This sure is one strange year to be thinking about free agency. All the young, high-talent guys that would be unrestricted free agents this year (in the 27-29 years old age group) are going to be restricted. Those guys (Malcom Floyd, Vincent Jackson, etc.) will get 1st and 3rd round pick offers. The Bengals, I guess, could go after one of them if they felt so inclined. I mean, these poor 4th year fellas aren't very happy with a 10% raise over rookie money when they're at the top of their game (Shawne Merriman isn't, anyway). To move on, here is my tempered free agency wishlist where I'll try to avoid unrealistic aspirations for players that will surely be too pricey to bring in. That said, bringing by all these guys is unrealistic. They'd be huge catches.
Brandon Marshall (26), WR, Denver Broncos - RFA: Yeah, he's restricted - but the Broncos only put a first round offer on him (HT: TennBengalFan) Maybe he's a pipe dream, Seattle is reported to be interested. But the man is an undeniable top flight NFL talent. He has blazing speed, is huge (6-4/230), can break tackles, can block well, has the agility to make guys miss, and can run some pretty precise routes. If the Bengals can land him, they should. He could be the future, as long as they can keep him happy. He'll let you know if he's not, that's for sure.
Benjamin Watson (29), TE, New England Patriots: Watson is unquestionably the best unrestricted tight end in this free agency period. Other UFA options (under 30, I refuse to sign guys over 30) are Leonard Pope, Matt Spaeth, and that's about it. If there was a new CBA, we could be talking about Owen Daniels, Tony Scheffler, Bo Scaife, or Anthony Fasano more realistically. But since these guys are all going to be restricted, there's a pretty good chance they'll either stick with their teams and/or simply cost too much in the way of draft picks to bring in. Watson is a highly athletic, highly productive, threat-to-stretch-the-field tight end. The Bengals may not like his pass blocking ability, but hopefully we have a couple more years of a healthy Reggie Kelly. Does the front office have the financial flexibility or desire to bring in a proven veteran like Watson? I hope so, because he's the best bet this off season at TE (including the draft) unless we want to drop a 1st and 3rd on Owen Daniels (and if he could stay healthy, I'd probably be okay with that).
Leigh Bodden (28), CB, New England Patriots: When Bodden was in Cleveland, he made Chad Ochocinco's life a nightmare. Here's an elite cornerback that people outside the AFC North probably don't know much about, but his performance this year may make him an expensive sign. He definitely has the leverage to demand a long-term deal, which may not be in Cincinnati's best interest. I know we've got great young talent in Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall, but adding Bodden to the mix would give the secondary much needed, very strong depth in the case of injury, and would improve the nickel package immensely. In an age of New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts style dominant passing games, you simply cannot have enough skill at CB. Of course, Bodden is the best of the UFA CB bunch, trailed by Dunta Robinson of Houston, and the next best talent is all over 30.
Johnny Jolly (27), DT/DE, Green Bay Packers - RFA: Jolly weighs 325 pounds, stands 6 feet and 3 inches, and played defensive end and defensive tackle for Green Bay this year. Considered an average starter by many before the season, Jolly put together quite a resume. He is an excellent run stuffer and batted down 10(!!!) passes at the line of scrimmage this year. Jolly and Domata Peko at defensive tackle would be a stonewall for opposing running backs. I wouldn't spend too much on Jolly, though, given his relatively weak pass rushing skills and the defense's focus on improving the pass rush. However, starting Jolly and Peko with Tank Johnson and Pat Sims available in the DT rotation would have me very confident about our interior defensive line against AFC North running games.
Bobbie Williams (33), OG, Cincinnati Bengals: Here's the guy generating the most hype of any Bengals free agent, probably because of some anonymous tips James Walker received about how underrated Williams is. For the Bengals, Williams has been a rock. He's a great run blocker who possesses the ability to drive defenders off the line of scrimmage. He's been cited as a penalty liability, but he's been durable, he fits into the Bengals offensive scheme as a powerful run blocker and a positive veteran locker room presence.
Best case scenario - we get 3 or 4 of these guys. If Mike Brown somehow managed to re-sign Williams, bring in Jolly, "trade" a 1st and 3rd for Marshall, and seduce Ben Watson, it would easily be his best off-season.
Other guys I considered were RFA Le'Ron McClain (unleashing that guy against Baltimore would be a nice change of pace), Owen Daniels, Garrett Hartley, Karlos Dansby, who says Arizona has not approached him to negotiate, Kyle Vanden Bosch, and a pipe dream for Vince Wilfork. Of our own Free Agents, the Bengals should try to retain Roy Williams, Tank Johnson, Reggie Kelly, Evan Mathis, Domata Peko, Brandon Johnson, and Frostee Rucker. Bethea. another guy I thought would be untouchable, also only received a first round tender. Interesting safety option since we're so deep in the first round anyway, but I'd rather see that pick spent on Marshall.