The Cincinnati Bengals missed out on one potential big linebacker signing Tuesday, then turned around and used that saved money to address the other two levels of the defense with two splashy free agent pickups.
According to Houston Chronicle NFL writer Aaron Wilson, former Texans nose tackle D.J. Reader is headed to Cincinnati on a four-year, $53 million deal that makes him the highest paid player in the league at his position. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport also reported the Bengals are landing former Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes.
An hour before Wilson reported the news on Twitter, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler tweeted that the Bengals had aggressively pursued former Browns linebacker Joe Schobert but were unwilling to match the Jaguars’ offer for a five-year $53.75 million deal.
Free agency begins at 4 p.m. Wednesday but the legal tampering period, when many of the big signings happen, started at noon Monday.
“It’s not a question of if whether we’re going to spend,” Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin said at the NFL Combine last month. “Over the course of this past CBA, we’re a top-half of the league spending team on players. So we’re going to spend on players. It’s just a question of do you spend on Tim versus Tom, our guy versus their guy? Do you try to extend your guy? And we’re going to balance all of that this year.”
The Bengals still need help at the linebacker position but seem to have missed out on all the top available players. Instead, they turned their attention to the defensive line and secondary Tuesday.
Reader, who is listed at 6-foot-3, 347 pounds, was selected by the Texans in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL draft out of Clemson. After serving mostly as a rotational defensive lineman as a rookie, he emerged as a full-time starter in 2017 and has totaled 154 tackles and 6.5 sacks over the last four years. Last season, Reader had a career year with 52 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
Despite the numbers, Reader is considered an elite interior player who is difficult to move around. Pairing him alongside Geno Atkins should give the Bengals one of the best defensive tackle duos in the league.
Waynes, a first-round pick by the Vikings in 2015, has played 74 games over five seasons in Minnesota and owns seven career interceptions, including one last year to go along with eight passes defensed, two forced fumbles and 58 tackles.
With his acquisition, the Bengals are trading in one former Michigan State defensive back for another. Rapoport also reported Tuesday that the Jaguars had landed former Bengals cornerback Darqueze Dennard in addition to picking up Schobert.
Dennard, a first-round pick out of Michigan State in 2014, spent six seasons in Cincinnati. He had re-signed with the Bengals on a one-year, $4.5 million deal last offseason and was a pending free agent. The team’s starting nickel corner missed seven games because of injury but made a noticeable difference, especially in the run defense, when he returned, finishing with 37 tackles and five passes defensed.
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