No NFL team has more salary-cap space this offseason than the Cincinnati Bengals' estimated $54 million. Coach Marvin Lewis told NFL.com's Ian Rapoport on Wednesday that the emphasis must be on re-signing and extending their own players rather than chasing free agents from other teams.
Lewis pointed to quarterback Andy Dalton, tight end Jermaine Gresham, Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green and first-team All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins as core players "still coming into their productive years" in the NFL.
"So, we're excited about that," Lewis told Rapoport. "We have to work hard to get those guys signed in the next month and a half, and that's probably what it's going to take."
In addition to extensions for their ascending players, the Bengals also must address free-agent defensive end Michael Johnson and right tackle Andre Smith. Should Johnson draw the franchise tag, as tentatively expected, a long-term contract for Smith will take priority after a 2012 breakout season.
"I know sometimes, the easy way is to look at it over a one-year period of time, but we have to look at it over a two-, three- or four-year period of time," Lewis added. "The key to continuity is continue to get better."Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.