A breakdown of the Cincinnati Bengals' 2018 free-agent signings.
Matt Barkley, QB
The Bengals signed quarterback Matt Barkley, who last played for the Chicago Bears in 2016. Here’s a closer look at the signing:
Grade: C. Barkey didn’t show much in 2016 as a starter, and his play doesn’t exactly inspire much hope if Andy Dalton goes down. The Bengals did fill a need, but they should still look to the draft at some point.
What it means: The Bengals lost backup AJ McCarron to the Bills in free agency, so they wanted to find a veteran with experience to back up Dalton this time. Their other quarterback, Jeff Driskel, is recovering from a broken arm and has never taken an NFL snap. It's likely the Bengal could still be looking for a long-term backup in the later rounds of the draft. It was a similiar situation in 2014, when the Bengals drafted McCarron after signing veteran Jason Campbell to be Dalton's backup. Campbell left after one season, and McCarron became the primary backup.
What’s the risk: Barkley's only significant stint as a starter didn't exactly go well. He was 1-5 as a starter with the Bears while filling in due to injuries and threw 14 interceptions to eight touchdowns, including 10 interceptions in the span of three games. That particular Bears team was a mess, and he could perform much better with a solid cast around him. However, the Bengals could be in significant trouble if Dalton goes down at all next season.
Preston Brown, LB
The Bengals are signing linebacker Preston Brown, who played the past four years for the Buffalo Bills. Here’s a closer look at the signing:
Grade: B+. The Bengals filled a need with the Brown signing, but with the pending suspension of Vontaze Burfict, drafting a linebacker is more important than ever. Brown's deal is for only one year, which could put Cincinnati at square 1 again next year.
What it means: Brown will essentially fill the role Kevin Minter was supposed to play last year. Minter signed a one-year deal to bet on himself, but his injuries limited him to only nine games. The Bengals had to scramble to try to fill the void at MLB because of other injuries at the position, including trying weakside linebacker Vontaze Burfict there. Brown has never missed a game in his career, and the Bengals are likely banking on that reliability.
What’s the risk: For a team that's intent on drafting and developing players, this position has eluded the team the past few years after Rey Maualuga's play dropped off. Maualuga was released go after the 2016 season, and the Bengals flirted with the idea of drafting Reuben Foster last year, but instead took wide receiver John Ross. There's certainly no risk in signing Brown to a one-year deal, but the Bengals should consider drafting this position early for long-term stability.
Chris Baker, DT
The Bengals signed Chris Baker, who played the past season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here’s a closer look at the signing:
Grade: C. There's a reason the Buccaneers were quick to cut ties with Baker one season into a three-year, $15.75 million deal. He comes with baggage.
What it means: The defensive line doesn't jump out as an outright need for the Bengals, but it actually is one they have talked about improving. That was a topic of discussion during a meeting with reporters at the combine, and it makes sense they would go after a player who has been good in the past. Baker's last two seasons with the Washington Redskins were very solid, which led to a free-agent deal with the Buccaneers. However, his quick departure from Tampa does bring some questions.
What's the risk: It's questionable what he has left in the tank. According to ESPN Buccaneers writer Jenna Laine, Baker had problems with the team due to his effort in practice on more than one occasion. Another report said Baker was the subject of a screaming match between teammates late in the season. The report said some teammates felt he didn’t show enough remorse for a costly penalty in a loss to the Panthers. This deal will hinge on whether the Bengals can get the best out of Baker, and after last season, that's a big if. However, the Bengals have taken chances on more than one player with successful results.