I fully believe that it's easier for an NFL team to make themselves better by selecting the right players in the draft than it is to compete in free agency, unless of course we're talking about who is going to sign Peyton Manning (if that actually happens). With two first-round picks, the Bengals have a great opportunity to build something off the solid foundation they laid down in 2011. If the Bengals pick the right people, they can find themselves at least in the same position they were in at the end of 2011 or possibly further into the playoffs.
The Bengals need a new running back, wide receiver, cornerback, safety, guard(s) and they could possibly use an upgrade at a handful of other positions. Unfortunately, they can't find competent replacements that can contribute right away at all those positions in the draft. That's where free agency can come in.
Free agency has worked for the Bengals in the past. Both Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson came to the Bengals as free agents, started as linebackers and had good seasons. So good, in fact, that when Keith Rivers was able to play, the team decided to place him on injured reserve to keep their two new guys in the game.
Of course, it's also burned them. The Antonio Bryant signing was a disaster and even though Terrell Owens had a good season when it came to his statistics, he didn't help the locker room very much. Before them it was Laveranues Coles who was completely underwhelming.
The Bengals have some extra money since they freed themselves of Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco's contract and the new rookie compensation system means they won't need to save a bajillion dollars to pay their two first-round picks which could help them in free agency as well.
The Bengals could find good players at each of the positions they need help in if they're willing to spend the money in free agency. They may not find a long-term replacement and signing a free agent could be like placing a band-aid on a bullet wound, but if the Bengals think they're ready to make a run deep into the post season, good free agents can help them.
Free agency doesn't officially start until March 13 and we don't know which players will get the franchise tags from their teams and which players will be re-signed. As usual, there will be a handful of elite-level free agents that could help the Bengals if they're willing to pay the price, then they'll be some potential good signings and then there will be 100 yards of nobodies.
So, who are some free agents you would like the Bengals to target heading into the 2012 season?