CINCINNATI -- An NFL team can have the best scouting department in the league, and still end up landing a dud or two when it tries signing players in free agency.
The process both in-season and out can be a challenge. Try as they might, teams just aren't able to accurately project how well a player will mesh into the fabric of their team, and if he will truly have the impact they hope he will.
That's why, when the process does go correctly, it's easy to point it out and applaud.
Grantland's Bill Barnwell did precisely that Thursday afternoon when he published his All-Bargain team. Filled with former free agents, he ranked the top players at each position who have given their teams real bang for the buck this season. He shied away from listing free agents who are in their first contract, and looked instead at veterans who are on their second, third, fourth or more contracts.
Two Bengals made Barnwell's All-Bargain team: cornerback Adam Jones and offensive tackle Anthony Collins. Had Vontaze Burfict not been on his first contract, Barnwell said he would have been a shoo-in for linebacker.
I agree with both picks. I've been thinking a lot this week about the impact Jones has had this season, let alone his career in Cincinnati. The Bengals may have taken a perceived gamble in signing him when he was first brought on in 2010, but he has paid off both on the field and off it. Although he's had his share of minor legal battles in the past six months, Jones has largely shown his growth from the earlier days in his career. After re-signing in March, he appears to be playing his best ball since 2006.
Collins has been a veritable Swiss Army knife for the Bengals this year. Not only has he played at right tackle on rare occasions, but he also has appeared at left tackle in relief of Andrew Whitworth and has even begun starting there now that Whitworth has been moved inside to guard. He has been the most valuable utility player on the offensive line, for sure.
Here's how Barnwell described both players' value:
Cornerback: Adam Jones, Cincinnati
Contract: Three years, $5.3 million
Having successfully returned to the league under Marvin Lewis's stewardship in Cincinnati, Jones decided to re-sign with the Bengals this offseason on a three-year deal. He had shown flashes of great play in Tennessee before his legal troubles arose, and while it took him a while to get going again in Cincinnati, he has reemerged as an above-average starting cornerback this year. He has gone from being an afterthought to taking over as the team's top corner with Leon Hall injured, a role he should fill heading into next season.
Tackle: Anthony Collins, Cincinnati
Contract: Two years, $2.8 million
It should tell you something that when the Bengals have had issues with their guards getting injured, they've kicked star tackle Andrew Whitworth inside to guard and brought Collins in off the bench to play left tackle. As Cincinnati's nominal swing tackle and sixth offensive lineman, Collins has the athleticism to protect quarterbacks on the left side; the only thing he lacks is experience, as he has been stuck behind Whitworth. With Whitworth (say that five times fast) moving inside for the remainder of the season and Collins getting an extended look at left tackle through a possible Bengals playoff run during the final year of his deal, it seems likely the Kansas product will get a hefty raise this year in free agency from a team in search of a protector on the blind side.