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Wayback Wednesday: Most Disappointing Free Agent Signings in Bengals History

This list is.... rough!

March has arrived and that means the start of a new NFL league year. Free agency takes center stage later this month. Last week we looked back at the best free agent signings in Bengals history.

It's time to switch gears and focus on the biggest free agency disappointments. The team has largely avoided paying big money to brand-name players, but there are whiffs scattered throughout the years. In a crucial offseason for the franchise's future, fans are hopeful whoever comes in for support produces more than these former free agent duds.

1. Antonio Bryant, WR, Signed: March 2010

Most people pick Hall-of-Famer Anthony Muñoz as the no-brainer choice for the greatest Bengal ever. Antonio Bryant being first on this list is just as big of a no-brainer.

Bryant was a burgeoning star with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, breaking out for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns in 2008. The red flags began waiving when he dealt with a left knee issue the following year, missing three games before eventually having surgery. Cincinnati was looking for another quality option in the passing game to pair with Chad Johnson. 

Cincinnati signed Bryant to a four-year, $27 million deal. His knee issues kept him from participating in offseason activities. He practiced once, but was ultimately cut before he played a snap in stripes. The gaffe cost Cincinnati $8 million and the medical staff quickly found themselves on the unemployment line. The Bengals brought in Terrell Owens, who fared well in his lone season in Cincinnati, even though the team was a disappointment. 

2. Laveranues Coles, WR, Signed: March 2009

The beginning of a one-two punch of mistakes at wide receiver, Laveranues Coles' lone season in Cincinnati was a huge disappointment. His failure was part of the reason why the team went after Bryant the following offseason. Coles caught 43 passes for 514 yards and five touchdowns. That's respectable for a player on a rookie deal, not the fifth-highest paid receiver in the NFL.

The Bengals signed Coles to replace T.J. Houshmandzadeh, but both sides were "better together." Housh and Coles only spent one season on their new teams.

Coles ranked 37th in Football Outsider's DVOA in 2009. He was 93rd in receiving yards per game and caught just 56% of his targets. His tenure was punctuated by a lost fumble against the Jets in the 2010 Wild Card Round on the Bengals opening drive of the game. Cincinnati released him in March 2010.

3. Antwan Odom, DE, Signed: March 2008

Antwan Odom flashed potential during his time with the Bengals, but never took the next step that the team hoped he would take when they added him to the roster. Cincinnati signed Odom to a five-year, $29.5 million deal in the 2008 offseason. At the time, it was the most money the team had ever given out to an external free agent.

Odom couldn't stay healthy in the three seasons he spent in the Queen City. He played in 22 games across three seasons, finishing with just 11 sacks before being cut in July 2011. 

It wasn't all bad for Odom, who shot out of a cannon with a blistering September in 2009, stamped by a five-sack masterpiece against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The Bengals won 31-24 behind the eighth-most sacks in a game by an NFL player—a team record that hasn't been topped.

Honorable Mentions

Gus Frerotte, QB, Signed: May 2002

Gus Frerotte beat out Jon Kitna for the starting quarterback job in training camp. Frerotte started three games and got a quick pull from Dick Labeau after completing 51.8% of his passes for 437 yards, one touchdown, and five interceptions.

Frerotte became the eighth quarterback to start for the Bengals from 1997-2002. That group included Jeff Blake, Neil O'Donnell, Akili Smith and Kitna. Only four quarterbacks across the league had a worse DVOA than Frerotte in his one-year run with the Bengals.

Preston Brown, LB, Signed: March 2019

The Bengals signed Preston Brown to a one-year deal in 2018. They signed him to a three-year, $16.5 million contract in 2019. The contract was surprising and it didn't last long. Cincinnati ended up cutting him halfway through the 2019 season. 

Brown fell into the theme of aging linebackers signing with Cincinnati. He ranked fourth on the team in tackles when he was released, but his coverage skills didn't follow. According to Pro Football Focus, Brown gave up 20 receptions on 21 targets for 213 yards and two touchdowns in 2019, grading 81st overall out of 90 qualified players. Brown only played one more game in the NFL after being released by the Bengals. He is currently a free agent and wasn't on a team in 2020.

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