2012 NFL Free Agency: 15 Players Cincinnati Bengals Must Bring Back

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 10, 2012

2012 NFL Free Agency: 15 Players Cincinnati Bengals Must Bring Back

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    NFL free agency is now a main priority of the Cincinnati Bengals after being bounced from the playoffs.

    The Bengals have a multitude of players that are set to become free agents, but the team shouldn’t allow them to test the market.

    Bringing back established veterans is great for the Bengals organization for two reasons.

    For one, most are experienced players who can provide veteran leadership for one of the youngest teams in the league.

    Secondly, retaining an organization’s own free agents provides consistency through the years, as the players already know the system. Familiarity across the board will allow the team to grow together and be even more successful in upcoming years.

    Players that don’t make this list are ones the Bengals should let go entirely. They have either worn out their welcome, or there are better options on the roster already. Allowing some players to walk will give the Bengals the opportunity to bring in some new faces from the free-agent market.

    Here are 15 Bengals set to become free agents that Cincinnati must retain.

OT Anthony Collins

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    Anthony Collins is a solid presence on the offensive line, and he proved so this season when Andre Smith was out with an injury.

    Collins won’t see a starting gig in 2011 unless the Bengals want to give him a shot at the guard position.

    Collins is a great backup at the tackle position in case of injury.

    The Bengals need help on the offensive line, but they also need depth. Collins provides good depth that is hard to find in the NFL.

    He also has the ability to continue to develop into a starting role on the chance that the Bengals need him to play because of injury.

DT Pat Sims

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    Pat Sims only played in 11 games in 2011 before succumbing to a season-ending injury.

    After Sims went down, the Bengals’ rush defense became much worse.

    Sims combined with Domata Peko and breakout star Geno Atkins to form an amazing trio at the defensive tackle position.

    Sims is a solid player against both the run and pass. He is an every-down player that will be confined to a role in a rotation thanks to Atkins.

    Bringing back Sims, like many players on this list, will provide the Bengals with amazing depth on the defensive line.

WR Jerome Simpson

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    Jerome Simpson is infamous for his flip into the end zone against the Arizona Cardinals, but he should be famous with Bengals fans for being a legit starting receiver across from A.J. Green.

    Simpson caught 50 passes for 725 yards and four touchdowns in 2011.

    His 14.5 average is an impressive number, and even more so when considering he was catching passes from a rookie.

    Andre Caldwell isn’t on this list because Simpson has emerged as a great option as the No. 2 receiver.

    The Bengals would be silly to not bring back Simpson, as the timing and relationship between him and Andy Dalton will only improve.

DE Frostee Rucker

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    Frostee Rucker had a breakout season in 2011, and now the Bengals will no doubt have to bring him back.

    Before 2011, Rucker was either hurt or simply ineffective.

    Rucker transformed into a player that could play every down if the team needed him to.

    With 44 tackles and four sacks in 2011, Rucker was a major contributor to the defensive line depth the Bengals were happy to have.

    Bringing back Rucker will allow the entire line to stay fresh throughout a game while wearing down opposing offensive lines.

K Mike Nugent

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    Mike Nugent is a proven kicker whom the Bengals must bring back next season.

    Nugent was solid, going 33-of-38 for an 86.8 average on the season.

    Nugent missed a few down the stretch, but his overall body of work speaks for itself.

    Kicker isn’t exactly the hardest position to replace in football, but the luxury of having a consistent kicker like Nugent isn’t something the Bengals organization should take for granted.

S Reggie Nelson

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    Reggie Nelson struggled at times last season, but he appeared to play better than he ever has this year, thanks to defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.

    Nelson has the ability to be a starting safety in the league if he continues to improve in pass coverage.

    If the Bengals decide to draft or bring in someone better, Nelson would be one of the better backup safeties in the league.

    In 2011, Nelson had 85 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and four interceptions.

    Bringing him back in any capacity will make a mediocre secondary stronger immensely.

OG Nate Livings

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    Nate Livings has struggled heavily the past couple of seasons and is made better by having the fortune of playing next to Andrew Whitworth.

    The sole purpose of bringing back Livings is in a backup role.

    Livings has had starting experience, but the Bengals would be smart to bring in someone who can start over him.

    Livings simply isn’t a starting guard in the NFL, but he's a great backup. Bringing him back in that role will allow the Bengals to have solid depth across the line.

TE Donald Lee

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    Donald Lee was an amazing pickup last season who provided great veteran leadership after coming off of a Super Bowl victory with the Green Bay Packers.

    Lee is a large target for what will be a second-year quarterback in Andy Dalton.

    Last season, Lee caught 11 balls for 115 yards in limited playing time. Lee is a great run-blocking tight end who should be the primary backup to Jermaine Gresham.

LB Manny Lawson

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    Manny Lawson was a free-agent pickup last year, and a great one at that.

    His stats aren’t mind-blowing, but that’s because fellow free agent linebacker Thomas Howard went off and had an amazing year.

    Lawson finished the year with 52 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

    He is an every-down linebacker that is solid against the pass and the run. Lawson also has the ability to rush the passer from the defensive end position if the Bengals need him to.

    Retaining Lawson not only provides continuity in the linebacking corps as well.

    Lawson would compete with Brandon Johnson and Dan Skuta for starting gigs, which would make all of the players better.

CB Adam Jones

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    Every NFL fan knows the crazy story of Adam “Pacman” Jones’ career.

    Jones has now settled down and is a legit No. 2 starting cornerback in the league.

    Unfortunately for Jones, he was tasked with going up against each team’s No. 1 receiver each week after Leon Hall went down with an injury.

    Jones performed admirably, but it wasn’t good enough.

    What’s important is Jones is a very solid player who absolutely must be brought back to what is already an extremely fragile Bengals secondary.

    Leon Hall should be ready to go by the season opener, but players with his type of injury are typically never the same.

    Bringing back Jones is one of the most important moves of the offseason, because the team can pair him with a high draft pick to form a formidable trio in the secondary with veteran Nate Clements bringing up the rear.

    Letting Jones walk would be a massive setback to Cincinnati.

LB Brandon Johnson

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    Brandon Johnson is a great backup linebacker who has the ability to come in and be effective in all situations.

    Johnson reinforced the linebacking corps this past season along with Dan Skuta.

    Johnson had 31 tackles this season, and it would have been much more if he had seen more playing time.

    Johnson actually stepped in a few seasons ago for the injured Keith Rivers and performed better.

    There’s no doubt Johnson is talented enough to be a starter somewhere in the league, and the Bengals are fortunate to have held on to him this long.

    If the Bengals want to have one of the better linebacking corps in the league, Johnson has to be brought back no matter what.

DE Jonathan Fanene

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    Jonathan Fanene is one of the most underrated players on the Bengals’ roster.

    Fanene has the unique ability to not only line up at defensive end, but play inside at defensive tackle as well.

    He is a force not only at rushing the passer, but playing the run, too.

    Fanene had a monster season in 2011, recording 24 tackles and, more importantly, 6.5 sacks.

    Fanene was part of one of the deepest rotations on a defensive line in the league last season, and bringing him back will ensure a quality rotation that opposing offensive lines will dread having to go against.

FB Chris Pressley

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    Chris Pressley doesn’t have impressive stats, but most fullbacks in the NFL don’t.

    Pressley is a great blocker in the run game, and he paved the way for Cedric Benson’s 1,000-yard season this year.

    Pressley is a bit undersized for a fullback, but his work ethic and contributions in the running game often go unnoticed by fans.

    A good blocking fullback can sometimes make up for a mediocre offensive line.

    When paired with a solid offensive line, Pressley has the ability to spring his running back into the secondary on most snaps.

LB Dan Skuta

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    Dan Skuta is beginning to emerge as a major contributor in the linebacker rotation.

    He even saw snaps in the playoff game against Houston.

    There’s a reason for this. Skuta filled in for linebacker Rey Malaluga earlier in the season, and the defense didn’t miss a beat.

    If Rey isn’t careful, Skuta is becoming good enough to take his starting gig.

    Skuta is also the best player on special teams, and like Cedric Peerman, appears to be in on every play.

    Retaining Skuta is vital for the Bengals next season.

    He can play every linebacker spot and is developing into an every-down linebacker in the NFL.

RB Cedric Peerman

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    The Bengals have exclusive rights to running back Cedric Peerman, and Bengals fans everywhere should be extremely happy about this.

    Peerman won’t ever see excessive snaps in the running game, especially with the Bengals likely to take a running back in the draft.

    However, Peerman is easily the best special teams player the Bengals have besides linebacker Dan Skuta.

    Peerman recorded 13 tackles but appeared to be in on almost every special teams play.

    His continued contributions will ensure the Bengals have great depth at multiple positions.