2012 NFL Free Agents: 5 Free-Agent Targets for the Cincinnati Bengals

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystFebruary 16, 2012

2012 NFL Free Agents: 5 Free-Agent Targets for the Cincinnati Bengals

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    The Cincinnati Bengals were one of the pleasant surprises of the National Football League in 2011, as rookie quarterback Andy Dalton led the team to a 9-7 record and a playoff berth.

    There are still plenty of areas for improvement in the Queen City, however, and the first chance the Bengals will have to address these needs is when free agency opens on March 13.

    Luckily (or cheaply, some would say) for Cincinnati, no team in the NFL has more salary cap room than the Bengals, who are projected to be $44 million under the cap.

    Here's a look at a handful of players the Bengals should spend some of those greenbacks on if they intend to return to the postseason in 2012.

Michael Bush: RB, Oakland Raiders

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    Starting running back Cedric Benson topped the 1,000-yard mark in 2011, but for the fourth time in five seasons, Benson failed to average four yards per carry and is quite possibly the least explosive starter at his position in the NFL.

    Of the running backs set to hit free agency, Michael Bush of the Oakland Raiders is the best option available who may actually see the open market (Ray Rice and Matt Forte almost certainly won't), and coming off a season in which he gained nearly 1.400 total yards, the the 27 year-old would provide a much-needed boost in the Bengals backfield.

Reggie Wayne: WR, Indianapolis Colts

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    After enduring a nightmarish 2-14 2011 season and with quarterback Peyton Manning reportedly on his way out in Indianapolis, there's a very good chance that veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne will follow Manning out the door.

    Wayne is no spring chicken at 33 years old, but he still has some gas in the tank, managing 960 receiving yards last season catching passes from Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky, and the 11th-year pro would provide an excellent complement to and mentor for young wideout A.J. Green.

Carl Nicks: OG, New Orleans Saints

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    Here's where all that salary-cap room is going to come in handy.

    There may be no more sought-after player on the open market this season than offensive guard Carl Nicks of the New Orleans Saints, as the 6'5", 343-pound fourth-year pro is a two-time Pro Bowl player in the prime of his career at 26 years old.

    Nicks will command a hefty price in free agency, but the Bengals would be very well served to pony up, as current starters Mike McGlynn and Nate Livings are far from world-beaters at the position.

David Hawthorne: MLB, Seattle Seahawks

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    Rey Maualuga was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals three years ago to be their middle linebacker of the future, but for whatever reason the former USC standout has never "taken" to the role, failing to top 90 tackles in a season so far in his career.

    Meanwhile, fourth-year veteran David Hawthorne has topped the century mark in tackles three years running for the Seattle Seahawks, and at only 26 years old, Hawthorne would provide the Bengals with a reasonably priced alternative that would allow them to kick Maualuga to the strong side.

Brandon Carr: CB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    The departure of Jonathan Joseph in free agency last year left the Bengals with a hole at cornerback, and while Nate Clements was a serviceable replacement, he's 32 years old and on the down-slope of his NFL career.

    Brandon Carr of the Kansas City Chiefs is likely the best cover-corner option available in this season's free-agent class, and while the 25-year-old will command a big payday if he hits the open market, Cincinnati has the cap space and would be wise to make the investment.