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Cincinnati Bengals ‘unlikely’ to be aggressive in NFL free agency: 5 underrated targets to pursue

After reaching the AFC Conference Championship in back-to-back seasons, the Cincinnati Bengals can likely afford to sit back a bit in free agency this offseason. Especially considering Joe Burrow is expected to receive a massive contract extension, eating up a large chunk of the team’s salary cap.

He’s just one player. The Bengals know they may be sitting down at the negotiation table next offseason, trying to get Ja’Marr Chase under contract long-term as well.

Perhaps this is why the Bengals’ pro scouting director recently suggested the front office likely won’t become big spenders in free agency, instead choosing to prioritize retaining integral pieces from their existing roster. Still, every team has needs, and sometimes a franchise’s plans don’t go accordingly.

Chances are, the Bengals will still find a player or two in free agency who they feel can help improve the roster in 2023. With that in mind, here are a few smaller signings Bengals general manager Duke Tobin could make.

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Cincinnati Bengals steal from AFC North rivals with Cam Sutton signing

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Carolina Panthers
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While the Bengals may not have a ton of pressing needs, one area the defense could still improve in is their pass coverage. Especially considering they’ll inevitably have to get past elite quarterbacks like Justin Herbert, Josh Allen, and Patrick Mahomes in the AFC to get to the promised land.

Looking to improve a bottom-tier pass defense that allowed the 23rd-most passing yards in the NFL in 2022, targeting a cornerback like Pittsburgh’s Cameron Sutton could prove wise. Getting ready for his seventh season, Sutton is far from a big name, but front offices know his game.

Sutton has the ability to play both on the boundary and in the slot and is coming off his best season yet. Set to turn 28, Sutton allowed the sixth-worst passer rating among all cornerbacks who played at least 50% of their defense’s snaps in 2022, showing he has the ability to provide shutdown coverage. He’d certainly be a big help for the Bengals.

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Bengals continue offensive line overhaul with Ben Powers

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Washington Football Team
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Another area of concern entering the offseason centers around the offensive line. While the Bengals have gone to great lengths to improve their protection up front, it’s still not enough. The Bengals didn’t have a single starting offensive lineman to post a PFF grade higher than 67.6 in 2022. That’s a problem.

If the Bengals don’t want to overhaul their trenches once again, one potential solution is patching up their worst-graded starter, left guard Cordell Volson, with a proven player. How about Baltimore’s Ben Powers, who posted a poor 62.9 grade, but it also came with a phenomenal 86.5 pass block grade without allowing a single sack?

If keeping Burrow upright is the top priority, signing true pass protectors such as Powers could go a long way toward another productive season in 2023. Plus, taking a player away from AFC North rivals is just too fun.

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Dalton Schultz stabilizes tight end room

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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After C.J. Uzomah’s breakout season, the Bengals allowed the tight end to walk as a free agent, and they pivoted to Hayden Hurst instead. But Hurst wasn’t able to maintain the team’s success at the position. While the Bengals don’t seem likely to invest heavily at the tight end position being that they already have three highly capable pass-catchers in Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd, it never hurts to have more weapons at Burrow’s disposal.

One player who could intrigue the Bengals is Dallas’ Dalton Schultz. Set to turn 27 this offseason, Schultz regressed a bit in 2022, much like the Cowboys’ offense, but his production in 2021 provides a lot of reason for optimism.

The Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Schultz a season ago, and while he still had a productive 577-yard, five-touchdown season, Schultz won’t command top dollar on the open market. Still, the 6-foot-5 pass-catcher could add another red zone threat to Cincinnati’s offense.

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Jordan Poyer joins another AFC contender

Syndication: The Enquirer
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Knowing they could be in line to lose one or both of their safeties via free agency this offseason, the Bengals selected Daxton Hill with the 31st pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. With both Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell ready to hit the open market, the Bengals could certainly opt to retain one or both of them, but maybe there’s another All-Pro safety who wants to join a rising contender?

Buffalo’s Jordan Poyer will turn 32 this offseason, he’s been to the playoffs five times, but he’s yet to win a Super Bowl ring. Expect Poyer to land with a top contender this offseason, and he may even be prepared to sign with a team that doesn’t offer him top dollar but instead offers a chance to pursue a championship. If so, the Bengals could look pretty intriguing.

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James Bradberry becomes biggest name Bengals sign this offseason

NFL: NFC Divisional Round-New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles
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Earlier we referenced Cam Sutton holding opponents to a scintillating 69.9 passer rating, the sixth-best mark in the NFL among cornerbacks. Well, if you like that, you’ll love what Philadelphia’s James Bradberry has to offer. According to Pro Football Focus, Bradberry was even better than Sutton, allowing the third-worst passer rating when targeted (54.2).

Bradberry was a big part of the Eagles’ top-ranked pass defense, and it wasn’t a one-year fluke. The former Panthers and Giants cornerback also made the Pro Bowl in 2020. At 6-foot-1, Bradberry has everything teams look for in a corner, and he’s forced a total of 15 turnovers in the past four seasons, showing he’s more than just a shutdown specialist.

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