The Cincinnati Bengals have begun the offseason in normal fashion—quietly. Cincinnati has not been known to make a huge splash in free agency over the last several seasons, yet they have yielded good results.
Instead of making blockbuster moves as they had done in the past (i.e. Laveranues Coles, Antonio Bryant, Terrell Owens), they generally stay quiet during the first couple of days and let other teams spend big money.
However, this year the Bengals seem to be poking around in the running back department early on.
Within the first few hours of free agency, the Bengals were linked to six free-agent running backs to some degree. Reports surfaced about Steven Jackson, Rashard Mendenhall, Beanie Wells, Reggie Bush, Mike Goodson and Felix Jones.
As of now, Bush has signed with the Lions (via USA Today), Mendenhall with the Cardinals (via AZCentral Sports) and Jackson seems to be closing in on a deal with the Packers (via NFL.com). This still leaves three candidates on the board for the Bengals.
Wells and Goodson have already been to Cincinnati but left without contracts—talks are seemingly ongoing.
Jones is a bit of a dark horse and has only been linked to the team via a report from Yahoo! Sports.
With several running backs getting very healthy deals this season (see: Bush, Reggie), is it a good idea for the Bengals to pursue any of these players?
Reggie Bush gets four years, $16 million from Lions.$4 million to sign.— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) March 13, 2013
Let's take a deeper look into these running backs to determine if the Bengals should buy into any of these players or pass on them.
Jones has been on a steady decline in production since entering the league in 2008. In 2012, he recorded his lowest ever seasonal yards-per-carry average at 3.6. He is a decent option as a receiver out of the backfield, but does not bring much more to the table.
Also, Jones carries an injury history. In his professional career, he has only played an entire 16 game season twice in his five years with the Cowboys.
He will come with a price tag worth well over what he will be able to provide in the backfield for Cincinnati.
Wells seems to be drawing the most attention from the Bengals at this point in free agency. A former Ohio State product, he entered the league in 2009 with the Cardinals.
Like Jones, Wells has continued the same tendencies as the aforementioned running back. He is coming off of his lowest seasonal yards-per-carry average at a mere 2.7. Again, like Jones, Wells is very susceptible to injury. The only season in which he played in all 16 games was his rookie year in 2009. He played in only eight games in 2012.
Coming off his rookie contract, Wells will be looking for an increase in pay. But, without increase in production, how can anyone warrant spending veteran money on a questionable player?
Goodson is a unique prospect in the fact that he has never been a starter in the NFL. He spent his first three years as a backup with the Panthers and played backup to Darren McFadden on the Raiders last season.
He brings more to the table than the other two running backs that we looked at thus far. His rushing stats have improved every season—he averaged 6.3 yards per carry last year on 35 carries. He is also a very capable receiver out of the backfield and has spent time as a return specialist.
Much more of a complete player, Goodson should be the running back that the Bengals focus on in free agency. Having not been a starter, he should not require as much money as Jones and Wells.
Goodson does have past injury issues and has also had trouble protecting the football. These are things that can not be overlooked if he is to play in the AFC North.
Even with the positives for Goodson, there are much better options that the Bengals can find without looking at current free agents.
Who should the Bengals bring in to complement the running back position?
Now that it is clear that the Bengals should not look at any free-agent running backs, where do they go from here? Obviously they are in need of a change-of-pace back to pair with BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Look no further than the 2013 NFL Draft.
Within the first three rounds alone, the Bengals can find better prospects at the running back position at a better price.
The top five options are as follows: First, Eddie Lacy with a first-round grade. Next, Giovani Bernard, Joseph Randle, Johnathan Franklin all with second-round grades. Lastly, Andre Ellington comes in with a third-round grade.
These five options are shifty in the open field and have had very successful collegiate careers. Any would be a great combination with Green-Ellis in the Cincinnati backfield.
If the Bengals want to remain winners in free agency, they should certainly pass on running backs and, instead, look forward to the draft.