Owners plan to vote soon. Players could follow suit. The Bengals could make a decision on Georgetown as soon as Friday and before you know it, training camp is in full swing. But before that can happen, the Bengals will have to hit free agency to rebuild positions, improve talent and expand depth. Here are five positions that the Bengals are likely to address (we're running a more detailed examination soon):
Backup Veteran Quarterback. Persistent rumblings suggest that rookie quarterback Andy Dalton will take the first team snaps as the Bengals starting quarterback against the Cleveland Browns on September 11. He will be the first rookie quarterback to start the team's first regular season game since Greg Cook in 1969. There's a possibility that the Bengals could sign a veteran quarterback to fill the bridge, or at the very least and more likely, become a veteran backup to help groom Dalton.
Running Backs (more than one) . Obviously free agency will have to work itself out here. If the Bengals elect not to bring Cedric Benson back, with two pending assault charges and a slight performance degradation in 2010, the team will still have to focus on rebuilding the position. Bernard Scott has durability questions -- not just by us -- and the Bengals would like to sign a bellcow that could average between 20-25 carries a game.
Brian Leonard and Cedric Peerman (exclusive-rights) head into the new league year as free agents, requiring the Bengals to sign more than one running back for depth, as well as their annual insurance policy that's usually placed on the practice squad. Leonard and Peerman could still return, but the team typically carries between 4-5 running backs when you factor in the practice squad.
Safety. Cincinnati's core of safeties isn't that bad. It's just thin. Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson are expected to start with heavy contributions from rookie Robert Sands. Tom Nelson (exclusive-rights) could return as a free agent though we're not expecting Marvin White, Gibril Wilson or Roy Williams to return. Cincinnati could make an extra push to re-sign Chinedum Ndukwe as soon as the lockout is lifted. Cincinnati might be heavy players for a quality safety that could rival Nelson or Crocker as a starter.
Linebacker. It might seem rather odd that linebacker could be a position that needs to be addressed during free agency. With Brandon Johnson and Dhani Jones entering free agency, the Bengals could be down two heavy contributors if they sign elsewhere. Jones could still return, resigning into a backup role as a versatile linebacker playing all three positions. Johnson will want to start somewhere and unless he makes a change to start at strong-side linebacker, he won't get that here.
Roddrick Muckelroy and Dan Skuta are expected to compete for the opening spot at outside linebacker with Maualuga's projected move inside. This frees up additional spots on the backend of the team's linebacker depth chart.
Tight End. Jermaine Gresham is hands down the starting tight end. Beyond that, it's a little murky. Chase Coffman is entering the final year under contract. Reggie Kelly is entering free agency. The Bengals did claim Garrett Mills off waivers from the Philadelphia Eagles in late December, who is signed through the 2011 season. It wouldn't be surprising if the Bengals bring Kelly back to another one-year deal to work as a blocker and mentor to Gresham, though his overall performance took a dip.