik and Nick Caserio being in Houston make this connection too clear to ignore. The Buccaneers and Commanders are in win-now positions but are giving indications they do not want to spend much at QB. The Commanders were deep in talks for the then-49ers QB last year, however. Garoppolo will test those squads, along with the Falcons, who are entering Year 3 of the Terry FontenotArthur Smith regime. The Panthers’ acquisition of the No. 1 pick likely takes them out of the running, and Carolina not being in the mix could also affect how high the Garoppolo price goes.

Bottom line, there should be enough teams interested in staffing their 2023 QB1 spots that the best free agent option should do OK no matter what happens with Rodgers.

Best fits: Raiders, Texans, Commanders

5. Jamel Dean, CB. Age in Week 1: 26

The Buccaneers retained Carlton Davis last year, but their dire cap situation should force a Dean departure. Dean’s age/performance combination should make him this year’s top cornerback available. With corner a position of need for many teams, the former third-round pick stands to do very well. Dean has only been a full-time starter in one season, however, seeing his defensive snap share jump from 67% in 2021 to 90% last season.

Excelling in press coverage, Dean played a major role for the 2020 Super Bowl champion Bucs iteration and overtook fellow free agent Sean Murphy-Bunting last year. Dean did perform better in 2021 compared to 2022, allowing no touchdowns and limiting QBs to a collective 50.0 passer rating; those numbers shot up to four and 86.0 last season. Still, PFF rated Dean as last year’s 10th-best corner. J.C. Jackson did not break into the top five among corners upon hitting the market last year; Dean should not be expected to do so, either. But many teams will be interested.

The Patriots have paid up for a corner previously, in Stephon Gilmore (2017), but Jonathan Jones – forced to primarily play a boundary role in 2022 – wants to re-sign and will be far cheaper than Dean. The Falcons need help opposite AJ Terrell and trail only the Bears in cap space. Although a Terrell payment is coming, it can be tabled to 2024 due to the fifth-year option. The Dolphins are clearing cap space and now have a corner need, with Byron Jones no longer with the team after his missed season.

Best fits: Dolphins, Falcons, Patriots

6. Jessie Bates, S. Age in Week 1: 26

Bates stands to be one of this free agency crop’s safest bets, combining extensive experience – the final two years as a pillar for a championship threat – with a host of prime years remaining. Beginning his career at 21, the Wake Forest product has started 79 games and anchored the Bengals’ secondary for most of his tenure. The Bengals did not tag Bates for a second time, passing on a $15.5MM price. With the team planning to let Bates test the market, it looks like the sixth-year defender will leave Cincinnati.

The Bengals and Bates went through two offseasons of negotiations, ending in the 2022 tag. The Bengals have some big payments to make at higher-profile positions. Safety does not qualify as such, but Bates has been a cornerstone in Lou Anarumo’s defense and will be handsomely rewarded. Bates finished as Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 overall safety in 2020 and, after a shakier 2021 in which he admitted his contract situation affected his play, Bates came through with impact plays in the postseason. He graded as a top-25 safety, via PFF, in 2022.

Safety is one of this year’s deeper positions in free agency. Of the top 10 safety contracts, however, only one went to a free agent (Marcus Williams in 2022). Bates should be expected to join the Ravens defender, who signed for $14MM per year. It will be interesting if he can climb into the top five at the position; Justin Simmons’ $15.25MM-AAV accord sits fifth. Bates should be expected to approach or eclipse that, though moving to the Derwin JamesMinkah Fitzpatrick tier will be more difficult. Still, after the Bengals offered Bates less than $17MM guaranteed last summer, he should depart for more guaranteed money.

The Browns are interested in Bates, who will cost more than John Johnson cost Cleveland two years ago (three years, $33.75MM). Clear of the record-setting Matt Ryan dead-money hit, the Falcons have cash to spend and a Terry FontenotArthur Smith regime entering Year 3. The Falcons need to make progress, and they do not have much in the way of talent or costs at safety. The team has not featured much here since the Keanu NealRicardo Allen tandem splintered. Bates would be a way to remedy that.

Team fits: Falcons, Browns, Raiders

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Bengals To Let Germaine Pratt Test Market; Team Unlikely To Keep Both Jessie Bates, Vonn Bell

The Bengals have both been successful in identifying pieces on Day 2 of the draft and via free agency in recent years. Not all of Cincinnati’s big investments have hit, but the team will soon face decisions regarding some of the moves that did.

Jessie Bates, Vonn Bell and Germaine Pratt are 12 days from free agency and can begin talking with other teams, via the legal tampering period, two days before the market officially opens. The two-time reigning AFC North champions face the prospect of losing all three starting defenders. Cincinnati does reside near the top of the league in terms of cap space, holding $35.6MM. The team has not committed to moving on from any of these players, but each is poised to hit the market.

We want them back,” director of player personnel Tobin said (via The Athletic’s Jay Morrison) of the aforementioned trio. “It’ll be dependent on how much they’re offered from other teams, if they’re offered from other teams, and how much we have in the resources to bring them back.”

After franchise-tagging Bates last year, the Bengals do not appear likely to use their tag by Tuesday’s deadline. Bates, 26, would cost more than $15MM to keep on the tag again. After two years of failed negotiations, the former second-round pick is poised to be one of the top free agents available. Bates and Bell teamed up as starters for the past three seasons, and while the Bengals did draft Dax Hill in the first round last year, their safety spot will take a hit if both depart.

Bates has been one of the NFL’s best safeties for a few seasons, while Bell — who played out a three-year, $18MM deal — proved solid for a team that began a shift in terms of an openness to outside free agents during the 2020 offseason, when it added Bell, Trae Waynes and D.J. Reader. Both Bates and Bell graded as top-35 safeties, via Pro Football Focus, last season. PFF graded Bell as a top-25 safety in 2020 and ’21, and although he is seeking a third contract, he should still have a decent market.

The Bell and Reader additions bolstered a team with Joe Burrow beginning his rookie contract. Burrow is likely to start the 2023 season on a monster extension, which will limit how Cincinnati can allocate its resources. The Bengals also may be keeping the option open of a Tee Higgins extension, which will be an uphill battle considering Burrow’s imminent deal and Ja’Marr Chase‘s trajectory. That will affect how the Bengals use their cap space this year, and Tobin confirmed bringing back both Bates and Bell should not be expected. Bell, 28, will be the more affordable option to retain.

To me it’s important to get every good player back that contributed to our success,” Tobin said (via the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Kelsey Conway) when asked if the Bengals could retain both Bell and Bates. “Is it realistic? Probably not, but is it important? Yes. We aren’t going to freeze out options with any of them. It will be dependent on other deals we are able to get done as the offseason goes on and what the market is for those guys.

“Can everybody fit in at the top value that they want? No. Maybe some guys don’t get that value and want to come back, we’ll see.”

With Logan Wilson entering a contract year, Pratt seems likely to depart. The Bengals use Wilson as a three-down linebacker, while Pratt often came off the field on third downs this season. That became a point of contention with the 2019 third-round pick. He should be expected to leave in free agency, Dehner adds. Like running back, this free agent class is loaded with talent at the off-ball linebacker spots. Pratt might find tougher sledding compared to his safety teammates on the market. PFF still graded Pratt as a top-20 linebacker last season, when he made a career-high 99 tackles and intercepted two passes.

NFL COVID-19 List Updates: 1/4/22-1/5/22

Here are Tuesday and Wednesday’s activations from and placements on the reserve/COVID-19 lists:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers

  • Activated from reserve/COVID-19 list: TE Jared Cook, LB Damon Lloyd (remains on IR)

Minnesota Vikings

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tennessee Titans

Washington Football Team

Contract Details: Funchess, Packers, Bell, Bengals, Vigil, Chargers

A few more recent contract figures to pass along:

  • Devin Funchess, WR (Packers): One year, $2.5MM. The $2.5MM is a far cry from the one-year, $10MM deal he got from the Colts last offseason. He got a $1MM signing bonus, $1.2MM base salary, and an extra couple hundred thousand in workout and roster bonuses. He has another $3.75MM in incentives available (via Tom Pelissero of NFL Network).
  • Vonn Bell, S (Bengals): Three years, $18MM. Bell got a $3MM signing bonus, with a $3MM base salary in 2020 and $1MM reporting bonus. He has base salaries of $4.1MM and $6.1MM in 2021 and 2022 respectively, with $400K in roster and workout bonuses in each of those years (via Albert Breer of SI.com).
  • Nick Vigil, LB (Chargers): One year, $2.4MM. Vigil had to settle for a prove-it deal despite starting 16 games for the Bengals last year. He got a $500K signing bonus, $1.9MM base salary, and can earn an additional $600K in playing-time incentives.


Bengals To Sign Vonn Bell

The Bengals’ defensive overhaul continues. On Wednesday, the Bengals agreed to terms with safety Vonn Bell, according to Mike Garafolo and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Once finalized, it’ll be a three-year deal.

Garafolo adds in a separate tweet that the contract is worth $18MM, $7MM of which will be paid out in 2020.

Bell, 25 (26 in December), entered the league as a second-round pick of the Saints back in 2016. He spent four years there, up until now. There was some chatter of the Saints re-signing him, but Sean Payton & Co. elected to instead bring back old friend Malcolm Jenkins.

In 2019, Bell started in all 13 of his games and finished out with 89 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, and one interception. Now, he’ll move on to the Bengals where he joins fellow newcomers D.J. Reader, Trae WaynesXavier Su’a-Filo, Mackensie Alexander, and Josh Bynes. At safety, he’ll be accompanied by Jessie Bates, Shaun Williams, and likely a couple more names between now and the start of the season.