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Brandon LaFell healthy, motivated by move to Bengals

When receiver Brandon LaFell was cut loose by New England this year after two seasons with the Patriots, the idea of giving up consistent winning didn’t sit well with him.

He wanted to sign with a team ready to win now and where he could contribute. For those reasons, joining the Bengals made for an easy call.

“Once you get a taste of winning, you don’t want to take a step back and go somewhere where they’re trying to rebuild,” LaFell said in a conference call with Cincinnati media on Thursday. “If you have options to pick and choose where you want to go, you pick and choose a team that still is winning, has a good quarterback, good system and good opportunity to win.

Check. Check. Check. Check.

Oh, and one more check, this cut for one year and a reported $2.5 million with Cincinnati. The match worked on both sides because the Bengals needed a versatile receiver capable of working both the slot inside and on the edge opposite A.J. Green.

LaFell brings both, having spent a significant amount of snaps in the slot during his first four NFL seasons in Carolina before mostly working the edge for Tom Brady the last two years. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, LaFell could provide a large target over the middle if used there.

“I feel like there are a lot of mismatches in the slot,” he said. “A team can only do so much. A lot of times you might get a smaller corner, or might get a slower corner, or a slower linebacker on you. I pretty much love the slot.”

He’ll join a host of new faces, but a few familiar ones. Jeremy Hill and Andrew Whitworth both know the receiver through their college connection having all played at LSU. Fellow receiver James Wright also hails from LSU.

Andy Dalton exchanged texts with LaFell from his hometown in Texas once the signing came to be. How fast chemistry builds there will serve as a focus of the next five months, as will finding a comfort level in the evolving offense of new coordinator Ken Zampese.

Zampese came away happy with their meeting last week, and the two discussed options for him with Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu gone. Almost certainly LaFell will be in the mix of the top three in the rotation when the season opens, likely with a draft pick next to him.

“I am fired up, excited to have Brandon on our team,” Zampese said. “We had a great visit when he came in, and I think he’s a really good player who’s going to fit right in for us. I like his style, his work ethic and his consistency, both on the field and just as a person. He’s got great experience, and a lot of toughness, too.”

LaFell caught a touchdown in the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory against Seattle two years ago, concluding a season where he ranked as one of 13 receivers to finish the year with more than 70 receptions, 950 yards and seven touchdowns. Results didn’t carry over last season as he recovered from a foot injury that kept him out the first five games. LaFell caught 37 passes for 515 yards and zero touchdowns. He said he felt challenged attempting to come back from his ailment midseason.

All is well on the injury front now, according to the receiver. He said he’s at complete health and expects to take part in the team’s offseason program in full when it starts April 18 at Paul Brown Stadium.

Make no mistake, memories of a disappointing, injury-riddled 2015 currently stand as a motivating factor toward his fresh start in 2016.

“It motivates me a lot,” he said. “To go out there and get back to play at a high level, which I did the year before I got injured. It motivates me a lot. I want to get back on the right foot.  Going out there healthy, clean start. I just want to get back at playing at a high level and watching how I played last year definitely motivates me to work hard this offseason because I know what I put on film last year wasn’t me at full strength.”



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Neil S. Schwartz

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Jonathan Feinsod

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