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Thomas Howard brings veteran experience to the young linebacker corps of the Bengals.
Currently, the Bengals are most thin at the linebacker position. Only one starter from 2012 remains on the roster: Vontaze Burfict.
Earlier this week, the Bengals lost Manny Lawson to the Buffalo Bills and Dan Skuta to the San Francisco 49ers.
Currently, the Bengals have Burfict (who should be moved to the middle this season), Emmanuel Lamur and newly signed Aaron Maybin as the only experienced linebackers on the roster.
Cincinnati could take an approach to allow Burfict to control the "Mike" position, use the speedy Maybin at the "Sam" spot and move Lamur to the "Will" position. However, this makes for a very shaky linebacker corps.
If the Bengals were to bring Thomas Howard back into the fold—he has recovered nicely from injury—they would have an instant starter at the Will, allowing Maybin and Lamur to split time at the Sam.
The Bengals would be able to go after a linebacker in the draft as well, but they would have two different options. First, they could wait to draft a linebacker until the late second or third round. Second, they could allow the rookie to learn under a veteran and limit the former's snaps instead of throwing him directly into the line of fire.
Howard would not command too large of a salary, and since the Bengals are currently sitting with $33.1 million of cap space, it would not break the bank.
Free-agent alternative: James Harrison
Harrison is healthier than he was last season and could provide instant impact on the outside. He traditionally played outside backer in Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense, but he could play the Sam in a 4-3.
This would provide the Bengals veteran experience and versatility in this positional unit.