Bengals Owner and G.M. extraordinaire, Mike Brown, loves "reclamation project" players. These are players who are talented, but have obvious flaws. These flaws can range from off-field problems, to battling injuries over the years, to just plain underachievement for a player with a high draft designation. Or, it could be some combination of some or all of the above-mentioned issues. Many of these types of players are still in the prime of their careers and are starving for a second chance to prove themselves.
Brown signs these types of players all too often. Sometimes it does actually work out well for the Bengals, though. For instance, in 2009, the Bengals had a number of "scrap heap" players on the roster that helped lead them to the AFC North division title. Tank Johnson, Cedric Benson, and Roy Williams were brought in via free agency and contributed heavily to the team's success that year (Benson was re-signed after being with the club in 2008). The contracts that Brown signs these players to are usually one or two-year "prove it" deals, that doesn't cost the team very much money and are incentive-laden.
Once the ink dries on the contracts, it's the job of coaches like Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer to get these guys to live up to their potential. This year, Zimmer has a lot of former high picks on his side of the ball. Some were originally drafted by the Bengals themselves, while others were brought in via trade or free agency. Whichever way that they ended up landing in Cincinnati, the Bengals are needing these players to contribute in order for the team to be competitive in 2011.
Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and secondary coach Kevin Coyle have had a knack for rebuilding the careers of veteran safeties cut loose with Nelson and Crocker proof and in Mays the Bengals have a top physical talent. Pending the physical, Mays would give them five first- or second-rounders in the secondary and 10 on defense.
Defensive end Carlos Dunlap, cornerback Leon Hall, and linebackers Rey Maualuga and Keith Rivers were all originally drafted by the team. Linebackers Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson, as well as cornerbacks Nate Clements and Adam Jones were brought in via free agency. The Bengals traded for safeties Reggie Nelson and Taylor Mays the last two seasons. All of these players are starting or will be expected to play a valuable backup role for the team this year.
We'll see if Mays can push the current safety group for a starting position sometime during the season. Either way, the Bengals got the guy they wanted--they just got him a year later than expected and for a less expensive price. We hope that Mays will buy into Zimmer's philosophy and become a successful contributor for the squad. Not only does Zimmer have a proven track record, he has a way of motivating a newly-discarded player like Mays. Hopefully, the old coach continues his 2009 mantra of "nobody else wanted you" with his unit to build chips on their collective shoulders to play with attitude.