Bengals Tag Mike Nugent: How the Move Changes the Bengals' Offseason Strategy

Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistMarch 2, 2012

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 18:  Place kicker Mike Nugent #2 of the Cincinnati Bengals kicks a field goal from the hold of Kevin Huber #10 of the Cincinnati Bengals against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 18, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Bengals 24-22.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals placed the franchise tag on kicker Mike Nugent today. Nugent, along with safety Reggie Nelson, were the primary candidates for the tag.

According to Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer, the tag will cost the Bengals about $2.6 million in 2012, quite the raise for Nugent, who only made $685,000 in 2011. The raise is warranted, as last year saw Nugent break two team records in field goals made (33) and points scored (132).

The application of the tag means the Bengals don’t have to worry about one of the more important positions on the team. Cincinnati has until July 15th to negotiate a contract extension with Nugent.

Now the front office can focus on the plethora of Bengals free agents that still need new contracts. Some notable names that could leave are linebacker Manny Lawson, safety Reggie Nelson, defensive ends Frostee Rucker and Jonathan Fanene and defensive tackle Pat Sims.

 A full list of Cincinnati free agents can be found here.

Slapping the tag on Nugent has a massive impact on the future of Reggie Nelson. He had a breakout year for the team, and was arguably the best player on an elite defense. Losing Nelson would deal the unit a massive blow that would be hard to bounce back from, especially considering the rest of the secondary is questionable at best.

Contract talks between the Bengals and Nelson have thus far been “quiet,” which led many to believe Nelson would be receiving the tag. He was a vital piece of the defense, so hitting him with the tag made a lot of sense, especially with the tag only being worth about $6 million—a small price to pay for a team with about $60 million to spend.

BALTIMORE, MD - JANUARY 2:  Reggie Nelson #20 of the Cincinnati Bengals returns an endzone interception against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on January 2, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Bengals 13-6. (Photo by Larry Frenc
Larry French/Getty Images

Between the lack of talks and the tag being applied to Nugent, it is very plausible that Nelson could hit the open market in a week. The Miami Dolphins are a team that could have a lot of interest in Nelson as he has played for Kevin Coyle for the past two seasons in Cincinnati, and Coyle just took the defensive coordinator job in Miami.

The Tennessee Titans are also said to have interest in Nelson, as talks with their own free agent safety, Michael Griffin, have been slow at best.

With that being said, the Bengals have made it known that Nelson is a priority this offseason, so a long-term deal could still happen before free agency opens March 13th. If it doesn’t and Nelson enters the market, the Bengals haven’t been known to get in bidding wars with other teams for players.

If Nelson leaves for more money, the free agent class is pretty weak at the free safety position, besides the Titans’ Griffin. A Griffin-Nelson swap wouldn’t make much sense, but it could shake out that way.

The Bengals are also confident in some of their young players on the roster, so the coaching staff could feel comfortable letting a younger player like Taylor Mays or Robert Sands fill Nelson’s void. There is, of course, always the 2012 NFL draft as well.

To conclude, while placing the tag on Nugent alleviates one of many issues facing the Bengals this offseason, there are still a multitude of questions the team must answer. The Bengals have a lot of work to do in the next week before free agency officially opens.