Updated: 4:30 p.m.
The Bengals have tipped their hand before free agency starts Saturday with teams able to start negotiating for deals that can be signed and announced starting Tuesday.
It should be no surprise since head coach Marvin Lewis already indicated at last month's NFL Scouting Combine that this isn't going to be a flashy free agency of Mike Wallace or Dashon Goldson (not even Laveranues Coles or Dexter Jackson for that matter), but it's going to be a no-frills, brick-by-brick effort to keep the team's core players in all three phases for a club that finished the regular season 7-1 while securing its second straight postseason berth.
So the Bengals wrapped up two key but under-the-radar names on their No. 1-ranked special teams Friday with Cincinnati's own punter Kevin Huber kicking off this homegrown free agency effort.
They reached five-year contracts with their record-breaker, Huber and flawless long-snapper
Those deals, along with the tendering of one-year offers to restricted free agent safety
Last week the Bengals made right end
Peerman, Huber, Harris and the gang aren't big names. But they're solid role players that have been behind back-to-back playoff appearances. And that's the philosophy Lewis had said the Bengals are using to keep the run going.
After navigating those deals, what's next? If the Bengals need to fill, don't look for an all-out assault on the secondary free agent market, either. Not with what could be up to 10 draft picks this year after five of their top seven picks from last year had limited play time via injury or sitting behind veterans.
But before it all got started, Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons had one of those Thank God It's Fridays on Friday with the re-signing of Huber and Harris.
Huber, a Cincinnati native who kicked at the University of Cincinnati and has punted in every game since the Bengals took him in the fifth round in 2009, is sticking close to Beechmont Avenue and his alma mater of McNicholas High School.
"I'm excited to get all three guys. They're obviously very key components in what we do and major players in that," Simmons said, adding Peerman into the mix. "We're off to a good start. Let's hope we can keep that momentum going for getting our own guys back.
"It's a huge step to keep those three guys together. I think they've showed they're a solid group. Any time you can get productive guys to stay together is the key to continuity."
It's believed the team is also trying to ink one of its kickers from last season, but it's not clear if it's going to be
"When I talked to Darrin at the end of the season he told me when you have a niche somewhere, it's nice to stay," Harris said. "Once you find a niche and a spot where you know the guys, you know the coaches, you know everybody in the organization, it's kind of nice to be able to stay."
Harris will again be snapping to Huber, who's coming off the best season ever by a Bengals punter that was capped by a Herculean effort in Pittsburgh during the 13-10 win on Dec. 23 that put the Bengals into the playoffs. Huber's franchise-record net average of 42 yards shattered the club record set in the inaugural season of 1968 by nearly three yards and was fueled by his NFL-leading 11 punts downed inside the 5.
"When you look at what Kevin's done statistically, for the most part he's improved each season," Simmons said. "The thing that took a big jump this year was his net. And anytime a punter has success, you have to cover. We've got a lot of guys we can put in those spots. That's the key to being young."
Simmons's top gunners, Miles and Hawkins, are also back this year with the one-year tenders, and the Bengals think last year's No. 1 pick that missed most of last year with injuries, cornerback
Huber, who turns 28 just before training camp, also broke the 42-year-old Bengals record for gross average with 46.6, putting him into first place on the club's all-time list with 44 yards per his 324 career punts.
"I'm excited about coming back there. I like the city, I'm comfortable there, and I like the team," Huber said. "Hopefully we can get all our guys back and pick up where we left off. Our special teams are coming off a couple of good years."
Harris and Huber share a comfort level since Huber has caught all of Harris's snaps, including 254 as the holder on placekicks, as well as the same agent, Brad Leshnock of Chicago's BTI Sports Advisors. But Harris said their fates weren't tied together.
"We work out together and we've talked about it, but if he had gone somewhere else it wouldn't have been like, 'I can't sign here,' " Harris said. "It's every man for themselves even though we're friends and have the same agent. But he knows I'm going to be here, I know he's here and it's good to have that."
Harris also says it's good to have Peerman around for a while to keep the middle of the Bengals punt team stable. Peerman called his two runs of 48 and 32 yards off fake punts that set up touchdowns and erased early leads to put the Bengals ahead to stay in road wins against Jacksonville and Kansas City.
"It's a huge deal. I feel comfortable with him," Harris said of Peerman. "I'm not worried about trying to make the call or making sure the call is right. I know he's always making the call and doing the right thing."
"I love having Ced right in front of me," he said. "He's solid. I'm excited about that."
Harris is staying in Cincinnati this offseason because next week he begins tearing down his home in Manahawkin, N.J., his cottage near the beach that took a major hit in last October's Hurricane Sandy.
"It should be done by the end of next season, but I'm in no hurry," Harris said.
He's got a few years to go, but Huber is all but entrenched in his hometown. He admits it was a draw to coming back. The best thing about playing in Cincinnati, he says, is playing in front of his family.
"I can count on my hands the numbers of games they've missed in high school and college and here they can get to most of the away games," Huber said. "It's a great experience."
But he also knows the Bengals didn’t get him for nothing. He joked when he said he should give AFC Pro Bowler Dustin Colquitt of the Chiefs a congratulatory phone call. A few days ago Colquitt signed a reported five-year, $18.75 million deal and while Huber didn’t get that, it probably helped him get close to a $3 million per year average.