Free agency is rapidly approaching in the NFL. For teams it’s a time of promise when everyone thinks they can take the steps to get better. In the first of this year’s AFC North free agency previews I tackle a team that many British fans got to see first hand. The Bengals visited London this year and left us the most un-American of gifts – a draw. During the 27-27 tie with the Washington Redskins, Bengals were quite frankly underwhelming. Headed into free agency they have some real questions, including some about a longtime stalwart.
If the Bengals can, they should resign both Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler. Whitworth, a tackle, has been one of the Bengals standout players for the majority of his career. He was named a Pro Bowl alternate this year and performed at a high level. Although he is an aging player (35), there isn’t the drop off in performance that there is with running backs so it’s reasonable to expect he can produce for another couple of years whilst the team groom last year’s draft pick, Cedric Ogbuehi.
The second player the Bengals should attempt to resign is also a lineman. Zeitler, a guard, is much younger, at 26, but also played at a high level. Because of his age and performance he’s likely to have suitors. Zeitler is the sort of player that would be good to keep around, but only for the right price.
I wasn’t a massive fan of any of the remaining free agents, although free agent cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick flashed big play ability. Wide receiver Brandon LaFell has never produced at a level I’d expect from a starting wide receiver. The rest of the players out of contract are more role players that shouldn’t be retained at anything above minimum price. These players are Domata Peko, DT, Wallace Gilberry, DL, Karlos Dansby, LB, Eric Winston, OL Cedric Peerman, RB, Margus Hunt, DE, Chykie Brown, CB.
Who should the Bengals target?
Cornerback – The Bengals need help at cornerback and top of their shopping list should be A.J.Bouye. Bouye had a Pro Bowl caliber year for the Texans and they’ve decided not to use the franchise tag on him. Bouye doesn’t turn 26 until August but may worry the Bengals as he did very little in his first few years in the league, but he would be a huge upgrade over anyone they have now. As would former Bill Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore looked like he’d lost a step at times last year, but has the physical skills to improve the secondary. They may also make a play for Logan Ryan, who can play both inside and out.
Wide Reciever – Presuming that they don’t resign LaFell the Bengals at wide receiver they will have need for a proven playmaker opposite AJ Green. There’s some names that should be of interest here too. Alshon Jeffery is perhaps the best player on my list. Even though he’s been in trouble with the league for taking performance enhancing drugs and had numerous injuries he failed to shake last year, he still put up 821 yards. Terrelle Pryor emerged as a legitimate recieving threat in Cleveland last year and they should do everything in their power to keep one of the few playmakers they have. Should they neglect to do so the Bengals can get a double whammy in significantly improving their offence and putting a spanner in the Browns’ rejuvenation plans. If they look for a stop gap to allow draft picks to develop, Kenny Brit is one player who is unlikely to break the bank . Britt overcame playing for the woeful Los Angeles to break the 1000 yard mark and also added 5 touchdowns. The wildcard here would be former Vikings first round pick Cordarrelle Patterson.
Linebacker – The Bengals could look to upgrade all of their linebackers this off season and may opt to do so through the draft ( Reuben Foster?) but it’s unlikely they fill all three starting positions that way. The team released Karlos Dansby and may decide that Vontaze-Burfict isn’t worth the headache. Dont’a Hightower is expected to get a significant pay rise and would offer an immediate boost as he has an all round skill set that would allow them to use him in multiple ways. Green Bay’s Nick Perry would generate a significant pass rush that the Bengals were missing last year.
There are several interesting names along should the Bengals look to upgrade their offensive line (and they should). These include former Packer T.J. Lang, former first round pick Chance Wormak and perennial Pro Bowler Nick Mangold. The Bengals have struggled to find a number one running back who fires on all cylinders consistently and make look to add a proven veteran despite an exceptional running back class in this year’s draft. Should they do so Latavius Murray, formerly seen toting the rock in Oakland, would be good option or a short term solution could be found in the form of 34 year year old DeAngelo Williams .