Projecting the Cincinnati Bengals' NFL Free-Agent Targets

Sean ODonnellContributor IIIMarch 8, 2013

Projecting the Cincinnati Bengals' NFL Free-Agent Targets

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    The buzz around NFL free agency is in full swing now that it begins in only five days. One of the hot teams being discussed as potential market spenders is the Cincinnati Bengals.

    After placing the franchise tag on defensive end Michael Johnson, the Bengals are left with $46 million in cap room. Most Bengals fans would like to see one major signing outside of their own core of players with this amount of money to work with.

    So, who should the Bengals actually target while maintaining this high amount of cap space?

    The Bengals need to be smart this offseason and allocate a portion of this money to the long-term deals of starters like Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and future signings of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green.

    However, it still leaves this organization with enough room to make a splash in free agency.

    One thing to keep in mind is that the Bengals should be targeting these players that will be mentioned shortly. This does not mean that they will sign all of them, as there is not any NFL team that would have the potential to do so.

    Let's take a look at some free-agent targets for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Mike Wallace

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    Mike Wallace has been a hot topic of conversation around many Bengals enthusiasts. Some are very much in favor of the idea of Wallace teaming up with A.J. Green, and others would rather stick with Mohamed Sanu as the second receiver.

    Both are certainly valid options. However, there is one attribute that Wallace possesses that Sanu does not—speed.

    Wallace has the kind of speed that can blow away a defense. He is no stranger to getting behind a secondary quickly and scoring on a long play.

    This kind of ability requires a defense to stay honest against Wallace. Staying honest makes defenses unable to roll coverage to Green's side of the field.

    This duo would be a nightmarish matchup for opposing defenses. Not only would it allow both of these receivers to open up deep routes, but also it would allow other receivers such as Sanu and Andrew Hawkins to play pitch-and-catch football underneath.

    Signing Wallace as the one blockbuster move for the Bengals offseason makes plenty of sense for this franchise.

Brian Hoyer

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    Brian Hoyer has shown that he is capable of playing at the NFL level over his first four years in the league. He has a big enough arm to get the ball downfield with nice velocity and seems to survey the field very well.

    Hoyer had a nice college career in Michigan State and showed plenty of promise coming into the NFL in 2009. He was never given the opportunity to compile a fair amount of repetitions at the quarterback position and still has plenty of upside.

    With Bruce Gradkowski seemingly set to hit the open market, backup quarterback becomes a high priority for the Bengals.

    Dalton will be the starter once again this year, but the Bengals will need a veteran to take his place should any unfortunate circumstances arise.

    Drafting a rookie in the mid-round of the 2013 NFL draft seems to be a good idea, but there is very little chance of that player being able to contribute in year one.

    Hoyer would give the Bengals an experienced backup with the same amount of upside as any quarterback slated to go in the middle rounds of this year's draft. This would be a relatively inexpensive signing and would have the Bengals set at the backup quarterback position for four to five years.

Eric Winston

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    Bengals right tackle Andre Smith should end up hitting the open market after declaring that he is looking for an annual salary of $9 million. This is a hefty payday for a hefty right tackle.

    Smith is certainly one of the best right tackles in the NFL, but he's not worth the price in which he is asking.

    The Bengals should allow him to test the market to see if he is able to get his asking price. If he can not find a suitor, he may be able to return to Cincinnati with a lower price tag. But what happens if an organization decides to pay Smith the money he is asking?

    Well, in that case, Eric Winston would be a great and cost-efficient addition to the Bengals offensive line.

    Winston is still only 29 years old and has had some solid years at the right tackle position. He is not as dominant as Smith, but maintains great technique and is a solid pass protector.

    The Chiefs chose not to re-sign Winston after trading for Alex Smith, re-signing Dwayne Bowe and placing the franchise tag on Branden Albert.

    This gives the Bengals a golden opportunity to claim one of the better right guards in free agency which, in turn, would open up the possibilities in the early rounds of the draft at other positions.

Keenan Lewis

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    Keenan Lewis burst onto the scene in 2012 while playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Lewis started all 16 games for the first time in his career and amassed 71 tackles, one forced fumble and a whopping 23 passes defensed.

    The Steelers have found themselves in salary cap prison and are currently fighting their way out. This leaves this talented young cornerback set to enter free agency.

    The Bengals have seen Lewis in action twice last season. He did a very nice job in coverage against Green and Marvin Jones.

    The Bengals have yet to re-sign Adam Jones and Terence Newman, which leaves the corner position both very thin and inexperienced. Lewis would be able to come in and have an immediate impact in the secondary.

    Lewis is coming off of his rookie contract and has only had one breakout season, so his price tag should not be much higher than that of Jones or Newman.

    This could be a very interesting route for the Bengals to take. They could possibly land a very solid cornerback at a good price just as his career is about to take off.

Dashon Goldson

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    Dashon Goldson has recently generated lots of buzz around the Bengals fanbase. On Tuesday, he was interviewed on SiriusXM NFL Radio and stated that he would be interested in playing for the Bengals.

    Goldson currently has an asking price of $8 million which means if the Bengals chose to sign him, that would be the one major move the franchise could afford in free agency.

    However, Goldson could certainly be well worth it.

    He is known for his big-hitting style of football at the free safety position. However, the way he plays, Goldson looks more like a strong safety. This is a perfect scenario for the Bengals as they already have a great free safety in Reggie Nelson.

    The duo of Goldson and Nelson patrolling the deep portions of the secondary would be a nightmare for opposing offenses. Both players are hard-hitting ball hawks and can change a game in a matter of moments.

    Pairing these two players up with a top cornerback in Leon Hall makes for the reigning sixth-ranked defense to become even better in 2013.

    The Bengals certainly have plenty of options in free agency this offseason—if they make the right choices, they could be very dangerous in the upcoming season.