5 Free Agents the Cincinnati Bengals Must Re-Sign in 2013
The Cincinnati Bengals' season is over, which means the franchise must now turn its attention to an extensive list of 2013 free agents who are set to hit the open market if Mike Brown and Co. cannot re-sign them.
Cincinnati has well over 20 free agents, which means the 2013 roster could look drastically different from the one in 2012.
The best NFL franchises spend their money wisely, especially when it comes to bringing back their own before pursuing outside free agents and bringing in rookies. For the Bengals to take the next step, correctly prioritizing who they bring back is key.
In the following slideshow we will list every free agent, and then identify the five most important players who are critical to the long-term success of the franchise.
Let's take a look.
2013 Cincinnati Bengals' Free Agents
The Bengals have an exhaustive list of free agents to decide what to do with. Most are unrestricted free agents, meaning any team can sign them if the Bengals fail to do so before free agency starts.
Others are restricted, and a few are exclusive rights, meaning if Cincinnati wants them back they will re-sign without question.
Here's the full list.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Restricted Free Agents
Exclusive-rights Free Agents
When examining the giant list of free agents, some are more important than others. Here are a few notables who are important to the team, but not enough to justify landing on the following list. These players will likely be back in Cincinnati in 2013 either way.
Wallace Gilberry, defensive end
Gilberry exploded onto the scene for Cincinnati in 2013, but he is replaceable on an extremely deep defensive line.
Rey Maualuga, linebacker
Maualuga has failed to progress into the star most thought he could be both mentally and on the field. He has a chance of being brought back, but the team likely will not make him a priority given the emergence of rookie linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
Manny Lawson, linebacker
Lawson has been a quiet contributor as a linebacker over the years, but is replaceable if the organization chooses to do so. He will be brought back for cheap if the team deems it necessary.
Adam Jones, cornerback
Jones has been an integral part of the secondary and special teams units since joining the team. He is a veteran who can help tutor what will soon be a very young secondary, so he will more than likely be brought back one way or another.
Andrew Hawkins, wide receiver, and Vincent Rey, linebacker
Both Hawkins and Rey are exclusive-rights free agents, meaning they will be back with the team in 2013.
This is great news for the team as Hawkins is an important part of the offense as the fourth receiver behind Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. Rey has shown flashes of being a starting outside linebacker, which will help the team immensely financially when free agency rolls around.
5. Kevin Huber, Punter
A punter is not exactly the most appealing position on any football roster, but for the Cincinnati Bengals it is a crucial role in being a winning team. Cincinnati relies on an exceptional defense to win the field-position battle in each contest.
Having a great punter is a key component allowing that strategy to work.
Kevin Huber was great for the Bengals in 2012. He was No. 5 overall in terms of punts downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line with 33. His net punting average was No. 4 overall, coming in at 42 yards.
Huber is currently one of the best at what he does, and an underrated contributor to the team. Cincinnati needs him to keep winning.
4. Thomas Howard, Outside Linebacker
Thomas Howard was the best player on the Cincinnati Bengals' defense not named Geno Atkins in 2011, and was off to a great start in 2012 against the Baltimore Ravens before tearing his ACL in practice.
Howard missed the rest of the season, and the unit suffered as a result.
If Howard is healthy, he is an extremely important piece to the puzzle on defense in 2013 if the coaching staff wants him to be. He could resume his role as a weak-side linebacker, which would allow rookie Vontaze Burfict to move to his natural position of middle linebacker.
Bringing Howard back is crucial if Cincinnati wants to improve its linebacking corps.
3. Pat Sims, Defensive Tackle
Pat Sims is one of the most consistent players on the Cincinnati Bengals defense each and every year. He is primarily a run-stopper, and without him the Bengals defense is notably weaker against the run.
The Bengals run defense took a dip in 2011 after he went down with an ankle injury. It also markedly improved after the team activated him from the PUP list in 2012 and added him back into the defensive line rotation.
Sims is an outstanding rotational piece behind nose tackle Domata Peko, and can combine with him in rushing scenarios to shut down the opposing offense's rushing attack.
He is not the biggest name on the defense, but Sims' absence will be felt if the team does not bring him back.
2. Michael Johnson, Defensive End
Michael Johnson is a player the Bengals coaching staff has been toying with over the past few years. After scrapping an outside linebacker experiment, Johnson added muscle mass last offseason and transformed into one of the better players on defense in 2012.
Johnson racked up 11.5 sacks in total and improved against the run as well. Part of his success getting to the quarterback is thanks to defensive tackle Geno Atkins, but Johnson's production will not be so easily replaced.
It is hard to find well-rounded defensive ends like Johnson, and it is even hard to find some as athletically gifted as the 6'7" defensive end that has blossomed into a special player for Cincinnati. Johnson is reaching his full potential and the team would be foolish to let him walk over a financial dispute.
1. Andre Smith, Offensive Tackle
Cincinnati Bengals right tackle Andre Smith made the most of his contract year with the team in 2012 after the franchise elected to deny his extension the preceding offseason.
According to ProFootballFocus, Smith was far and away the best right tackle in the NFL over the course of the season.
Smith was, and always has been, dominant in run-blocking. Where he needed to improve was on passing downs, which he did in a big way last season. Teaming with rookie right guard Kevin Zeitler, the Bengals had one of the best right sides to any offensive line in football.
Smith is extremely important to the future of the franchise. The Bengals are dealing with a skittish young quarterback in Andy Dalton who has issues with pocket presence. Allowing arguably the best offensive lineman on the team to walk is not an option.
The Bengals have many priorities heading into free agency, but Smith must be No. 1 if the team is serious about improving in 2013.
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