CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 01: Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens runs through the arm tackle of Manny Lawson #99 of the Cincinnati Bengals en route to a first quarter touchdown during their game at Paul Brown Stadium on January 1, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
Exactly one month from now free agency will open up. Teams will be able to fill any holes on their roster with anyone who is on the market. For the Bengals, this could be a rational route for them to address some of their holes considering they are near the top in the league for available cap space. In all honesty, they could go on a spending spree and address a majority of their holes.
Pro Football Focus released their top-50 free agents and two players who suited up for the Bengals in 2011 made the list. Pro Football Focus rankings are based solely off of stats unlike Peter Prisco of CBSSports.com who listed three Bengals in his rankings.
The first player to crack the top-50 list for the Bengals was linebacker Manny Lawson at No. 45.
Lawson played well in Cincinnati, but he now finds himself in an interesting position. An effective pass rusher, two teams have used Lawson as primarily a base-downs player. Given the lack of interest in him last year, has much happened in 2011 to change that?
Lawson didn't do a terrible job in the 2011 season. He started every game at outside linebacker this season and compiled 52 tackles and 1.5 sacks. According to Pro Football Focus his coverage score was -0.6, his pass rush score was 1.1 , and he had a score of 8.1 for run defense. His overall score was 10.6, which was by far the best for any Bengals linebacker in 2011. Also, in wake of Rey Maualuga being charged with a misdemeanor assault for punching an employee in the face at the Luxe bar in downtown Cincinnati, re-signing Lawson might not be a bad idea for the Bengals since it remains unknown as to what will happen with Maualuga.
The other Bengal to creep into the top-50 for the Bengals was running back Cedric Benson at No. 46.
We've seen running backs wear down under a heavy load, so with 922 carries in the past three years and entering his age 30 season, Benson is something less than a sure thing. He isn't done by any stretch, but averaging just 2.1 yards after contact (third-lowest of all running backs with 100 carries) hurts his value.
Despite eclipsing the 1,000 yard mark for the third straight year, it would appear as if the marriage between the Bengals and Benson is over. Benson has voiced his frustration with the offense play-calling and there have been numerous mock drafts that have the Bengals taking Alabama's Trent Richardson with one of their two first round picks. So regardless of his slightly improved stats I think we can all agree that it's time to move on from Benson.
Peter Prisco's top-50 list included safety Reggie Nelson, wide receiver Jerome Simpson, and defensive tackle Pat Sims. It's a drastic and somewhat unexpected difference in players on each list. Of the three players from Prisco's list, I believe that only Nelson and Sims should be re-signed. Both of them have the potential to be impact players on the defense in 2012.
As for Simpson, it's time to let him go. In his first full season Simpson caught 50 passes for 725 yards. Those numbers would have been good if he wasn't the No. 2 receiver on the team in 2011. He was one of the most inconsistent players on the team and currently has a drug charge against him. Despite his athleticism, he wasn't worth the second round selection that the Bengals used on him.
Of the combined five Bengals players to make both lists the Bengals should look at retaining Sims, Nelson, and Lawson. If the Bengals don't re-sign Nelson then who starts at safety? As for Lawson, he could prove to be a valuable signing once Maualuga's fate is decided and Sims has yet to crack into his potential. It's just a matter of him staying healthy for an entire season.
Only time will tell what direction the Bengals decide to head in.