Unappreciated Free Agents the Cincinnati Bengals Should Be Calling
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But now it would be wise for the team to reach out to a variety of free agents who have gone unnoticed on the market up to this point.
Now that some of the big names are off the market and certain franchises have gone all-out in spending money, the Bengals can step in and find quality pieces for cheap which could help propel the team to the next level.
Cincinnati has been focused on retaining its own up to this point, but that is going to have to change soon. The time to strike is now, with unheralded players who can make a difference scattered across the market waiting for their phones to ring.
Let's look at a few unappreciated free agents the Bengals' front office should contact—immediately.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, Wide Receiver
Darrius Heyward-Bey could act as the No. 2 receiver in Cincinnati at the right price.
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The Cincinnati Bengals do not have a pressing need at the wide receiver position, but it could not hurt to look at Heyward-Bey on the chance that he comes at a decent price tag.
After all, he was the seventh overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft.
Heyward-Bey had his breakout season in 2011 with 975 yards receiving and four touchdowns. 2012 was a bit worse thanks to a serious concussion and a lackluster offense, but he flashed a big-game ability when healthy.
Weighing in at 6'2" and 210 pounds, Heyward-Bey possesses rare speed that would go well across from A.J. Green. He needs to work on being consistent in catching passes, but he could be a nice addition to the wide receiver rotation at the right price point.
Bernard Pollard, Safety
Bernard Pollard would start immediately for the Bengals at strong safety.
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The Baltimore Ravens continued to let go of defensive starters recently by axing strong safety Bernard Pollard to create cap room.
Cincinnati should be more than happy to swoop in and kick the tires on Pollard.
Pollard is 28 years of age and played exceptionally well in 13 games as a starter last season. He recorded 98 tackles, two sacks, one interception and six pass breakups.
For the Bengals, Pollard is a physical run-stuffing safety who will hold his own in the passing game next to Reggie Nelson.
Adding a player of his caliber would allow the team to address other areas of need early in the upcoming draft.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Quarterback
Ryan Fitzpatrick is familiar with the Cincinnati Bengals franchise.
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Fitzpatrick would be a nice re-addition to the team in Cincinnati. He spent several years with the team and played well while starting 12 games in 2008. Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com has already speculated that the Bengals will be interested in bringing back Fitzpatrick for another go.
Not many teams in the NFL have a backup quarterback who can allow the team to still be competitive if he has to take over.
The Bengals could have just that if Fitzpatrick returns.
Cary Williams, Cornerback
Cary Williams could provide critical depth for the Bengals if he lasts long enough on the market.
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The Cincinnati Bengals need to sign multiple cornerbacks this offseason, and another ex-AFC North member is flying under the radar on the market.
Cary Williams, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens, is currently being recruited by the Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions, according to Michelle Beisner on Twitter, but both teams have already signed at least one other player at the position.
The Bengals are familiar enough with the 28-year-old Williams, who at 6'1" and 190 pounds has flustered receivers with his physicality and in-your-face attitude.
Of the players on this lift, Williams is receiving the most attention so far, but the Bengals could still swoop in with money and woo him away if the front office truly wanted to do so.
He is by no means a necessity, but Williams would be an outstanding addition to the secondary in Cincinnati.
Michael Huff, Safety
Michael Huff was recently released and could make a different in the Cincinnati secondary.
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The Oakland Raiders recently released defensive back Michael Huff in a cap purge to free up space to build for the future (per Rotoworld).
Huff is 30 years old, but that should not scare away the Cincinnati Bengals, a team that absolutely loves versatile defensive backs.
Huff is as versatile as they come at the position. Last season he had to play cornerback in Oakland thanks to injuries, and wound up as the 44th-ranked player at the position in 2012 (per ProFootballFocus).
Before last season, Huff spent the majority of his career at safety, where he was one of the more effective players at the position in the league.
Cincinnati loves players such as Huff who can play safety or cornerback, and he still has a lot left in the tank.
The Bengals love to bring in an additional safety or corner in passing situations, so Huff is a perfect fit.
La'Rod Stephens-Howling, Running Back
La'Rod Stephens-Howling could play the role of Bernard Scott in Cincinnati.
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Former Arizona Cardinals running back La'Rod Stephens-Howling has yet to find himself a hot commodity on the free-agent market.
The Cincinnati Bengals are of course looking for fresh faces at the position, whether that be in the form of free agents or draft picks. At this point, giving Stephens-Howling a call would not be a horrible idea.
Stephens-Howling (better known as "Hyphen") is a shifty back at 5'7" and 185 pounds. He excels returning kicks, or in a third-down role, where he can carry the ball or spit out to catch passes.
Cincinnati is losing Bernard Scott to free agency, so adding a speedster in the form of the 25-year-old Stephens-Howling for cheap is a smart play.
The Bengals enjoy getting creative with explosive weapons like Stephens-Howling, so adding yet another wrinkle to the offense would provide a boost, in addition to his special-teams prowess.
Keenan Lewis, Cornerback
Keenan Lewis would add youth and talent to the secondary in Cincinnati.
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The Cincinnati Bengals need to bring in more cornerbacks, with both Adam Jones and Terence Newman on the market as free agents and an unknown quantity in Dre Kirkpatrick.
What better way to fill the holes than add talented youth by stealing a free agent from another member of the AFC North?
Former Pittsburgh Steelers corner Kenan Lewis is searching for a new home, and Cincinnati would be wise to reel him in quickly.
Lewis is just 26 years old and was ranked as the 40th in the NFL last season at corner (according to ProFootballFocus) thanks to his excellent combination of coverage skills and physicality against the run.
Lewis is a larger corner at 6'0" and 208 pounds, which fits the bill for the physical play Cincinnati seeks from its corners. He has a visit set up with the New Orleans Saints (per Aaron Wilson on Twitter), but other than that, he has had a relatively quite market.
The Bengals are taking it slow with the cornerback position, as is the rest of the NFL. The front office should consider ending that strategy now by heavily pursuing Lewis.
Daryl Smith, Outside Linebacker
Daryl Smith has plenty left in the tank that he could offer the Bengals.
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The Cincinnati Bengals are also on the market for a strong-side linebacker, with Manny Lawson now a member of the Buffalo Bills (per Adam Caplan on Twitter).
Daryl Smith finds himself on the free-agent market at the age of 30, after only being able to participate in two games last year with the Jacksonville Jaguars thanks to a serious groin injury.
Smith is now healthy, and the Bengals should make a move.
For now, Smith is flying under the radar, but that could change at any moment.
Smith is perfect for the Bengals in more ways than one, so a lack of interest from either party is a bit surprising.