NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2023 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year has begun, which means free-agent signings can be made official. The first round of the 2023 NFL draft begins April 27 on ESPN.
The Cincinnati Bengals first moves were to bring back linebacker Germaine Pratt and safety Michael Thomas. Then, on Wednesday, they made a big splash, signing former Kansas City Chiefs left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. They added safety Nick Scott on Friday night.
Here's a breakdown of every 2023 NFL free-agent signing, and how each will impact the upcoming season:
Orlando Brown, tackle
The four-time Pro Bowl left tackle is signing a four-year, $64-million deal, agent Michael Portner has confirmed to ESPN. According to Portner, the deal pays $42.3 million over the first two years and includes a signing bonus of over $31 million.
What it means: The Bengals made a massive investment in Joe Burrow's pass protection. Brown's $31 million signing bonus is believed to be the highest given to an offensive lineman, per ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. That number exceeds the combined guaranteed money received by offensive linemen Ted Karras, Alex Cappa and La'el Collins when they signed with the Bengals in 2022. If the Bengals are going to invest in Burrow and the passing game, it requires fixing a pass protection unit that ranked 30th in pass block win rate last season.
What's the risk: There is a significant amount of risk with a contract structured like Brown's. According to Fowler, roughly 68% of Brown's contract will be guaranteed, with around $42 million of that coming in the first two years. Cincinnati has struggled to find long-term solutions at offensive tackle. In the past, that didn't have a financial impact because the deals were not nearly as lucrative as this one. But given Brown's track record, something drastic must happen in order to remove the former Oklahoma standout as one of the game's best offensive tackles.
Nick Scott, safety
The former Rams safety reached an agreement on a three-year, $12 million deal with the Bengals, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
What it means: The Bengals needed a veteran safety after losing Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell during free agency. Scott fills that void and has the potential to step in and be a Day 1 starter. The contract that features $12 million in total money signals that he can be matched alongside Dax Hill at the back of the secondary.
What's the risk: At this point, there is little risk. The Bengals needed someone with experience to put alongisde Hill, who is poised to take over for Bates as the free safety. It’s a low-cost option for a team that needs to account for significant dollars to be invested in the offense.
Sidney Jones IV, cornerback
What it means: The Bengals add some depth in the secondary behind starting cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie, Cam Taylor-Britt and Mike Hilton. Jones, a former second-round pick, has bounced around the past couple of seasons. The Seattle Seahawks released Jones midway through 2022 before the Raiders picked him up for the final nine games. With Eli Apple still an unsigned free agent, Jones gives Cincinnati a veteran cornerback on its roster.
What's the risk: The risk is whether Jones will be able to handle things if Awuzie isn't ready to start the year following ACL injury or Taylor-Britt is forced to miss any time. This is the fourth team Jones has played for since the Eagles waived him in September 2020. But the fact Jones remains in the league is a testament to his talent. In 2021 with the Seahawks, Jones held opponents to -5.7 completion percentage as the nearest defender in coverage, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
Germaine Pratt, linebacker
The Bengals are re-signing Pratt to a three-year deal, ESPN confirmed.
What it means: The Bengals were able to retain at least one member of a defense that has been solid under coordinator Lou Anarumo the last couple of seasons. Pratt, a third-round pick in the 2019 draft, gives Cincinnati continuity in the middle of its defense. That will be very important given the change in Cincinnati's secondary. The Bengals lost both of their starting safeties, Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates III, during the first day of the negotiating window. Pratt has angled for more snaps on third down and the pass coverage numbers suggest he can handle the workload. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he had a targeted EPA of -17.5 as the nearest defender.
What's the risk: Given the state of the linebacker market on Monday, Pratt's deal could be considered a massive bargain. A team source indicated that Pratt wasn't necessarily going to take a lowball offer to stay in Cincinnati but was willing to return to a team that has appeared in two straight AFC championship games. Any complaints about playing time shouldn't linger now that Pratt has secured his second NFL contract.
Cody Ford, guard
The Bengals announced they are signing Ford on a one-year deal.
What it means: The Bengals’ need for depth on the offensive line was apparent at the end of last season, when Cincinnati lost in the AFC title game without three starters. Ford, a former second-round pick, gives Cincinnati a quality backup in its effort to protect Burrow.
What's the risk: Given the nature of the deal, there is very little risk for Cincinnati. It addresses a position that the Bengals can’t neglect. Cincinnati has missed out on winning the Super Bowl the last two seasons in part because of poor pass protection.
Trent Taylor, wide receiver
What it means: Taylor has been a depth option at wide receiver in his time with the Bengals. Taylor finished last season with 10 total touches for 77 offensive yards. But his primary value comes in special teams. He emerged as the team's top punt returner at the end of 2021 and held the role through the following season. He had a career-high 33 punt returns for 340 yards.
What's the risk: There is little to no risk in bringing back Taylor, someone who has the trust of special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons and has been in the offensive system for the last two seasons.
Michael Thomas, safety
Thomas agreed to a one-year deal to remain with the Bengals, the team announced on Monday.
What it means: The Bengals re-signed one of their biggest locker room leaders in Thomas. He was voted a captain last season and has been a resource for some of the team's younger players, especially in the secondary. Thomas predominantly played special teams last season but for a team that speaks often of its internal culture, Thomas plays an important role in facilitating that atmosphere.
What's the risk: Little to no risk with this move for the Bengals. While the contract details are yet to be revealed, bringing back Thomas will have minimal financial ramifications. According to OverTheCap.com, Thomas made $1.12 million in base salary in 2022, which accounted for just 0.5% of the team's salary cap space.
Trayveon Williams, running back
The Bengals plan to re-sign Williams on a one-year deal, per a source.
What it means: The Bengals solidify depth at running back amid significant questions about the position. Starter Joe Mixon could be a cap casualty and his backup, Samaje Perine, agreed to a multi-year deal with the Denver Broncos. No matter what happens with the RB1 position, Williams is the frontrunner to be the top backup and potentially the team's top option on third down. In 2022, Williams saw his role increase. He was the team's primary kick-off returner.
What's the risk: While the financial aspect has yet to be released, there would appear to be little financial risk given Cincinnati's situation. Williams made less than a million dollars in 2022. Even if Williams gets a slight raise, it will be well worth the investment given Cincinnati's standing at running back.