The Bengals have over 20 decisions to make this offseason thanks to a hefty free-agent class. A close look at the list reveals some major contributors last season that have to be brought back. It also shows some dead weight that the Bengals will be more than happy to let go.
With around $60 million to spend the Bengals have an opportunity to pay bring back important talent from this pool of free agents. The team is known for prioritizing their own players first, and this offseason will be no different.
The following numbers are ballpark estimations of what Mike Brown would have to give each free agent to have them in stripes in 2012 (values calculated at annual amounts):
March 13, 2012: Bengals.com reporter Geoff Hobson reports that Cincinnati has tendered RFA Clark Harris and Dan Skuta. They also have exclusive rights for S Jeromy Miles.
Cedric Benson: $3.5 million (estimated)
If the Bengals want to bring back Benson for another go-round it will cost them a decent amount. Benson made $5 million in 2011, and that saw him average only 3.9 yards per carry. Benson's value took a massive hit last season, and it doesn't help that he is approaching 30 years old.
Benson has said there have been no talks with the Bengals front office, and that makes sense. It appears as if both parties have had enough of each other.
Andre Caldwell: $700,000 (estimated)
Caldwell didn't do much of anything on the field last year, and continued to fade down the depth chart before landing on injured reserve. He only made $695,000 last season, and really didn't do anything to be worth more than that.
Caldwell is cheap, quality depth the Bengals could use. If he is looking for anything more than listed above expect the Bengals to let him walk in search of more money that simply isn't there.
Anthony Collins: $750,000 (estimated)
Collins provided good depth for the Bengals offensive line at the cheap cost of $672,625 in 2011. The fourth-round pick in the 2008 draft played admirably whenever Andre Smith was unable to go. He also could potentially slide inside to the guard spot if needed.
Collins will likely never be a starter, but has shown flashes of quality play. He is the type of essential depth the Bengals could use in the trenches.
Jonathan Fanene: $3 million (estimated)
Fanene was an integral part of the defensive line rotation last season and saw time at both defensive end and defensive tackle. His meager $1.2 million cap hit in 2011 was great considering he racked up 6.5 quarterback sacks.
Fanene is hitting 30 years old soon, and that's fine. He has more than earned his raise after doing the dirty work in the trenches for the Bengals since 2005. It's time the Bengals reward the seventh-round pick.
Kelly Jennings: $700,000 (estimated)
Kelly Jennings didn't do much at all in 2011 and still made $2 million. He was traded to the Bengals in exchange for defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, a move the Bengals had to make for lack of depth at the cornerback spot.
Jennings had 33 tackles and a sack last season, but unsurprising suffered in coverage like he has his entire career. Jennings has been a colossal bust after being selected in the first round of the 2006 draft by Seattle, and is essentially cheap depth at this point.
Adam Jones: $1.5 million (estimated)
Jones was given a new lease on life two seasons ago by the Bengals, after the team offered him one last chance to play in the NFL. Jones made the most of it. Last season Jones made a measly $640,000—an amazing value for what the Bengals got out of him.
Jones performed admirably as the No. 1 corner in Leon Hall's absence. If the Bengals want to keep him they need to give him a raise.
Manny Lawson: $4 million (estimated)
Lawson was quietly a huge part of the Bengals defensive success last season. He signed a one-year deal worth $3 million before the season and went on to record 52 tackles and 1.5 sacks. If the Bengals want some consistency at linebacker, Lawson is due a raise.
Lawson puts the Bengals in an awkward position because Rey Maualuga is only scheduled to make over $1 million next season, and the team's best linebacker Thomas Howard will only make $3.2 million.
Brandon Johnson: $2 million (estimated)
Brandon Johnson has been a key back up for the Bengals since 2008, and a very important part of Mike Zimmer's nickel defense. Johnson had potential to find a starting role somewhere in the NFL but has continued to elect to remain in Cincinnati.
Keeping Johnson around might not be easy, especially if the team brings back Manny Lawson once again. Johnson is a good player that the Bengals need to pay if they want to continue to have quality depth on defense.
Donald Lee: $850,000 (estimated)
Lee made around $800,000 last year while being a backup and mentor to Jermaine Gresham. He was primarily used as a blocker but did catch 11 passes for 115 yards. Keeping Lee won't be an issue for the Bengals if they can't find another veteran presence to bring in. Lee doesn't have much leverage as a one dimensional player going on 32 years old.
Nate Livings: $1 million (estimated)
Livings may want to be paid like a starter considering he was just that last season, but he doesn't really have a case. He struggled in all facets of the game most of the time, and was only in because the Bengals didn't have a better option.
The Bengals are very thin at guard, and look to upgrade the position vastly this offseason. Livings isn't a high priority, but would be a quality, cheap insurance policy.
Mike McGlynn: $550,000 (estimated)
McGlynn was claimed off waivers last season by Cincinnati in September as an insurance policy. McGlynn was average when he had to play, and that's being nice. He made the exact number above last season, and shouldn't expect much more at this point.
Reggie Nelson: Update: Adam Schefter of ESPN reports via his Twitter that the Bengals have reached an agreement with safety Reggie Nelson.
Mike Nugent: Update: The Washington Post is reporting that Mike Nugent has received the Bengals' franchise tag.
Dennis Roland: $650,000 (estimated)
Roland isn't much but backup fodder at this point, but saw some action in heavy sets last season. Roland won't supplant Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith or even Anthony Collins at this point, but would provide some decent depth if the Bengals choose to bring him back.
Frostee Rucker: $4 million (estimated)
Rucker took the starting role from fellow defensive end Michael Johnson in week six of last season and never looked back. Rucker went on to record 44 tackles and four sacks, performing very effectively against the run and rushing the passer.
Rucker only made $1.2 million in 2011, but the third-round pick in 2006 has finally emerged. If the Bengals allow him to slip into free agency he could play elsewhere in 2012.
Bo Scaife: $650,000 (estimated)
Scaife didn't make it far with the Bengals after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in the team's third preseason game in 2011. He was slated to be the No. 2 tight end behind Jermaine Gresham.
It's hard to know what Scaife has left in the tank, but he will come cheap if the Bengals want him back.
Jerome Simpson: $1 million (estimated)
The value of Simpson is hard to calculate. He caught 50 passes last season for 725 yards and four scores while only making $926,750. There is, of course, the whole marijuana trafficking charge hanging over his head which could decimate his value.
Simpson failed to be what the Bengals needed as a No. 2 receiver in 2011, and sources say the team isn't likely to bring him back.
Pat Sims: $2 million (estimated)
Sims was yet another reason the Bengals defense was so good last season. He was quality depth that disrupted the running game before succumbing to a season-ending ankle injury in Week 12. The run defense took a noticeable hit after Sims went down.
Sims made about the same number as above last season, and likely won't expect much more. Fellow tackle Domata Peko is scheduled to make $3.3 million in 2012, and he is two spots above Sims on the depth chart.
Bobbie Williams: $3 million (estimated)
Williams missed the first four games of 2011 after being suspended for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.. Upon his return the offensive line was noticeably better on the right side. Williams suffered a broken ankle in early December against Houston and was placed on injured reserve.
Williams is going on 36 years old, so it could be difficult for him to bounce back from the injury. The Bengals could use his veteran presence in the locker room, and may have to give him a slight raise to convince him to try and attempt a comeback.
S Gibril Wilson: $700,000 (estimated)
Gibril Wilson saw the third-most action at the safety spot last season behind Reggie Nelson and Chris Crocker. Wilson was average at best and ended with 33 tackles and a forced fumble. Wilson is officially on the wrong side of 30 and not getting any better in coverage. He'll be cheap depth at best if the Bengals decide to bring him back.
MLB Dan Skuta: $1.84 million (second-round tender, estimated)
Last season Skuta was a standout on special teams and performed great in place of the injured Rey Maualuga. Skuta is versatile and can play multiple spots in the linebacking corps, making him a valuable asset.
At only 25-years-old, Skuta is emerging as a potential every-down player for the Bengals. In the absence of Maulauga, the Bengals defense didn't skip a beat with Skuta in the middle. Whether that's a testament to Maulauga being average or Skuta being vastly underrated remains to be seen.
FB Chris Pressley: Adam Caplan of thesidelineview.com reports Presley will get a two-year extension.
Clark Harris: $1.26 million (base tender, estimated)
Clark Harris is asked to do only one thing, and he has done it effectively for the last two seasons in Cincinnati. Being a long snapper isn't the most prestigious position in sports, but his contributions allowed Mike Nugent and Kevin Huber to have solid seasons.
DT Nick Hayden: $1.26 million (base tender, estimated)
Hayden was simply depth for an ailing defensive line after Pat Sims went down last season. He didn't contribute much in the way of stats, and is undersized for the position. Look for him to be a training camp body at best in 2012.