The Cincinnati Bengals have 21 unrestricted free agents left after placing the franchise tag on defensive end Michael Johnson. Right tackle Andre Smith is also gaining a great amount of publicity after reports surfaced that he was looking for an annual contract of about $9 million.
Other Bengals free agents are flying below the radar at the moment due to these highly priced marquee players. Two of them happen to be starting cornerbacks Terence Newman and Adam Jones.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis stated that his top priority this offseason was to re-sign his own free agents. So, how important are these two players in the grand scheme of things for the Bengals?
Last year during the offseason both players signed one-year contracts with the Bengals. Newman signed as a second corner to incumbent Leon Hall and Jones as a third corner and return specialist.
These contracts were very important at the time due to the lack of experience behind Hall in the secondary.
The Bengals had just drafted Dre Kirkpatrick with the 17th selection in the first round and Shaun Prater in the fifth round. Brandon Ghee—a former third-round pick—was also unproven to this point.
These signings turned out to be a blessing for the Bengals as Kirkpatrick missed most of the season due to injury concerns and most of his reps came on special teams. Prater and Ghee did not see any action in the regular season as both sustained season-ending injuries in training camp.
Both Newman and Jones went on to have very solid seasons with the Bengals in 2012. Newman finished with 75 tackles, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, two interceptions and 10 passes defensed. Jones had 40 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and nine passes defensed. He included an 81-yard punt return touchdown as well.
Now, in 2013, the Bengals are in the exact same scenario. Kirkpatrick is still unproven and may not be able to step in right away. Both Prater and Ghee are recovering from injuries and may not be able to bounce back immediately. Veteran Nate Clements will also hit the open market in free agency.
There is a chance that the Bengals may take a cornerback within the first two rounds of the draft in April. However, this is a tough position in which to adjust to the NFL. Most cornerbacks do not make a significant impact straight out of college. It will generally take about two years to become a staple in the starting rotation.
This scenario screams for the Bengals to bring back the two former Dallas Cowboys that have revived their careers under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer for one more season.
Signing these two cornerbacks to a short-term deal once again should be of the utmost importance to the Bengals before free agency begins. This keeps most of the sixth-ranked defense intact and allows for the progression of younger players under these very solid veterans.
The Bengals should certainly strike quickly with contract negotiations as these corners may be very hot commodities once free agency begins.