Bengals Free Agency: Tracking 2012 Signings, Targets and Rumors
The Cincinnati Bengals are coming off of a shocking 2011 campaign that ended in a 9-7 record and a playoff berth. Now owner Mike Brown faces potentially the most important offseason in franchise history.
Keeping up with every single move Brown and the Bengals make is simple thanks to his offseason tracker.
To start we must analyze the team’s salary cap situation and examine glaring roster holes. Then we have to compile a list of current Bengals free agents and determine their annual dollar value and project whether the team will re-sign them or let them walk.
After taking care of their own the Bengals have to turn their attention to the open market so we will address the team’s potential cap situation after re-signings and identify free agents that best fit the team and what type of contracts the Bengals could offer to them.
Finally we will examine problem areas the team can address through the draft, and analyze the best 2012 NFL Draft prospects that fit the Bengals’ roster.
Tracking Free-Agent Signings, Re-Signings and Roster Moves
ProFootballTalk is reporting that the Bengals have re-signed OT Dennis Roland.
Adam Schefter of ESPN is reporting that the Bengals have signed CB Terence Newman.
Update: A very busy day for the Bengals here. Bringing back Dennis Roland is a depth move here. He's versatile and can fill in if he needs to on the chance someone in front of him is injured.
Terence Newman is an underrated signing that will allow Leon Hall to hit the PUP list if he needs to while recovering from a torn Achilles. Newman's best years are behind him, but he's a solid depth pick up that could also see time at safety in certain packages.
The Bengals added yet another fifth round pick to their arsenal in the upcoming draft, upping their tally of fifth rounders to three. It's the final pick in the fifth round, but it's better than nothing. Keith Rivers is a former first round pick that has struggled to stay healthy. His best season came in his rookie year, and the Bengals were likely going to cut him rather than pay him in excess of $2 million this season to be a backup to Thomas Howard. Receiving compensation rather than simply cutting Rivers is a smart play by Bengals brass here.
March 28, 2012: ProFootballTalk is reporting that the Bengals have re-signed LB Manny Lawson.
Update: Manny Lawson's market was much softer than he expected, and the Bengals win by waiting on his market to develop. Lawson was a solid contributor last season. He won't post amazing stats, but he's a key rotational player that will be used as more of a pass-rusher next season.
Update: Retaining Pat Sims was very, very important to maintaining the stellar run defense from a year ago. Sims is a great rotational tackle that clogs up running lanes and allows others around him to make plays.
Jamaal Anderson is a depth signing, but one filled with unlimited potential as he is a former first round pick. Nice depth pick up after losing Jonathan Fanene and Frostee Rucker.
March 22, 2012: ProFootballTalk is reporting that the Bengals have re-signed CB Pacman Jones.
Update: Another great depth signing for the Bengals here. It's unknown when Leon Hall can return and Jones played well in his place last season. Jones joins what is becoming a deep secondary and could see more time as a return specialist; something he has excelled at throughout his career.
Update: Great move for Cincinnati in obtaining a veteran running backer in Green-Ellis. He's only 26 years old and has scored 24 touchdowns in the past two seasons. "The Law Firm" can be a work-horse back, be he fits perfectly into the new running back by committee approach the Bengals are following.
This signing gives the Bengals a lot of options in the upcoming draft. Regardless of what way the decide to go, Green-Ellis the the perfect fit in what may be a three-back rotation for the Bengals next season.
March 19, 2012: Jason La Canfora of NFL.com is reporting the Bengals have signed S Reggie Nelson.
March 18, 2012: Adam Schefter of ESPN reports via his Twitter that the Bengals have reached an agreement with safety Reggie Nelson.
Update: This is the signing Bengals fans have been waiting for all year. After the team allowed Jonathan Joseph to slip away last offseason, many though Nelson would follow. Nelson had the best year of his career under Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer last season, and retaining him could mean he improves.
Keeping Nelson was critical for Cincinnati because safety was arguably the worst position on the defense a season ago. He provides some continuity, leadership and production at one of the more important positions on the field.
March 17, 2012: Adam Schefter of ESPN reports via his Twitter that the Bengals have signed cornerback Jason Allen.
Update: Solid move for the Bengals who are dying for some depth at the cornerback position. Allen is a veteran player that has a knack for intercepting passes. His will likely see a good amount of playing time next year alone with Nate Clements, Leon Hall and a yet to be named rookie.
Bengals.com reporter Geoff Hobson has confirmed the Bengals have agreed to a deal with free agent guard Travelle Wharton worth $10 million over three years.
Wharton played 16 games for the Carolina Panthers last year. He' a very good run blocker but has a tendency to struggle in pass protection. The Panthers released him because he was due $7.6 million next year and is 31 years old.
This is a smart move by a Cincinnati team that desperatly needs depth at the guard position after losing Mike McGlynn, Bobbie Williams and Nate Livings. Wharton would be an average starter and a great backup. He's versatile having played both guard and tackle throughout his career.
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.
Update: Clark Harris was important to have back for Cincinnati simply for the sake of continuity on special teams. He hasn't had a massive error up to this point, so retaining him was important.
Dan Skuta was a priority this offseason because he could potentially be the starting middle linebacker next season if Rey Maualuga is suspended. Skuta started a game last year while Maualuga was out with an injury and the defense didn't miss a beat. He's one of the team's better special teams players and is versatile enough to play every position in the linebacking unit.
Jeromy Miles wasn't going anywhere since Cincinnati owned his exclusive rights, and that's a great thing. Miles has shown flashes of talent and could compete for a starting safety job this offseason.
March 12, 2012:
The Bengals officially announced the re-signings of linebacker Vincent Rey, running back Cedric Peerman and defensive tackle Nick Hayden.
Update: As expected, the Bengals brought back some very important depth here. Vincent Rey is an intriguing young talent that will continue to contribute in a rotation, and potentially develop into a starter at some point.
Running back Cedric Peerman is an extremely versatile back that will contribute at times in Jay Gruden's running back by commottee philosophy. He's also the Bengals' best special teams player.
Nick Hayden is good depth for the team, especially with Pat Sims currently a free agent.
March 7, 2012:
Multiple sources are confirming that the Bengals have reached an agreement with fullback Chris Pressley. Pressley was very effective as a lead blocker for Cedric Benson last season, and the Bengals needed to get him under contract.
Bringing back Pressley is a good start to the variety of free agents the Bengals need to bring back. He'll provide some continuity in the running game whether blocking for a rookie or a back brought in via free agency.
Adam Caplan of thesidelineview.com reports Presley will get a two-year extension.
March 5, 2012:
The Washington Post is reporting that Mike Nugent has received the Bengals' franchise tag.
March 2, 2012:
According to the Bengals official Twitter, the team has franchised kicker Mike Nugent.
Update: If the Bengals were going to use the franchise tag this offseason it was going to go to either safety Reggie Nelson or kicker Mike Nugent.
The Bengals elected to tag Nugent after a 2011 campaign that saw him set team records for field goals(33) and points(132). The tag is estimated to be worth $2.6 million for kickers, according to Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
This is an intriguing move because with the Raiders tagging safety Tyvon Branch many thought the Bengals would tag Nelson. Nelson and the Bengals haven't talked yet about a new contract, and free agency begins March 13th. If Nelson hits the open market he is expected to be pursued by several teams, including the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans.
The Bengals have until July 15th to negotiate a new contract with Nugent. It's good for the team to get Nugent under contract this early so they can focus on the plethora of free agents the Bengals still have to get under contract within the next week and a half.
Feb. 17, 2012: The Cincinnati Bengals signed running back Aaron Brown. Brown was a sixth-round pick in the 2009 draft. Brown had 189 career rushing yards on 44 attempts before being cut by the Detroit Lions on December 28th.
Brown is a slender back that is great at catching passes out of the backfield, but has trouble running between the tackles. Brown is likely nothing more than training camp filler at this point, but the Bengals needed more competition at the running back position with no true starter established yet.
Brown hails from TCU where he played with Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. During his four-year collegiate career Brown rushed for 2,596 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Salary Cap Status
According to Spotrac, the popular sports contract-tracking website, the Bengals currently have $59,623,366 worth of contracts that will count against the 2012 NFL salary cap. Add in a calculated-for-inflation $5 million bump that raises the total cap to $125 million, and that leaves the Bengals with roughly $65 million to spend before hitting the cap.
$65 million is a huge amount of money, even in NFL terms. This means the Bengals rank among the teams with the most to spend this offseason. The Bengals are going to need every penny of that massive number to upgrade the team—the Bengals have over 20 players hitting free agency, will have to sign numerous draft picks and potentially bring in players off the open market.
Problematic Cap Hits
There are few issues to find when perusing the contracts on the Bengals as the team has a plethora of young talent locked up for cheap. However, there are a few contracts that could be let go to make room for extensions down the road.
For one, defensive end Robert Geathers shouldn’t be the fourth-highest paid player on the roster in 2012. Geathers is set to make $4.2 million, and that’s a lot for a rotational-only player at this point.
Also, linebacker Keith Rivers spent last season on injured reserve, and to be frank, he wasn’t missed thanks to Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson. Rivers is scheduled to make $1.9 million in 2012, and that may seem excessive for a player that has never lived up to the billing of a top 10 pick.
The Bengals don’t need to let either of these guys go, in fact the depth couldn’t hurt. But if you had to pick two guys that could get the ax because they aren’t worth of their contracts, it’s Geathers and Rivers.
One could write a book on the ridiculous value contracts that litter the Bengals’ roster at this point.
Geno Atkins, the league leader in sacks from the defensive tackle position last year only makes $608,112 in 2012. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap has emerged as a force, and will only make $957,250 next year. Same goes for his counterpart Michael Johnson who will only make $995,000.
Who could forget quarterback Andy Dalton and how important he is to this young franchise—he only makes $1.3 million in 2012. In terms of value, that’s the best you are going to find.
Looking Toward the Future
It’s important to note that, yes, the Bengals have a huge amount of money to spend, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they should. All this young talent on value contracts will have to be paid much, much more at some point. While it may seem like Brown is dragging his feet, he may be doing what is best for the future of the franchise. Does anyone really think A.J. Green is going to continue to settle for $4.5 million annually?
Last Year's Holes
The Bengals were much better than predicted last season, but there is plenty of room for improvement moving forward.
Offensively last year the Bengals ranked 18th in points per game and 20th in yards per game, not horrible numbers given it was orchestrated by a rookie quarterback. Defensively the Bengals ranked ninth in scoring defense and seventh in total yards allowed per game.
Here are the areas the team can upgrade this offseason:
As stated above, the offense wasn't horrific thanks to the veteran-like performance of Andy Dalton. However, the unit had its share of issues at a couple of positions.
Interior Offensive Line
Last season saw guard Bobbie Williams miss time because of suspension early in the season, then suffer a season-ending injury late in the season. At the other guard spot Nate Livings was mediocre at best for most of the season. Backup Mike McGlynn was horrific in his spot duty and rookie Clint Boling looked miserable before being yanked early in the season.
This guard issue won't go away. Williams, Livings and McGlynn are all free agents now. The Bengals need an infusion of youth and talent at the position if they want to better protect Dalton and pave the way for a yet-to-be-named running back.
A.J. Green is of course quickly becoming one of the best at what he does, but beyond him nothing was happening at the receiver position last season. Jerome Simpson had 725 yards and four scores, but one would think those numbers would be much higher with Green taking up all the coverage.
Andre Caldwell was mostly ineffective before being placed on injured reserve, Jordan Shipley's season was cut extremely short as well after suffering a season-ending injury. Andrew Hawkins was a surprise, but didn't contribute a lot in terms of stats and Ryan Whalen was non-existent in spot-duty.
Simpson and Caldwell are free agents. The Bengals have to find a true No. 2 receiver opposite of Green either via free agency or draft. Expect Shipley to be back and potentially be one of the better slot receivers in the league.
Benson rushed for just over 1,000 yards again, but his 3.9 yards per carry average and bad attitude ensure he won't be back next season. Bernard Scott is a great second back that performed well enough when called upon. Brian Leonard is still Mr. Clutch on third and fourth downs, and Cedric Peerman hardly saw any action.
The Bengals are poised to land a big-name running back in free agency or select one of the top prospects in the 2012 NFL Draft. Regardless of what way they go, the team has to find a starting back that can carry the load.
Defensively, the Bengals will continue to run coordinator Mike Zimmer's 4-3 scheme that had the unit ranked in the top 10 last season. With that being said, there were still a few issues.
Leon Hall is attempting to recover from a torn Achillies' tendon he suffered on Novermber 13th, and it's hard to tell when he will be back, and if he will ever be the same player. Nate Clements is a solid veteran who struggled in coverage at times last season. He is entering his 12th season, and his final year with the Bengals.
Adam Jones and Kelly Jennings are free agents and not likely to return. Jones played well at times but had some major lapses in coverage late in the season. Finally, Brandon Ghee has been a disappointment thus far.
It's all but guaranteed that the Bengals address the position in the first round of the draft, and will have to bring in some free agents as well. Look for a variety of new names to inhabit the cornerback position in 2012.
Reggie Nelson was a nice surprise last season, but is now a free agent. Chris Crocker was solid against the run and had his moments rushing the passer but struggled heavily in coverage. Gibril Wilson saw a lot of action but didn't impress.
Taylor Mays is still a work in progress that can't be counted on and Robert Sands has shown nothing so far. Jeromy Miles didn't contribute much, but is solid depth.
Safety is another spot that could use a massive overhaul this offseason. Only one safety makes sense for the Bengals in the first round, Alabama's Mark Barron. Other than Barron it is a relatively weak safety draft class which means the Bengals will have to turn to free agency to improve.
Listing the Bengals' 2012 Free Agents
ProFootballFocus lists the following players as unrestricted free agents which means that if the Bengals don't sign them before free agency opens(March 13th) they hit the open market and any team can offer them a contract:
RB Cedric Benson
WR Andre Caldwell
OT Anthony Collins
DE Jonathan Fanene Update: Signed with the New England Patriots, three years, $12 million.
CB Kelly Jennings
CB Adam Jones
OLB Manny Lawson
OLB Brandon Johnson
TE Donald Lee
OG Nate Livings Update: Signed with the Dallas Cowboys, five years, $19 million
OG Mike McGlynn Update: Signed with the Indianapolis Colts(terms undisclosed).
S Reggie Nelson Update: Adam Schefter of ESPN reports via his Twitter that the Bengals have reached an agreement with safety Reggie Nelson.
K Mike Nugent Update: The Washington Post is reporting that Mike Nugent has received the Bengals' franchise tag.
OT Dennis Roland
DE Frostee Rucker Update: Signed with the Cleveland Browons - five years, $21 million.
TE Bo Scaife
WR Jerome Simpson
DT Pat Sims
OG Bobbie Williams
S Gibril Wilson
The following players are restricted free agents meaning Cincinnati can offer them one year tenders that other teams must compensate the Bengals with draft picks if signed:
MLB Dan Skuta Update: Received tender - one year, $1.26 million
FB Chris Pressley: Update: Adam Caplan of thesidelineview.com reports Presley will get a two-year extension.
LS Clark Harris Update: Received tender - one year, $1.26 million
DT Nick Hayden Update: Re-signed with the Bengals for one year, $615,000.
A $2.61 million tender equates to first-round compensation, a $1.84 million tender qualifies for second-round consideration and the lowest base tender of $1.26 million requires matching the RFA's original draft pick (i.e. if the player was selected in the third round, the interested team must give up a third-round pick in exchange).
Any team matching or holding on to the qualifying offer, must pay the same amount as the player's tender in base salary for that season.
Determining Contract Value and Worth for Every Cincy Free Agent
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.
Projecting Which Free Agents the Bengals Will Re-Sign, Which Will Walk
Obviously the Bengals are not going to be able to bring back all 20-plus free agents, so it's likely Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis will prioritize the ones they value the most and offer them acceptable contracts thanks to the plethora of cap room Cincinnati possesses.
The decisions made regarding their own free agents will weigh heavily on the Bengals' free agency and draft strategies. Also in the back of the minds of Lewis and Brown have to be the large amount of contracts expiring next offseason, so extensions could play a large role in this decision process as well.
Here's a look at projected re-signing decisions the Bengals will make:
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.
OT Anthony Collins: Re-signed
It's hard to imagine the Bengals don't bring back Collins after his solid contributions as a backup. Andre Smith is still a slight question despite improving last season, and Collins is a great insurance policy. Depth like Collins is hard to come by, so it's doubtful the Bengals let him reach the open market.
Estimated Contract: Three-years, $2.25 million
DE Jonathan Fanene: re-signed
Fanene was too important as a part of the defensive line rotation last year for the Bengals to let go. The team will likely reward him with a contract he isn't used to after his stellar 2011 campaign. Fanene is 29, so he won't get a long contract, but the Bengals will throw enough money at him to entice him to stick around.
Estimated Contract: Three-years, $9 million
OLB Manny Lawson: Re-signed
Manny Lawson excelled last year after signing a one year prove-it deal. The Bengals can't really afford to let him walk at this point, even if Dan Skuta is emerging and Keith Rivers is healthy. Lawson won't come cheap, but that's fine. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will likely have the Bengals front office doing whatever it takes to retain Lawson.
Estimated Contract: Four-years, $16 million
OG Nate Livings: Re-signed
Livings was the starter at guard last year and was mostly average. He won't be the starter next year as the Bengals are likely to address the position in both free agency and the draft. With that being said, Livings would be quality depth. He's also a great insurance policy if the Bengals fail in finding a true starter.
Estimated Contract: Three-years, $3.5 million
S Reggie Nelson: Update: Adam Schefter of ESPN reports via his Twitter that the Bengals have reached an agreement with safety Reggie Nelson.
Estimated Contract: Four-years, $22 million
K Mike Nugent:
Estimated Contract: Update: The Washington Post is reporting that Mike Nugent has received the Bengals' franchise tag.
DE Frostee Rucker: Re-signed
Rucker took over a starting gig last season and that won't change in 2012 if the Bengals are able to bring him back. Rucker is solid in all facets of the game and has the chance to continue to improve with increased playing time.
The Bengals have to be willing to throw some money at Rucker or he will hit the open market and be swept up by another team quickly. A Rucker and Carlos Dunlap combo next year has to make Marvin Lewis and Mike Zimmer willing to do whatever it takes to retain Rucker.
Estimated Contract: Four-years, $18 million
DT Pat Sims: Re-signed
Sims is a quality player that is effective at stopping the run. If the Bengals are not able to bring him back the defensive line rotation takes a big hit. After Sims went down with an injury the defense suffered against the run. Sims isn't anything more than a rotational player, but that's a very important part of the scheme the Bengals run defensively.
Estimated Contract: Four-years, $8 million
MLB Dan Skuta: Re-signed
Skuta was an important aspect of the defense last season, and may see an expanded role in 2012. Skuta can play multiple positions effectively, and may be a starter with Rey Maualuga facing legal woes yet again. The Bengals will likely hit him with a second-round tender to make sure he stays with the team. If another team wants Skuta that badly, then the Bengals get a second round pick.
Estimated Contract: $1.84 million - second-round tender
LS Clark Harris: Re-signed
Consistency and repetition is important on special teams, so look for the Bengals to bring back Harris. He's good at what he does and has good chemistry with the other guys in the unit. He'll also be cheap, which is yet another reason the Bengals will bring him back.
Estimated Contract: $1.26 million – base tender
CB Adam Jones: Released
The cornerback position is a major problem for Cincinnati, and the Bengals are likely to rebuild the unit behind Leon Hall and Nate Clements. Jones won't be a part of that rebuilding process. Jones played well for the most part last year, but finds himself in legal trouble once again. It also doesn't help he got abused in the playoff game against Houston. Jones isn't worth the money at this point with the Bengals likely to select a more talented and cheaper player early in the draft.
RB Cedric Benson: Released
Benson hit 1,000 yards last year, but his public critique of Jay Gruden's offense won't help his popularity within the organization. He's going on 30, only averaged 3.9 yards per carry last season and is starting to go down on first contact with regularity. The Bengals are going to find a new starter either via free agency or the draft, and Benson will be let go.
WR Jerome Simpson: Released
Simpson is involved in some legal issues, and he just isn't worth the headache for the organization at this point. He failed to really be an effective number two receiver last season despite most of the coverage being on A.J. Green.
The Bengals were patient with Simpson as he developed, but the relationship has come to an end. The thought is if Simpson is brought back it will likely be as a fourth receiver and it's a safe bet to say Simpson values himself much higher than that.
TE Donald Lee: Released
Lee was a nice surprise last season as his veteran leadership and excellent blocking skills made him a silent contributor to the team. However, Lee is starting to get up there in age and the Bengals can simply find better options on the free agent market at this point.
WR Andre Caldwell: Released
Caldwell struggled to find a role in the offense last season, and it will be even hard for him next year. He's not a number two receiver, and the Bengals don't need a slot receiver thanks to the return of Jordan Shipley. Andrew Hawkins has likely locked up the fourth spot, and if Simpson is brought back he will occupy the fourth spot. Caldwell has some value returning kicks, but that's what Brandon Tate specializes in and is under contract next year.
OLB Brandon Johnson: Released
It was a solid run for Johnson in Cincinnati, but it's coming to an end thanks to the emergence of Dan Skuta and the return of Rodderick Muckelroy. Johnson is a great backup, but will likely demand more money than the Bengals are willing to give him. He has a shot at potentially starting somewhere in the league, and he will have a chance to do so.
FB Chris Pressley: Update: Adam Caplan of thesidelineview.com reports Presley will get a two-year extension.
S Gibril Wilson: Released
Safety is another position receiving a few new names this offseason. Nelson should be re-signed, Chris Crocker is still under contract and the Bengals think they have something in Taylor Mays and Robert Sands. Add in the fact that the Bengals could another a safety through free agency or the draft and Wilson is simply the odd man out.
TE Bo Scaife: Released
Scaife didn't contribute at all after hitting the injured reserve list during the preseason. He won't contribute in 2012 either. The Bengals can do much better at this point – Scaife is 31 years old coming off of a serious injury.
OG Mike McGlynn: Released
McGlynn struggled when he had to play last season, and the Bengals are just going to go a different direction at the position. It's almost a guarantee that the Bengals add multiple players to the position in the offseason, and McGlynn simply isn't good enough to occupy a roster spot.
CB Kelly Jennings: Released
Jennings struggled last season when he was called upon, and that's been a consistent thing throughout his career. The first two corner spots are occupied by Leon Hall and Nate Clements, and the team is sure to add a talented player through the draft. Add in another likely fourth addition, and there just isn't room for a player that has issues in coverage.
OT Dennis Roland: Released
Roland is a solid option as a backup, but he suffers a similar fate to the others that will be released by the Bengals this offseason – he isn't starter material and the team is bringing in other players. It's unfortunate because he is a versatile offensive lineman, but he just isn't needed as the Bengals are expected to bring in more talent.
DT Nick Hayden: Released
Hayden stepped in when Pat Sims went down last season and was largely ineffective. He's undersized for what the Bengals need him to do, and even if he is only a fourth string defensive tackle on the Bengals roster – the team can find better.
OG Bobbie Williams: Released
It had to be heart-breaking for Bengals fans to see Williams suffer a season-ending injury last season as it probably marked the end of the career of one of the most respected Bengals in recent history. Williams is 36 years old and could have difficulty bouncing back from his injury. The line was better with him in last season, but he is still a shell of his former self at this point. The Bengals are projected to bring in multiple players at the position in the offseason, and Williams will likely retire when the Bengals don't bring him back.
Available Cap Space After Re-Signings
The previous cap-projection of $125 million meant that the Bengals had roughly $65 million of free cap space to spend. The free-agent signings listed on the previous slide added up to the Bengals spending about $21 million on bringing back their own players.
Keep in mind, that $21 million is counting toward the 2012 cap only. Of course, any real contract can be weighed variably, meaning a contract could be back-loaded to soften the cap hit in 2012. The projections here are just averages not counting likely contract variables.
After spending $21 million to retain their own the Bengals still possess around $44 million to spend. This means the Bengals could be big players on the free -gent market, and could also work on very important extensions for their key players.
Biggest Needs After Re-Signings
It may sound crazy, but the Bengals re-signing their own players didn't really change the needs that were listed earlier. Instead, bringing back their own ensured the Bengals don't open up any more holes on the roster. With that being said, there are still a variety of issues with the Bengals' roster.
Interior offensive line
The Bengals need to find two starting guards, and fast. Protecting Andy Dalton was an issue for the guys inside last season, and the interior of the line failed to get a good push on multiple short-yardage situations last season. The positions need an infusion of youth and talent so that the entirety of the line is stable and effective.
The receiving unit isn't horrible, but has a glaring hole at the two spot. The team desperately needs someone who can go over the middle and take coverage away from A.J. Green. A fourth receiver is also needed as Andrew Hawkins will not be able to do it on his own.
This is simple enough—the Bengals need a starting running back. There isn't a back on the current roster that could carry the load for the entirety of a full season and a running back by committee approach with the current roster wouldn't be very effective. Cincinnati has to find a workhorse type back that can split the carries with Bernard Scott and utilizes a different rushing style.
The Bengals need to revamp the position after Leon Hall and Nate Clements. Clements is entering the final year of his deal and Hall is coming off a serious injury. The team needs to find a legit number two corner opposite of Hall so that Clements or a rookie can play the nickel corner spot. Beyond that the position just needs some quality depth in case of injury.
Reggie Nelson will be the starter at free safety if re-signed, but strong safety is an issue. The Bengals have to find a starter there that is strong in run support and good in coverage. The position was exposed in coverage last season, and that has to change for the Bengals to improve an already impressive defensive unit.
Identifying Potential Free Agents the Bengals Could Sign
The beauty of this offseason is that Bengals have a ridiculous amount of cap room which could make them big-spenders in free agency. Recent history has seen Mike Brown spend more money than usual in free agency, although not always making the best decisions—Antonio Bryant for four years and $28 million anyone?
What all this means is that no free agent is technically out of the price range of the Bengals, both an exciting and scary proposition for Bengals fans. Here are free agents at positions of need the Bengals could take a look at this offseason:
One of the best guards in the NFL, New Orleans' Carl Nicks may be available, and if he is the Bengals will take a look at him. Another huge name the Bengals could pursue is Baltimore's Ben Grubbs.
Philadelphia's Evan Mathis is a more likely candidate when he hits the open market. Mathis played for Cincinnati for three seasons before joining the Eagles and excelling in 2011. Mathis is 30 years old, but could come in and be an immediate starter.
The Bengals could look to steal one of two receivers from the New Orleans Saints this offseason – either Marques Colston or Robert Meachem. Colston hasn't talked with the Saints yet as the team is more concerned with retaining Carl Nicks and Drew Brees. Meachem could hit the open market for the same reason.
New York Giants receiver Mario Manningam is set to hit the open market after contract talks stalled with the team, and while he isn't exactly what the Bengals need in a number two receiver, he could very well be an option.
A dark-horse candidate for the Bengals is the Indianapolis Colts Reggie Wayne. Wayne is not going to return to Indy next season, and the Bengals could use a reliable option on every down like him. Not to mention having Wayne mentor A.J. Green has to be attractive to Bengals' brass.
Update: Marques Colston re-signed with the New Orleans Saints
Update: Adam Schefter of ESPN reports via his Twitter that the Bengals have signed former Patriots' running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis to a three-year deal.
If the Bengals look to free agency to pick up a running back there are a few options they are likely to consider. Oakland's Michael Bush has to be in consideration, although his production fell off late in the season, leading some to believe he may not be able to carry the load on his own.
San Diego's Michael Tolbert is a versatile back that could potentially fit what the Bengals need, as is Atlanta's Jason Snelling. Both are expected to hit the free agent market. There's always a slight possibility the Bengals could take a look at Cleveland's Peyton Hillis, but the Browns sound intent on keeping him at this point.
Update: The Atlanta Falcons have re-signed Jason Snelling.
Two cornerbacks really stand out in the free agent class if Cincinnati chooses to use free agency to upgrade the position—Tennessee's Cortland Finnegan and Kansas City's Brandon Carr. Both are extremely physical corners that would play well across from Leon Hall.
Carr is expected to hit the market after the Chiefs signed former Raider Stanford Routt and Finnegan is reportedly expecting to be one of the highest paid corners in the league, which means the Titans are unlikely to bring him back.
Other names the team would consider for depth purposes would be players like Tracy Porter, Marcus Trufant and William Gay.
The free agent class is pretty slim at strong safety this year. Two guys stand out for the Bengals though – Oakland's Tyvon Branch and Washington's LaRon Landry.
March 19, 2012: Jason La Canfora of NFL.com is reporting the Bengals have signed S Reggie Nelson.
The Raiders sound intent on keeping Branch, but he is exactly what Cincinnati is looking for. If he hits the market the Bengals could make a push. Landry is likely done in Washington as he opted out of Achilles' surgery, which makes him a risk the Redskins don't want to take.
Update: The Raiders have placed the franchise tag on Tyvon Branch.
Projecting Contract Values for Bengals' Free-Agent Targets
Realistically speaking, the majority of the big-name players listed on the last slide will be retained by their respective teams. Some of the targets will hit the market, and these are projected contracts the Bengals could offer to them.
OG Evan Mathis: Three-years, $15 million
Here's the thing about Mathis—he's guaranteed to hit the open market, which means the Bengals will have a shot at signing him.
Mathis is the third best free agent guard right now, and that's saying something considering the two above him (Ben Grubbs and Carl Nicks) are some of the best in the NFL. Mathis had a dominant season last year in Philadelphia, and the Bengals could really use him. In Cincinnati he would be an immediate starter, and more importantly an upgrade for the position that was abysmal last year.
WR Mario Manningham: Five-years, $30 million
Manningham had a solid season last year and managed to garner attention despite playing behind Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. He's a solid option on any down and versatile enough to play any receiver spot on the field. He's looking for a lot of money, but that shouldn't be an issue for the Bengals. Manningham is only 25 years old and would make a formidable duo with A.J. Green.
RB Michael Bush: Four years, $20 million
Bush is going to hit the market seeking a starting gig, and he could find one in Cincinnati. He's consistently been one of the better backups in the league, and did a great job last season in the absence of Darren McFadden. He posted 977 yards and seven touchdowns with a 3.8 average. Pairing Bush with Bernard Scott would make for an intriguing backfield situation.
CB Brandon Carr: Five-years, $35 million
If Carr hits the market it's almost a given the Bengals throw an offer at him, especially after Mike Brown was shunned publicly by Jonathan Joseph last year. The absence of Joseph hurt last season, but Carr could make up for that.
Carr is very physical and excels in both coverage and run support. Planting him and Leon Hall on the same field would shore up an already highly ranked unit. Two corners with that kind of talent could push the Bengals defense back into the top five next season.
S LaRon Landry: Four-years, $20 million
Landry has been working hard all offseason to recover from his Achilles injury, which means he is risky. The Bengals have proven they aren't afraid to take risks when it comes to signing players, so Landry seems like a natural fit. Landry is very good against the run, but does have some issues in coverage. What Mike Zimmer would ask Landry to be doing is what Chris Crocker ineffectively did last year. Landry is an upgrade if signed, albeit a risky one.
Analyzing Bengals' Draft Strategy, Positions of Need
The Bengals have a lot of options entering the 2012 NFL Draft. The team is talented enough that the front office can draft for need or take the best player available. If the team chooses to draft based on need they could potentially land two players that start from day one as a result of possessing two first round picks.
Offensively the Bengals should look to add talent and depth to the offensive line, especially the guard position. Picking one high in the draft could result in landing a starter. Depth can also be found later in the draft to reinforce the trenches.
The Bengals are also going to be looking for a running back particularly early in the draft if they don't address the need via free agency. The front office will likely select a back they think can carry the load from day one.
Defensively the focus of the draft will be mostly on the secondary. It won't be surprising to see the Bengals take two cornerbacks throughout the course of the draft, and they could also add some talent to the safety position as well. There's a lot of young talent already waiting in the helms at the safety position, but competition will make all of them better.
Adding depth along the defensive line will also be a priority as a large amount of the rotation from last season is possibly hitting free agency. Depth at defensive tackle is the biggest issue, but adding another pass rusher from the defensive end position certainly wouldn't hurt.
Draft Names to Keep an Eye on
As stated earlier, both guard spots could use an upgrade. Stanford's David DeCastro in the first round is a real possibility, and he would be an immediate starter. That goes for Georgia's Cordy Glenn as well; who at 345lbs would simply add to what is already one of the heaviest lines in the NFL.
Outside of the first round, keep an eye on Wisconsin's Kevin Zeitler and Midwestern State's Amini Silatolu, both who could be available for the Bengals in the third to fourth rounds. They likely wouldn't start, but would be quality depth while being groomed into NFL starters.
If the Bengals don't address the receiving core in free agency then the draft has some solid options as well. It's hard to see the Bengals picking a receiver before the third round, but if Wisconsin's Nick Toon happens to fall to Cincinnati in the third he is a good option.
If the Bengals wait until the fourth round they could find themselves with a variety of options, including Arkansas' Jarius Wright, Ohio State's DeVier Posey and Iowa's Marvin McNutt.
The Bengals may forgo paying out a massive contract to a running back in free agency because there are so many great options in the draft.
The no-brainer in the first is Alabama's Trent Richardson, who is being hailed as the best running back to enter the draft since Adrian Peterson. There's an outside chance Richardson falls, especially with him missing the scouting combine and potentially pro-days because of knee surgery.
Outside of Richardson exist many more realistic possibilities.Virgina Tech's David Wilson, Miami's Lamar Miller and Boise State's Doug Martin could all potentially fit what the Bengals are looking for in the first two rounds. Cincinnati's very own Isaiah Pead is also a player to keep an eye on in the third round if the Bengals wait that long.
Cornerback is an area the Bengals are going to address early regardless of any free agent signings. The first round has plenty of prospects the Bengals could select, including Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick, who could fall because of off the field issues. Kirkpatrick is a great talent that would start from day one.
North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins could fall for off the field issues as well. He's a rare talent that would go much higher if he had the ability to stay out of trouble.
Two other players to watch in the first are Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard and South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore. Both are prospects that would join Cincinnati and contribute immediately, whether it's as a nickel corner or starting opposite of Leon Hall.
This safety draft class is extremely weak with the exception of Alabama's Mark Barron. Barron's stock is hard to gauge right now because of his questionable injury history and his missing the scouting combine to have surgery. Whether the Bengals take him in the first or he falls to the second, if he can stay healthy he will be exactly what the Bengals need at the strong safety spot.
Two other players to watch closely in the later round include Notre Dame's Harrison Smith in the third round and LSU's Brandon Taylor in the fourth. Both would probably see playing time in a rotation while being groomed to one day start.