CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals and Hamilton County (Ohio) officials reached an important deal Thursday that will provide the team with desperately-needed upgrades to Paul Brown Stadium, and help bring more jobs to the region.

The Cincinnati Enquirer first reported Thursday afternoon that the Bengals agreed to waive height restrictions at "The Banks," a riverfront development on which stands Paul Brown Stadium, Great American Ballpark, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and a host of shops, restaurants and an apartment complex. The lease for the Bengals' stadium had allowed the team to invoke height restrictions on any new development that came to the area.

As a trade-off for waiving the height restrictions, the Bengals will be receiving stadium upgrades that the county will help pay for. Atop the list of renovations are changes to Paul Brown Stadium's scoreboard. It hasn't been replaced since the venue opened in 2000, and is considered far behind the digital style boards that nearly every other NFL stadium currently has. According to the Enquirer, the Bengals will foot 25 percent of the cost for the $10 million scoreboard upgrade.

Other renovations include the sprucing of furniture and other items in the stadium's boxes, the installment of wifi, and the expansion of the Bengals' weight room in the event the city is able to attract a major league soccer team. In a news release, the Bengals said they will spend about $6 million on all stadium upgrades, including completely footing the $2 million bill for the locker room and weight room changes.

"Quietly, we have been working with the county on a cooperative basis for several years," Bengals president and owner Mike Brown said in a statement. "With the announcement of our financial participation in several stadium upgrades, we are able to take that cooperation to a new level and put behind us matters that in the past might have turned into battles."

While the Bengals get their stadium tweaks, the city and county (since Hamilton County taxpayers approved a half-cent sales tax for the construction of the Bengals' and Reds' new stadiums in 1996 the county controls the stadium leases) will hope to add jobs, be able to build a pair of new buildings that will go into the iconic riverfront skyline.

The easing of the height restrictions at The Banks means a commercial building will soon go up near the stadiums. City and county leaders are hoping to entice General Electric to occupy the property after sites in two nearby neighborhoods made bids for the company's new building. GE wants the bids all in by Friday, according to the Enquirer. Cincinnati's leadership would prefer GE's new offices go on the riverfront instead of to points north and east of downtown.

Along with a space for a new GE office building, the county will soon be erecting a second housing complex that will have shops and restaurants around it, much like the one that is currently operating on The Banks. All told, the two developments could bring about 2,000 jobs to the region.

Brown's daughter, Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn, also was named Thursday to a Banks development committee.

"I am looking forward to getting more involved as the development of The Banks continues," Blackburn said. "The riverfront has been our home since 1970. It is now an exciting place to live, work and have fun. There is a lot of work ahead to make sure that the promise of The Banks is fulfilled."

As was mentioned in this stadium-upgrade primer on the blog Thursday morning, the entire situation is a win-win for all parties involved. The Bengals get much of what they wanted in the way of stadium upgrades without having to completely foot the bill as the county had previously desired. Hamilton County and the city of Cincinnati should have an influx of jobs and new housing and retail opportunities in an area that has started taking off in the last decade.

"This is an economic home run, or more appropriate to the situation, a touchdown," Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann told the Enquirer.

Bengals fans should have even more bars to frequent before and after games, will have a modernized, in-stadium video board and wireless technology.

Now if the team can only win a playoff game, Bengals fans will really feel like winners.

Chad Johnson signs with Alouettes

April, 17, 2014
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MONTREAL -- Former NFL star Chad Johnson will make his return to the gridiron in the Canadian Football League.

The veteran receiver signed a two-year deal with the Montreal Alouettes on Thursday after impressing team officials at a minicamp in Vero Beach, Fla. He last appeared in an NFL game during the 2011 season with the New England Patriots.

"Chad Johnson did an outstanding job the last three days," Alouettes general manager Jim Popp said in a statement. "As we added him into the mix, it was to see how he communicated with the players, how he held himself, the way he physically held up, his true interest in coming to the CFL.

"It was a total evaluation so that it's a good fit. He was very happy and very excited to be on the field again, and we are happy to welcome him to the Alouettes."

Johnson, who once changed his last name to Ochocinco, spent most of his 11 NFL seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. In 166 career games, the six-time Pro Bowler caught 766 passes for 11,059 yards and 67 touchdowns.

He was in training camp in 2012 with the Miami Dolphins -- his hometown team -- but his contract was terminated one day after he was charged with misdemeanor domestic battery.

A plea deal was eventually worked out, but after a probation violation Johnson wound up going to jail for a few days after a judge objected to the way he slapped his lawyer on the backside in celebration.

Montreal already has a solid core of receivers in Duron Carter, S.J. Green and Jamel Richardson. The Alouettes will hold a training camp in June and open their regular season at Calgary on June 28.


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The NFL draft is exactly three weeks away. When the Cincinnati Bengals make their first pick, they'll do so late in the first round at No. 24 overall.

They have needs at cornerback, quarterback, outside linebacker, safety, defensive end and on the offensive line. They also could add a running back or receiver at some point during the draft. Just whom will they wind up selecting with their picks in the first two rounds? ESPN's Mel Kiper has made his predictions. His second-round pick is a player who once had a first-round projection.


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Get your Thursday started with these quick takes on a few Cincinnati Bengals story lines. Stadium renovations, riverfront expansion and updates on Taylor Mays and Orson Charles are among them:

1. 'Spirit of collaboration:' Those are the words Hamilton County (Ohio) Commission President Chris Monzel used last week to describe how he and other local politicians are working with Cincinnati Bengals officials on a host of initiatives that might help spruce up Paul Brown Stadium and beautify and expand the downtown Cincinnati riverfront area known as "The Banks." The Bengals' lease for the stadium contains language about limiting the height of new buildings built on The Banks. The Cincinnati Enquirer is reporting that by Thursday, those requirements might be waived so the city can bid General Electric for a building that the company has been trying to build in the region. Spaces in two nearby neighborhoods already have bids on them, but the city and county would prefer the structure go downtown. The height waiver could be a crucial precursor to getting a long-needed new digital scoreboard installed at Paul Brown Stadium. Updates to club-box furniture could be coming, along with stadium-wide wifi and an expansion of the Bengals' weight room, in the event the city ever lands a professional soccer team. Atlanta announced the arrival of one there Wednesday.

2. Collaboration is important: The Bengals and the county have come to multiple impasses the past few years regarding updates the stadium needs. The collaboration hasn't been quite as strong in recent years as it appears to be now. Collaboration is good, as is having some of the updates outlined above. It's also good for the city and county to continue to pump money into the area around the stadium. Though it's tougher for the restaurants and shops to operate in those down times when the Bengals and Reds aren't playing -- namely January to March -- the area has seen a jolt of life with the emergence of an apartment complex where players from both teams live during the season, and the construction of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Since opening in 2004, the museum has been an important piece of Cincinnati's tourism draw. So have Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ballpark. The better resourced and funded those three buildings are -- and the better the teams play -- the more people will visit. The new apartment development should be a draw, and GE could add 2,000 jobs to the riverfront, according to the Enquirer. This collaboration is very important for the city, county and teams.

Mays
3. Taylor Mays' long recovery: By Monday morning, a number of Bengals will unofficially begin their training for the 2014 season, working together for the first time since January's disappointing first-round playoff loss. It will be the first time they can get keyed into the plans new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther have for their respective units. One player glad to make the trek back to Cincinnati is defensive back Mays. His season ended last year on Oct. 27 when he suffered a shoulder injury. After a conversation with Mays in California, where he has been training, USA Today's Tom Pelissero writes here about how vicious the injury really was. It sounds really painful. Mays says his shoulder came out of socket, that he tore his labrum in two places, and that for more than 90 minutes after the injury the training staff had trouble getting the shoulder back in place. Mays said all that time out of socket made his recovery longer, but he estimates he will be coming back to Cincinnati at 90 percent.

4. How Mays fits: Quickly, we'll add that Mays will fit somewhere in the Bengals' plans, it's just not clear where. He will provide depth at safety, playing in some rotation with George Iloka, Reggie Nelson, Shawn Williams and the recently added Danieal Manning. Nelson, Iloka and Manning are expected to get the majority of snaps. Mays also could jump into an emergency nickel linebacker spot, a role he started playing last season when Emmanuel Lamur was out with his own shoulder injury. Lamur is healthy and expected to resume his duties at the position.

Charles
5. Latest on Orson Charles: TMZ Sports reported Wednesday that the gun H-back Charles allegedly waved at a motorist while traveling down Interstate 75 in Kentucky last month was loaded. The website obtained the latest version of the police report, which contains more details about what happened in the road-rage incident. A passenger of Charles' told police that when she saw Charles reaching for the gun, she grabbed it and put it in her purse and tossed the purse into the backseat. Previous incident reports said the gun was found in a purse. Charles pleaded not guilty last week and has a pre-trial hearing set for next Thursday. For now, this incident has no bearing on his status with the Bengals.

Plus-1: A bonus take. The Bengals signed punter T.J. Conley on Wednesday. Nothing to be alarmed about there, starter Kevin Huber will be fine and fully recovered from his late-season jaw and neck injury long before training camp starts. Conley was just brought on to give the Bengals an extra leg to keep Huber's fresh in camp.
CINCINNATI -- Andy Dalton is standing at a career crossroads. This could be a make or break year for him.

OK, maybe "break" isn't quite the word to use here. For the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback, it's more like this could wind up being a make or keep middling type of year.

If he keeps playing like he has so far in his three-year career -- good, but occasionally bad in the regular season and overwhelmingly awful in the postseason -- then he'll continue to be regarded as a so-so quarterback who never really hit his stride, nor turned into an easily identifiable bust. He'd continue to be average -- a lukewarm signal-caller on a team with white-hot talent.

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesAndy Dalton has yet to make the jump from average to elite as an NFL quarterback.
Another season of such mediocrity would be considered worthy of the title "break." So what then would a "make" year look like for Dalton? Chiefly, leading the Bengals to a playoff win or two. Secondarily, keeping his interception numbers in career-low territory while also surpassing his franchise-record 33-touchdown total from a year ago. If he does both those things -- win in the postseason and have a favorable touchdown-interception ratio -- he'll have traveled down the right road in the junction he's facing.

If you ask some experts, there is no chance Dalton takes that avenue to success during this pivotal fourth season.

"He is what he is, and he will never change," ESPN insider scout Matt Williamson said in fellow ESPN insider Mike Sando's story Wednesday about forecasting success for quarterbacks at a crossroads. Insider "He will be too good to cut and not good enough to win with. He wins three or four [games] a year for his team and loses one or two, but he is so much less gifted than all the other guys we are talking about here. Maybe if he was playing indoors, he could get away with it more."

Sando's story is the basis for this blog. He focused on using metrics (mainly QBR) to determine where young quarterbacks rank among their peers, and how those metrics could predict where their careers might head. Sando compared the QBR numbers from the first 16 career games of quarterbacks who entered the league after 2006.

He found that the QBR numbers from those first 16 games correlated to three tiers of "crossroads quarterbacks." There's an elite tier, which had first 16-game QBRs that were higher than 65.2. Then there's a middle group with first 16-game QBRs between 60.1 and 42.0. A lagging group had QBRs that only got as high as 40.3. The seven-man "QBR-elite" group featured three players who appeared in recent Super Bowls. The middle group had a sizable mix of young quarterbacks and veterans, with only one having appeared in a recent Super Bowl. The final group had several players who were drafted after 2006, and who are no longer in football.

The better the QBRs were, the more promising the quarterback's career should be, it appears.

That, of course, becomes a tricky subject matter with Dalton. He is one of the few players who was forced to play from Week 1 of his rookie year. He hasn't looked back since, starting all 48 regular-season and three playoff games the Bengals have appeared in since 2011. Other quarterbacks might not even appear in a game their first two seasons. Coupled with his middle-of-the-road play the first three years, the fact he has played so much early makes it tough to forecast Dalton's career.

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Back to Williamson's comment on Dalton playing indoors. Dalton has struggled at times during games played in December and January. While he's still 0-3 in the postseason in January, he did change his December woes in 2013. After tossing a combined eight touchdowns, getting sacked a combined 27 times and compiling a 41.5 QBR through his first two Decembers, Dalton had 12 touchdowns, a 71.1 QBR and was sacked only three times last December. The effort was good enough to post a 4-1 record across the final month of the season.

Perhaps he's starting to turn a corner.

The thing is, as Dalton flirts with a contract extension this offseason before his rookie deal expires next March, he needs to do more than turn that corner. He has to turn it, run -- not walk -- down the block to the next one and the one after, and keep going until he reaches the Super Bowl. He has the receivers, tight ends, offensive line, dynamic running back and talented defense to make a deep postseason trip a possibility sometime soon.

He also has had each of those, but the combination has yet to yield a run past the wild-card round of the playoffs. Is Dalton the common denominator behind Cincinnati's postseason misfortunes? Bengals coach Marvin Lewis doesn't necessarily think so, but his quarterback's six interceptions and one touchdown pass in those three playoff games are hard to overlook.

Maybe having an offensive coordinator who is more dedicated to the run than the previous one will help Dalton. Hue Jackson's ground-game tweaks ought to ease the pressure off the quarterback's shoulders.

A looser Dalton would make the Bengals a better team. A more decisive Dalton would make him a better player.

But on-field decisions aren't the only ones he has to make right now. Soon we'll find out which path Dalton chose to take in this all-important make or break year at the crossroads.

Bengals sign punter T.J. Conley

April, 16, 2014
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CINCINNATI -- On the same day they announced the start date of their training camp, the Cincinnati Bengals signed a special-teams player whose primary function will be to give them an additional training camp leg.

Punter T.J. Conley, formerly of the Browns and Jets, was signed Wednesday by the Bengals to serve as a backup to starting punter Kevin Huber, who ought to be fully recovered by late July from a December jaw injury. Huber missed the final two games of the regular season and a playoff game after breaking his jaw following a hard blindside hit from the Pittsburgh Steelers' Terence Garvin.

Conley comes to the Bengals after having spent the 2013 preseason with the Browns. He didn't make the team once the regular season started.

The 28-year-old last appeared in a regular-season game in 2011. He punted in all 16 games for the Jets that year, averaging 42.7 yards on 92 punts. His 38.8-yard net average was the highest in Jets history; the statistic was first tracked in 1976. He also had 32 kicks that fell inside the 20 and six touchbacks. Like he did with the Browns last season, Conley started the 2012 season with the Jets, but didn't make the main club by the regular season.

He entered the NFL with the Jets in 2009 as a free agent.

In an attempt to save their punters' and kickers' legs in the preseason, teams often sign multiple punters and kickers to help with the load. Conley will get some experience backing up Huber, just as kicker/punter Quinn Sharp ought to do the same behind kicker Mike Nugent. Sharp was signed to a future's contract at the end of the 2013 season.
CINCINNATI -- Exactly 14 weeks separate the Cincinnati Bengals from the official start of the 2014 season.

The team announced Wednesday morning that this year's training camp would begin July 23. Two weeks after that first practice, the Bengals will travel to Kansas City to face the Chiefs in their first preseason game. No official date has been announced for that game.

Voluntary offseason workouts begin in Cincinnati next week. Players return Monday for the start of strength and conditioning workouts. Voluntary organized team activities (or OTAs) begin May 27 and are spread out among three separate weeks through June 19. The Bengals also have a mandatory minicamp in mid-June.

Here's a look at what the Bengals' schedule looks like across the next few months:

April 21: Voluntary strength/conditioning workouts begin

May 8-10: NFL draft

May 27-29: Voluntary OTAs for veterans and rookies

June 3-5: Voluntary OTAs for veterans and rookies

June 10-12: Mandatory minicamp for veterans and rookies

June 16-19: Voluntary OTAs for veterans and rookies

July 23: First training-camp practice

August 8-10: First preseason game

NFL Nation Buzz: Cincinnati Bengals

April, 16, 2014
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ESPN.com Bengals reporter Coley Harvey discusses the future of Andy Dalton in Cincinnati.
As we get this Wednesday started, here are four recent Cincinnati Bengals storylines (plus one personal plug) to ponder. Let's start it off by chatting about draft-hopeful cornerbacks and their visits to Paul Brown Stadium:

1. Visiting corners. Reports have trickled out in the last two weeks linking the Bengals to visits with a host of soon-to-be-drafted players. Chief among them seem to be cornerbacks, namely the types of cornerbacks who could still be available when the Bengals make their first-round pick at 24th overall. TCU's Jason Verrett, Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard and Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller are most recognized corners who have reportedly come to Cincinnati to chat with coaches and ownership, and to perform in controlled workouts. So what do the visits mean? They are clear signs the Bengals are at least interested in those players and may be flirting with the idea of taking one of them with the first-round pick. They also are signs that Cincinnati's staff believes their "best-available" philosophy has to include cornerbacks this season since there are so many good ones for the picking.

2. Who should the Bengals pick? That's the question that all draftniks who have a radio show, blog, Twitter account, pen and pad or voice wants to answer. The suggestions for the first-round selection have spanned quite the gamut, too. Some are still contending that the defensive end position is a spot the Bengals might target and that Missouri's Kony Ealy ought to be the 24th pick. Oregon State end Scott Crichton has gone on a few mock drafts there, too. But by and large, mocks have sent one of the aforementioned corners to Cincinnati. If it isn't one of those three, then it's been Ohio State's Bradley Roby. At this point, I have no clue who the Bengals are going to pick, but I'm leaning toward seeing them take a cornerback with that late-round selection. If I had to pick who among that cornerback quartet will end up being the best pick and having a career that best suits the Bengals, I personally would pick Verrett. His size (5-foot-9, 189 pounds) is about the only true knock he has, but his speed, athleticism, strong performance at the NFL combine in February and ability to play both in the slot and out of it make him attractive to me. His speed could make him a good blitz option, too. It seems that new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther would like to have more blitzes from the secondary as part of his package. Naturally, Verrett wouldn't be starting in the slot for the next two years with Leon Hall still under contract through 2015, but he could give another option there in case of injury. The Bengals haven't really had a good backup slot corner recently, forcing them to get creative with their depth chart when Hall went down with his last two season-ending injuries.

3. Small spenders. It's not a surprise, but as ESPN.com Browns reporter Pat McManamon noted Tuesday, the Bengals are among the league's cheapest teams this offseason in terms of paying guaranteed money. The Bengals have so far spent just $7.3 million in guaranteed money on players either signed or re-signed in free agency. That's the fourth-lowest amount in the league. The bulk of the money they have spent has gone to defensive tackle Domata Peko, who was extended through 2017. He's set to receive $4.4 million in guaranteed money this year as part of a signing bonus. The Browns and Ravens are among the league's biggest free-agent spenders, McManamon's story noted. The reason it isn't surprising that the Bengals haven't paid much to free agents this year is because big spending through that avenue just isn't part of their philosophy. The only times they really open up the checkbook is when trying to keep certain stars. Just last offseason, Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap signed massive deals that will pay them $55 million and $40 million, respectively, across five and six years. Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Vontaze Burfict appear to be next in line to receive big contract boosts, too. Aside from them, though, don't expect to see much coin doled out. The Bengals contend that aside from the big stars, the money just isn't there for everyone.

4. Playing with numbers. We took a look at a few other numbers on the Bengals blog Tuesday. Specifically, we updated you on Cincinnati's current salary-cap numbers. The Bengals still have a lot to spend, but it's clear they're holding onto some for the draft and some for one of the three looming free agents that are still on their horizon (Dalton, Green, Burfict). We also examined where the Bengals stood in relation to pay compared to players from other sports teams across the globe. Like all NFL players, the Bengals don't get compensated as well as some of their baseball, basketball and soccer counterparts. But their $2.1 million per year, per player average is competitive in the NFL. It ranks 11th among the 32 teams.

5. A thank you. Finally, a quick thanks to everyone who caught the debut of "NFL Nation TV" on Tuesday. If you missed it, you can check out the first installment of our weekly football show here. Yours truly will join Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez and another NFL Nation team reporter each week to discuss the latest headlines in a fun and interactive chat with you, our loyal readers. So come back next Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET for Episode 2.
CINCINNATI -- Like other NFL players, the Cincinnati Bengals are grossly underpaid compared to athletes for teams in other sports leagues, a study published Tuesday on ESPN.com found.

The ESPN The Magazine/Sportingintelligence Global Salary Survey reported that NFL players made more than $6 million per year less than the average Manchester City soccer player, the average New York Yankee and the average Los Angeles Dodger, among others. As popular and lucrative as the NFL may be, it doesn't compensate its players like other sports leagues. A host of factors go into that, including the fact that NFL rosters are more than twice the size of major league baseball's. It's easier for teams to play fewer players.

According to the survey, the Bengals are each paid about $2.1 million annually, good enough to rank them 138th among the sporting world's top-paid athletes. Members of the Manchester City soccer club make more than other athletes, the survey found, walking away with more than $8.1 million each year. Yankees players make just more than $8 million per year, ranking second among the world's top-paid athletes.

At 115th, the Minnesota Vikings were the highest NFL team on the list, awarding their players an average $2.3 million each year.

The survey came to its findings by compiling contracts for the 2013, 2013-14 and 2014 seasons of the respective sports. The NFL, CFL and Nippon Professional Baseball league were among the sports leagues whose findings came from 2013 rosters. The NBA and NHL results came from 2013-14 rosters. Major league baseball and major league soccer results used the 2014 rosters. A total of 294 teams were evaluated for the survey.

So for the 2013 season, the Bengals ranked 11th among NFL teams in average annual pay to their players. Their 138th overall sports team ranking was up from 157th the previous year. The Bengals' baseball-playing neighbors, the Cincinnati Reds, are paying their players about $3.4 million per year, good enough for 68th in the overall rankings.

As of last year's roster, the Bengals also paid their players on average about $9.3 million across a five-season stretch. That's about $28 million less than the nearly $37 million Real Madrid soccer players receive across an average five-year stretch, according to the survey.

All this means is that the Bengals, like the rest of the NFL, don't get paid as well as their counterparts in other sports. It also means that despite that, they still are right in the thick of league spending. This report also delivers a blow to the perception that the Bengals are one of the NFL's more thrifty teams with respect to player compensation. They clearly are still spending -- just look at Geno Atkins' and Carlos Dunlap's deals last summer -- even if it doesn't seem like it.
Cleveland Browns fans complained the past few years as the team sat idly by while free agency raged. The Browns fiddled while free agents burned holes in owners’ pockets.

Or something like that.

Since the 2014 version of free agency began, the Browns have spent $55.8 million in guaranteed money.

That’s the highest total in the AFC North, and following the matching of Jacksonville’s offer to Alex Mack, ranks third in the league in guaranteed money spent since March 11.

Which means the Browns rank third to the Bucs and Broncos in guaranteed money, with most of it going to Mack ($18 million reported, though the number has not been confirmed), linebacker Karlos Dansby ($12 million) and safety Donte Whitner ($13 million). The Browns started free agency with a glut of cap space, and they’ve not been shy about using it.

And they’ve spend more than $50 million in guaranteed contracts without even addressing the quarterback position.

Second in the division in spending are the Baltimore Ravens at $36.3 million, though their total does not include re-signing Dennis Pitta just before free agency began. That signing brings the Ravens' guaranteed money total to $52.3 million -- still short of the Browns.

Most of Baltimore’s money went to Pitta and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe ($19 million).

Take away those two re-signings and Baltimore’s guaranteed total of $18 million is more like a team that feels good about itself.

Same for the Bengals, a team that has made the playoffs three years in a row and feels it’s close to something good. Cincinnati has spent just $7.3 million in guaranteed money, the fourth lowest total in the league.

Pittsburgh? The Steelers never go overboard in free-agent spending and this year is no different. Their total of $8.7 million is just ahead of Cincinnati.
CINCINNATI -- It's Tax Day. Hopefully the vast majority of you have already calculatedyour personal finance numbers and filed.

There is no rest for the number crunchers in NFL front offices, though. With free agency continuing and the draft nearly three weeks away, they are still trying to move around figures in a way that allows them to pay the players they want in the fashion they want to, and to sign others.

Deadlines don't exist in the salary-cap world. It's a constant struggle to balance the books and keep a roster intact. That's one of the reasons the numbers fluctuate so regularly.

As we've mentioned often this offseason, the Bengals are among the teams that have had and continue to have a large amount of cap space with which to work. They began free agency just less than $30 million under the cap, and have barely moved from that after cutting a few players and avoiding big-splash free-agency signings. Currently, the Bengals are operating at more than $24,230,000 under the salary cap, according to figures from the NFL Players Association. ESPN's Stats & Information has them slightly higher, at just more than $24,309,000 under the cap.

Newly signed Bengals defensive end Sam Montgomery's contract hasn't yet been added to those figures.

Defensive tackle Domata Peko's extended contract, one that will give him $4.4 million of guaranteed money this year alone, was the most the Bengals spent on one player this offseason.

That, of course, falls in line with how the organization normally operates. The Bengals don't like to spend in free agency unless they're keeping some of their bigger-name stars. As you probably know by now, quarterback Andy Dalton, receiver A.J. Green and linebacker Vontaze Burfict are among the players whose contracts will expire next March. They're each seeking new deals.

Bengals executives have said they'd like to re-sign Dalton as quickly as they can, although the talks aren't as far along right now as they might like. They also have plans to keep Green, but are likely to exercise the fifth-year option on him next season. As a top-10 pick in the 2011 draft, Green has a fifth-year option that can be exercised. That extra year will give the Bengals another year to rework their payroll and it also will give them another year of anticipated salary-cap gains from the league. Teams were allowed to spend $133 million on players this year. They could be at an annual cap of $150 million within the next two years. So, Cincinnati has time with Green. Burfict probably will get done this offseason, although Dalton appears to be the immediate priority.

It's because of these three pending free agents that the Bengals have still set aside seemingly so much money. They also have a sizable portion allocated for their draft spending. With nine picks in this year's draft, they'll have plenty of players soon to pay. It is typically in the draft where the Bengals like to make their biggest offseason noise.

Three teams have more salary-cap space than the Bengals ... for now. At more than $30.8 million, the Browns are leading the league in available salary-cap space. The Jets have just more than $26 million and the Jaguars are at about $25.2 million, according to ESPN Stats & Information's findings. None of that takes into account the Browns' pending re-signing of center Alex Mack.

The NFLPA has the Browns at more than $39 million remaining, the Jets at more than $26 million and the Jaguars closer to $15 million left in cap space. Per their numbers, the Bengals are third in existing cap space.
We're back with our second installment of the morning Quick Takes on the Cincinnati Bengals blog. Here are five thoughts to get your day going:

1. Hall takes a step. We knew the day would eventually come when injured Bengals cornerback Leon Hall would return to football activity. According to Bengals.com, it has. After all, he and head trainer Nick Cosgray had a timeline, one rather similar to what they had two years ago when Hall had the misfortune of trying to return from the exact same injury. That 2011 injury, one to his left Achilles, sidelined him for the latter half of the season. He had the advantage -- if there is such a thing in these cases -- of hurting his right Achilles a few weeks earlier in the 2013 season, giving the Bengals hope that he would at least progress a little quicker this time around. He appears to be right on schedule to make his full-strength debut ahead of training camp in July. After the 2011 injury, he was cleared to full activity a couple weeks before the 2012 training camp started. Hall says he is "in a good place right now." It looks like we'll see him out there in a few months, as expected.

2. Hall's place. Right now, Hall says he's working on cuts, turns, back-peddling and breaking on the football. His training had previously revolved around getting the Achilles healthy again and to the point where it could do each of those things. He and Cosgray still aren't practicing in poor weather that might cause more harm than good, but they are doing enough to get Hall's body back used to doing everything it could before the latest injury occurred. ... When Hall returns by training camp, he'll be joining a cornerbacks group that will of course include fellow veterans Terence Newman and Adam Jones. Younger players Dre Kirkpatrick, Chris Lewis-Harris and Brandon Burton also will be part of the crew, as will newcomer R.J. Stanford, a free-agency addition who previously played in Miami. Chances are high another one or two young cornerbacks could tag along in July, as well, with expectations high the Bengals will use draft picks on such players. So where would that leave Hall? Still very much in the starting rotation, where he and Newman could trade snaps at the No. 1 left cornerback position. With high odds that the Bengals will see a number of three- and four-receiver sets this year, expect Hall to remain at the primary slot corner spot, too. As old as the Bengals are in the secondary -- Hall will turn 30 by the end of the season, joining Newman and Jones -- they also will be very deep there once they get their longtime vet back to full health.

3. Charles awaits court. Another update we didn't get to in Monday's Quick Takes has to do with Bengals H-back Orson Charles and where things stand following his March 31 arrest for wanton endangerment. Charles was in court last Friday while I was still off. He entered a not guilty plea 12 days after Richmond, Ky., police said he allegedly waved a gun at a motorist while traveling down Interstate 75. The road-rage incident has the Bengals in their normal mode of waiting for more facts to be revealed before commenting. It's about the only stance anyone, the team or otherwise, can take at the moment. Still, it should be noted that Charles is facing some serious charges and the people around him are approaching them that way. His attorney, Michael Eubanks, told Lexington, Ky., television station LEX 18 News after Friday's plea hearing that his team was doing its own investigation into Charles' arrest and the circumstances surrounding it. If convicted, Charles could be sentenced for one to five years. He'll be back in court April 23, when a preliminary hearing begins.

4. Dane's back. We mentioned on the Bengals blog Monday that receiver Dane Sanzenbacher re-signed with the team for an amount just less than the tender he had been offered back at the start of March. Like the other two restricted free agents the Bengals had at the time, Sanzenbacher was given the low-round tender, which equaled about $1.43 million for the 2014 season. The tender was offered that low in hopes that other teams wouldn't go much higher than that if they wanted to reach out to any of the three free agents. In Andrew Hawkins' case, those plans backfired. Cleveland offered him an amount much greater than the Bengals' tender. It was one they couldn't match, allowing him to leave. It's interesting that Sanzenbacher ended up signing for just $1.2 million on his one-year contract. The Bengals had leverage in his case, though, seeing as how he was inactive for seven games last year and he wasn't a major piece to the offensive puzzle.

5. NFL Nation TV. Plug time. Be on the lookout on ESPN.com's NFL pages around 1:30 p.m. ET Tuesday where a link will go live to a Spreecast chat featuring yours truly, Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold. We'll be talking about all three teams, as well as all the latest headlines around the league in a new, interactive live chat that the NFL Nation team is excited to launch. Should be fun and informative for all. Paul and I will be regulars on the weekly segment, so check often for it. The event begins at 2 p.m. ET.
CINCINNATI -- When the Cincinnati Bengals declined to match the offer sheet Andrew Hawkins had signed with the Browns last month, Dane Sanzenbacher's return began coming into focus.

Sanzenbacher
It made sense for the slot receiver to come back. With Hawkins officially out of the picture, the Bengals needed a player who could fill the role they envisioned for Hawkins before he left. While not as fast as Hawkins, Sanzenbacher plays similarly to him. He can be tough to keep track of in open space and can catch passes deep across the middle of the field, just out of the reach of safeties who might lose track of him.

It took about three weeks after Hawkins' departure for the Bengals to work out a deal with Sanzenbacher, but it finally happened. Sanzenbacher's status as a restricted free agent ended last week when Cincinnati re-signed him to a one-year, $1.2 million contract.

That's about $230,000 less than the late-round tender the Bengals extended Sanzenbacher, Hawkins and linebacker Vincent Rey just before the start of free agency. Rey, who recorded career highs in tackles (47), sacks (four), and interceptions (two) last season, was the first of the three to sign. He agreed to a two-year deal that could pay him $2.1 million. As part of his deal, he also was given a roster bonus of $1 million. All of that money is guaranteed.

Sanzenbacher's contract isn't as attractive, a deal that will pay him just $200,000 of guaranteed money. His comparative hit on guaranteed money likely has more to do with his status as a reserve receiver who was inactive in seven of the 17 games the Bengals played last season. Rey appeared in all 17 of those games, and started in three of them.

Cincinnati was deep at receiver last season, and figures to be again this year. A.J. Green will continue his reign as the top pass-catcher on the team, and Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu are the first receiving options after him. Brandon Tate also will be in the mix there because of his special-teams contributions. Tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert also ought to have an impact in the passing game, as should running back Giovani Bernard. That leaves relatively few opportunities for Sanzenbacher and fellow reserve wideouts Cobi Hamilton and Ryan Whalen. Then there's still a chance the Bengals could add a receiver in the draft, making the position that much deeper.

Still, Sanzenbacher ought to have a much greater impact in 2014. In two seasons, he's been targeted just 11 times. During his rookie year at Chicago, quarterbacks threw his way 53 times.

On his eight targets last season, Sanzenbacher caught six passes for 61 yards. The Ohio State product hasn't had a touchdown reception since his three with the Bears in 2011.

Below is a quick breakdown of Sanzenbacher's contract, as provided by ESPN's Stats & Information:

Cap value: $1,200,000
Cash value: $1,200,000
Signing bonus: $200,000
Roster bonus: $0
Workout bonus: $50,000
Base salary: $950,000
Guaranteed money: $200,000
Good Monday morning, everyone.

I suppose this is a bit of a welcome back for yours truly. Even though we had a few items here on the Bengals blog the last couple of days, I was officially away since Thursday, taking a few days off before things start getting busier with players reporting back to Cincinnati next week.

Now that we're rested and recharged, we've got a new daily blog post that I'm going to be trotting out this week called "Bengal Quick Takes." A nod to ESPN.com colleague John Keim for inspiring the idea. These blogs are designed to help catch you up on the latest news revolving around the Bengals, and to analyze it in five brief bullet points each morning.

Since the Bengals signed defensive end Sam Montgomery on Friday and we didn't get a chance to address it at the time, we'll use this first "Quick Take" with some thoughts on what his signing means:

1. Adding Montgomery. Before arriving in the NFL three years ago, Montgomery was a key piece in LSU's intimidating defense as a defensive end and outside linebacker. He had relatively high upside and was drafted by Houston in the third round. Criticism followed, though, after he admitted to taking plays off and giving less effort in certain games than he did for others. Fast-forwarding to last October, Montgomery was one of three players released by Houston after they were allegedly caught smoking marijuana in a hotel before a road game. The players initially denounced the releases and talked about filing grievances. While those off-field events and admissions are prominent parts of Montgomery's background, the Bengals believe he has the potential to rise above it all and contribute on the field. They are positive that he can give them an additional defender with stand-up linebacker ability, and a defensive end foundation.

2. What Montgomery brings. Specifically, Montgomery brings a measure of versatility to the defensive end position that can help dictate what the Bengals decide to do from a personnel standpoint while in various front-line packages. New defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has indicated a desire for having multiple fronts and revolving fronts that might include linebackers dropping down to the line and rushing the quarterback. Guenther's plans for the defense will be based on situations. While the Bengals will have a base scheme, they will be moving bodies around so often that the lineups should change regularly, keeping players fresher and mixing the looks to offensive lines constantly. Montgomery's ability to drop down and stand up should help those plans.

3. More on a versatile defensive front. Montgomery isn't the only player the Bengals have signed this offseason with that type of positional versatility. They also added off waivers Dontay Moch, a former Bengals draft selection who has played both defensive end and outside linebacker. He's listed as a linebacker on Cincinnati's current roster (so is Montgomery). Both players were added in the wake of the departures of defensive end Michael Johnson (signed with Tampa Bay) and linebacker James Harrison (cut) earlier this offseason. With the possibility the Bengals might add an outside linebacker through the draft, it wouldn't be surprising to see Montgomery and Moch competing for a roster spot in training camp.

4. Quickly, on receiver. We'll get more on this later this week, but as Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson acutely pointed out over the weekend, Cobi Hamilton may have the most to prove among Cincinnati's receivers when training camp opens later this year. On paper, he's the last man in the rotation and doesn't have as much special-teams value as Brandon Tate or the game experience of Dane Sanzenbacher, who was re-signed as a restricted free agent last week.

5. Finally, on Andy Dalton. There will be more to come on this, too, but it sounds as if Dalton was encouraged by his weeklong session in California with throwing coach Tom House. A few tweaks were made to his throwing motion that ought to help him get more zip on certain shorter passes and possibly be more accurate on longer throws. Closed, squared up shoulders and hips ought to help tighten his delivery. That's the Bengals' hope, at least. We'll see this fall how much the tweaks pay off.

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