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The Bengals' aggressiveness in free agency opens the door for a quick turnaround

The Bengals' aggressiveness in free agency opens the door for a quick turnaround in 2020
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The Bengals won’t be able to address all of their needs in the NFL Draft, which is why being active in free agency was vital for both their short and long-term success.

In the past, they’ve seemed comfortable sitting back and watching as top players signed with new teams. Year in and year out the Bengals would watch as good players would switch jerseys. True contenders are aggressive in free agency. The Patriots, Broncos, Seahawks, Rams, Eagles, Chiefs and 49ers are just a few of the teams that have made key offseason acquisitions that helped them reach the Super Bowl.

That’s why the past few weeks have been so refreshing for Bengals fans. The organization has added nearly $145 million to the payroll over that span. It wasn’t a secret that they wanted to be active in free agency, but no one thought they’d be this aggressive.

Here’s a look at each signing and the impact they could have for the Bengals:

D.J. Reader, DT — The Bengals agreed to a four-year, $53 million contract with the former Texans defensive tackle.

Reader was the first free agent the team signed this offseason. The combination of Geno Atkins and Reader has the potential to be a nightmare for opponents. The Bengals are going up against some of the most physical teams in the NFL. The Ravens, Steelers and Browns will all lean on their rushing attack this season, which is something Reader should be able to help against. He only has 6.5 career sacks, but his presence should have a much bigger impact than the numbers show.

The Bengals still have plenty of needs, but most teams would love to have Carlos Dunlap, Carl Lawson and Sam Hubbard coming off the edge with Atkins and Reader at defensive tackle.

Reader, 25, should be entering his prime, which makes him a great fit on the young Bengals.

Free Agent Grade: A

Trae Waynes — The Bengals signed Waynes to a three-year, $42 million contract.

Waynes wasn’t expected to command $14 million per season. The Bengals’ spending shows how serious they are about competing in 2020 and beyond.

Waynes has seven interceptions in five seasons. He gave up some big plays in Minnesota, but he’ll still be an upgrade from what they had in 2019. The Bengals allowed 70 passes of 20 or more yards last season, which was the third worst in the NFL.

Waynes replaces recently released cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. William Jackson III is in a contract year. He’ll be motivated to have a big season so he can cash in with the Bengals or another team in free agency.

Waynes may not be a dominant corner, but he makes their secondary better.

Free Agent Grade: C+

Mackensie Alexander — The Bengals signed Alexander to a one-year, $4 million contract.

The Bengals made up for the lack of value in the Waynes deal by signing his former teammate to a low-risk contract. Alexander will replace Darqueze Dennard as the starting nickel corner.

This makes the Waynes contract much easier to stomach, at least for one season. The trio of Jackson, Waynes and Alexander is younger and more talented than what the Bengals had at corner last season.

Free Agent Grade: B+

Josh Bynes — The Bengals signed Bynes to a one-year, $1.6 million contract.

Bynes was a necessary signing after Nick Vigil agreed to a deal with the Chargers. The Bengals will likely draft a linebacker on day two of the NFL Draft, but signing a veteran was important. They won’t have to be overly reliant on a rookie to come in and perform right away.

Bynes is entering his 10 NFL season. He’s played for the Ravens, Cardinals and Lions. The 30-year-old finished last year with a 76.2 grade according to Pro Football Focus, which was the 18 best grade among qualifying linebackers.

Bynes is an upgrade, but he isn’t the solution. The Bengals have to add to their linebacker room in the draft.

Free Agent Grade: B

Xavier Su'a-Filo — The Bengals signed Su'a-Filo to a three-year, $9 million contract

This is a questionable signing on the surface. Su'a-Filo only made 12 starts in two seasons with Dallas and was hampered by injuries. The former second-round pick has a lot to prove. He's penciled in as the starting right guard. Things could change if the Bengals select an interior offensive lineman early in the NFL Draft.  

This contract is essentially a one-year deal. The Bengals have an out after the 2020 season. If Su'a-Filo struggles or can’t stay healthy, then they aren’t locked into his contract long-term.

Free Agent Grade: C-

Vonn Bell — The Bengals signed Bell to a three-year, $18 million contract.

The Bengals continued to be aggressive in free agency by striking a deal with former Saints safety and Ohio State alum.

Bell led the NFL with five forced fumbles last season and should help Cincinnati in a variety of ways — including run support. He’s had at least 83 tackles in each of his four NFL seasons.

This signing gives defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo the flexibility to move Shawn Williams into a hybrid linebacker/safety role.

Bell, 25, fits the profile that the Bengals are targeting: young, but experienced players that can help re-build the culture at Paul Brown Stadium.

Jessie Bates will look to take a step forward in year three. The addition of Bell should make everyone in the secondary better. He’s arguably their best free agent signing.

Free Agent Grade: B+

The Bengals also spent an estimated $18.5 million when they used the franchise tag on A.J. Green. The 31-year-old wide receiver didn’t play in a game last season after suffering an ankle injury in training camp. The Bengals hope the seven-time pro bowler can rebound in 2020.

Adding to the team in free agency was the first step. Now it’s up to Mike Brown, Duke Tobin and company to have a productive draft. If the Bengals make the right selections, they have a chance to be competitive just one year after having the worst record in the NFL.