Free agency has begun and many of the big names have come and gone. The Bengals were a little slow out of the gates, but over the past week things have picked up and more deals are expected to be announced soon.
Here is a review of what the Bengals have done thus far, what I think they should still do, plus two mock drafts to rack your brain upon.
Will Mike Brown continue his frugality or open the check book?
Free agency is a crazy time in the NFL. Rumors circulate, experts speculate, and money is spent like the world is ending. Eight million for a Guard? I rest my case.
The Cincinnati Bengal organization tends to be of a penny-pinching mindset. Most fans know this and have come to grips with the harsh reality that even given the opportunity, the higher-ups of the team tend to shy away from extending our large contracts, and after the Carson Palmer fiasco I would imagine Mike Brown might be a little gun shy on the big deals.
Take a look at what the Bengals did last year in free agency. Lots of one- or two-year deals to players who didn't command high salaries. So as a fan, I expected a bit of the same this year.
So far they have extended long-term contracts to players. It is refreshing to see them being comfortable to build to the future. I do still look for them to sign a few vets to one-year "let's see what you got" deals.
I also saw the Bengals getting pillaged by other teams. As a young playoff teams with a Top 10 defense and a good offense, teams will come looking for backups in Cincy to come in and compete for a starting job on their team. I'm not surprised a few 2011 Bengals won't be back in 2012.
Reggie Nelson proves the Front Office's priorities are in line.
Anthony Collins, Adam Jones and Reggie Nelson are the main names the Bengals have re-signed this free agency period.
Re-signing Nelson tells us two crucial things for the franchise.
The first is that Cincinnati might be a destination free agents consider more seriously. Nelson was courted by other teams and was even brought in for a visit in New York with the Jets. Despite the attention he still signed with the Bengals. Thank God.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the front office recognized the talent on the roster and made it a priority to keep said talent at home. Justin Smith, TJ Houshmandzadeh are key examples of players the Bengals let go because they didn't see the value in keeping THEIR players. Justin Smith developed into an elite player on arguably the best defense in the NFL, and the Bengals has been searching and failing to find a suitable No. 2 wide out since Houshmandzadeh's departure (Coles, Bryant, Owens, Simpson).
The other upside to the Nelson signing is that during the first season he's scheduled to make $6.5 million with $13.5 million due over his final three seasons. It shows players that we will open the check book to win! It shows a shift in the past frugality which is new, refreshing and uplifting.
Getting Anthony Collins is a big win in my mind as I feel he could be a starting RT or LT on many teams. Having Jones come back gives the Bengals a good option in the Nickel and if starting CB Leon Hall isn't ready by week 1.
Starting DE Frostee Rucker will not be in Cincinnati next season
As I expected, our Defense was hit hard.
Losing DEs Frostee Rucker and Jonathan Fanene are major loses for the D-Line. It hurts depth and the rotation that was established in 2011.
It could get worse, too. Pat Sims, while in talks with the Bengals, could also depart. Losing Sims would result in only having Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, and Nick Hayden at the DT spot.
The departure of all three plus Nelson would have been devastating. Luckily, Nelson is back and a deal for Sims is being reported as imminent.
On the offensive side, Gs Nate Livings (Cowboys) and Mike McGlynn (Colts) leave holes on the O-Line seeking immediate addressing. Regardless of in free agency or the draft, getting a starting guard is a top-3 priority.
Andre Caldwell also left to go the the Manning Show in Denver. No loss there.
Jason Allen will provide a young play-maker at CB
Corner Jason Allen and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis headline the signings for the Bengals in 2012. DEs Derrick Harvery (Broncos), Jamaal Anderson (Falcons), both former No. 8 overall picks, and G/T Travelle Wharton (Panthers) wrap up the signings as of March 23.
Jason Allen will prove to be beneficial to the Bengals after losing Jonathon Joseph last season. He could push Nate Clements for the starting job opposite the injured Leon Hall. If Hall isn't ready after rupturing his achilles by week 1, Allen will likely be the starter.
With Jay Gruden looking to go to a RB by committee in 2012, "The Law Firm" should be the first in the rotation. He is a tough running who doesn't fumble and always picks up positive yardage. Green-Ellis also possesses fantastic vision and is a scoring machine. Over the past two seasons BJGE has tallied 24 rushing touchdowns. In those same two seasons the Bengals have 18 (one by way of QB Andy Dalton). One of Green-Ellis' lesser-known qualities is his pass-blocking ability.
Travelle Wharton will most likely be the starting RG in 2012. He has started 99 games in eight years with Carolina, but was a salary cap casualty this offseason because of his $7.6 million cap number. Pro Football Focus graded Wharton as the No. 38 guard among 77 in 2011. He will be an upgrade over Nate Livings though.
Harvey and Anderson bring strong college pedigrees, but the infamous "bust" moniker. Harvey is more of a pass-rushing DE while Anderson is a bit more of the run-stuffing variety. Obviously if they can somewhat resurrect their careers in Cincinnati the signing will pay off. As of now they are band-aids on the big scratches that are Rucker and Fanene. However, all-in-all it is an even swap.
Bringing back 99 would help bring stability to the D
Getting Manny Lawson, Pat Sims and Brandon Johnson back will go a long way in stabilizing the Bengals front 7 in 2012. All three players' player roles are on the Bengals playoff defense that ranked No. 7 in the NFL.
Manny Lawson was used in mostly running situations last season and was very productive. The former North Carolina State product accumulated 52 tackles and 1.5 sacks. He has drawn interest as of late, but the market has been slow for LBs thus far. Like Nelson, Lawson is one of those players Cincy should bring back next year to build on last years success.
Another rotation player who specializes in stuffing the run, Pat Sims seems to nearly be a lock to be a Bengal next season.
Don't judge me yet!
I think there are a few holes that the Bengals should consider looking to fill. A few are circumstantial, a few to simply upgrade and a couple to simply see what could happen.
If we lose:
1. Pat Sims
Getting a player such as Trevor Laws, Remi Ayodele or Amobi Okoye would help fill Sims's role.
- Laws is a bit undersized but very athletic. He could be a great compliment to Geno Atkins and pressuring the QB.
- Ayodele played very well with the Saints two seasons ago, but struggled last season in Minnesota. I don't see Ayodele commanding a large salary therefore he could be a good signing to provide a good run-stuffer if he plays well.
- Finally, Okoye is 24. 24! He has played five seasons in the NFL already and looked to hit a groove in Chicago after failing to meet high expectations in Houston. Okoye is still developing and will be in his peak soon if not now. He could be worth a low risk flier.
2. Manny Lawson
I think signing or drafting a LB to add some depth is a must anyways, but if we lose Lawson the concern grows a bit more. I would love to see Philip Wheeler or David Vobora to be with the Bengals next season.
- Wheeler was a key cog in Indy's defense for many years until getting hurt last season. Wheeler could start at a few teams in the league right now at the SAM LB spot. If we don't get Lawson back and Rivers can't shake the injury bug, having Wheeler for depth could prove invaluable.
- Don't expect much out of the former Mr. Irrelevant, but expect him to be an upgrade over Dan Skuta.
I generally like Bengals roster. One spot I do not like is SS. Chris Crocker is just not very good. There isn't really much more to say to that. Other than his fake punt for a first down against the Steelers I can't think of a moment I wasn't swearing at Crocker for blowing a coverage or getting plowed at the line.
- Yeremiah Bell may be old, but he has been the Dolphins starter for the past six years. He is still an effective run-stopping "box" safety, but being 34 his cover skills aren't an upgrade over Crocker. The Dolphins released him to save $4.3 million this season. He would be an upgrade, for now.
- Melvin Bullit would have been at the top of everyone's list two years ago, but because of a shoulder injury has became an afterthought. Like Bell, Bullit was released by the Colts to save cap space ($2.4 million). Rumors and reports say he was also release because his shoulder isn't 100 percent yet and he failed a physical, but Bullit was once considered and elite SS. If healthy, Bullit could be had on a one-season deal for an extremely low price and would be a solid upgrade over Crocker.
If you are still reading after the Braylon Edwards picture, thanks. Here is my reasoning. We don't have a proven No. 2 WR right now.
Andrew Hawkins could be that player, but probably not this season. If we were to sign Edwards, we would have a reliable WR who could compliment A.J. Green. Yes, he has problems with easy catches, but he makes some very good ones and is a good deep threat, red zone target and good blocker.
The other two are:
- Visanthe Shiancoe would provide a solid back up TE. His best season was with Brett Favre two years ago, but is currently still a reliable target. He is expected to sign with Seattle, but if the union falls through he would be a decent backup after losing out on Joel Dreessen.
- Tim Crowder is a pass-rushing reclamation project who could be a low risk, high reward player.
Will DeCastro fall to 17?
MOCK No. 1:
1.17: David DeCasto, G, Stanford. A steal at 17, the projected Pro Bowl G would start in place of Bobbie Williams
1.21: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama. For the most part you could insert one of three CBs in this spot: Kirkpatrick, Janoris Jenkins or Stephon Gilmore. None would be expected to start or be a go-to guy immediately with the signing of Jason Allen, so he would be able to develop and get up to speed.
2: Harrison Smith, SS, ND. Depending on how the rest of free agency goes, Smith would be a nice pickup here. A lot of people will bash me for this, but he is big kid with a good frame and decent range. He is also a ballhawk, with seven interceptions and causing seven pass breakups his senior season. I know people won't like this pick, but in a league that features great athletic TEs, having a big athletic S to match up with them is a must
3: Nick Toon, WR, Wisconsin. Like I said we need a No. 2 WR. Toon won't be that guy right away, but he could develop into it. He measures 6'2" and 215 lbs. and has fantastic hands. Watching a few Wisconsin games this year, he always seems to show up and finding a way to get open and make people pay.
4: Ronnie Hillman, RB, San Diego State. Gruden has eluded to a committee of backs this season and has mentioned despite the signing of Green-Ellis and have Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard still on the roster adding another in the draft if a possibility. There is one word to describe Hillman: production. In only two seasons for the Aztecs, the slender but speedy back (5'9" 200 lbs., 4.45 40) rushed for over 3200 yards and found paydirt 17 times. To save you some math, he rushed for 130+ yards game is final season at SDSU. He may be a bit of a project but he could turn into a fantastic pick.
5: Derek Wolfe, DT, Cincinnati. Regardless of if Sims signs or not, getting another DT will be a good idea. If someone goes down I feel more confident in Wolfe than Nick Hayden. He is extremely tall at 6'5" and undersized at 295, but plays with great strength and tenacity. He would be a nice rotation player down the road.
5 (from NE): Donte Paige-Moss, DE, UNC. Anderson and Harvey are good players but all-in-all don't bring too much to the table. Paige-Moss lost most of his Jr. season to an ACL tear after a fantastic Sophomore season in which he recorded seven sacks in 13 games. There is a little to be nervous here but he brings a lot of intangibles to the table. He is a 6'3" 270-pound pass-rushing machine who could again be a great rotation player in a few years. Low risk, high reward guy here.
6: Tank Carder, LB, TCU. Turn on any TCU game this season and you will see Tank Carder wreaking havoc on opposing offenses. An All-American and MWC defensive player of the year Carder won't be a starter in the NFL (most likely), but he will be a great special teamer and solid backup player. Carder possesses good-sized 6'2" 235 lbs. and room to build muscle. Right now he projects to be an OLB, but with 4.69 speed and a nose for the ball, he would be better off moving inside.
I've seen a few places that say we do get our seventh-round pick and some that say it belongs to Jacksonville. Just in case, here is my pick.
7: Derek Carrier, WR/TE, Beliot. Who is this guy, right? Derek Carrier is a virtual unknown I stumbled upon while looking at pro day results, and I'm not the only head he has turned. Scouts are drooling over the 6'3" 240-pounder who ran a 4.49 40, had a 40-inch vertical leap, 10-foot, two-inch broad jump and ran the three cone in what would have been a combine best for WRs 6.69. Carrier is a three-sport athlete (played basketball and ran track in college) who, while not as tall as Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski could provide similar match-up problems down field.
The Safety the Bengals have been looking for to roam the secondary
MOCK No. 2:
1.17: Mark Barron, SS, Alabama. If DeCastro is gone and Barron is on the board, the Bengals take the Safety prospect they have wanted for years.
1.21: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina. Like I said in the first draft, getting a CB in to develop will be very beneficial. Nate Clements is old and Jonathon Joseph left a gap that needs to be replaced. Gilmore's combine numbers will blow you away. His technique isn't there yet, but he has the physical tools to be an elite CB in the NFL
2: Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall. We lost a starting DE and a solid rotational player in free agency. Getting Jamaal Anderson and Derrick Harvey doesn't fully recover that loss. Curry is the icing on the cake to this situation, the insurance policy you take out when you feel something is going to go wrong if you will. Vincent Curry is an absolute monster. If he played at Alabama or LSU he would be a top-5 pick. Alas he played at Marshall with weak competition and finds himself a projected second-day pick. He will immediately come in and help with the DE rotation and possibly start later on in the season.
3: Isaiah Pead, RB, Cincinnati. I'm not even a homer; I just like what Cincy has to offer in the draft this season. Stature-wise, Pead is nearly identical to Ronnie Hillman but played against much better teams in the Big East. What stands out and appeals to me the most about Pead is his toughness and ability to always fall forward. Pead averaged 6.5 yards per rush last season and also had 26 receptions which adds another dimension to his game.
4: Brandon Brooks, G, Miami (OH). Even while I write this, Brooks stock rises. To be honest if it keeps rising the way it has of late he won't be here in fourth. Brooks is a mountain of man at 6'5" and 350 pounds and has your prototypical size, strength (36 reps) and speed (4.99 40). Brooks is big and strong enough to handle the AFC North's monster NTs and fast enough to be a pulling lead G. Again, don't be surprised to hear his name day two.
5: Jeff Fuller, WR, Texas A&M. Coming off a stress fracture in his foot, Fuller is still getting into top shape. Fuller is another physical specimen. He is 6'4" and 225 pounds and has been clocked at 4.52 in the 40. If the Bengals can land a veteran No. 2 WR, Fuller's job as a rookie becomes a simple one: learn and grow until you are ready. Fuller may be a luxury pick, but he is one that could pay high dividends.
The last three picks are the exact same, but to recap, here they are again:
5 (from NE): Donte Paige-Moss, DE, UNC
6: Tank Carder, LB, TCU
7: Derek Carrier, WR/TE, Beliot