DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 18: Wide receiver Eric Decker #87 of the Denver Broncos fumbles the ball after making a reception as he is hit by Reggie Nelson #20 of the Cincinnati Bengals at Invesco Field at Mile High on September 18, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
With free agency set to kick-off in less than 24-hours the Bengals will finally be able to begin their pursuit of players that will help the team in 2012 and beyond. As it stands the Bengals have a plethora of holes that need to be filled.
On offense they need to address the front line, add a receiver to play opposite of A.J. Green, and a running back to replace Cedric Benson, assuming he doesn't return. On defense they need to address the secondary and add some depth on the defensive line.
The secondary is one of the Bengals more pressing needs at the moment. Last season the lack of depth was exposed when Leon Hall went down for the season in Week 10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Once Hall was ruled out for the season the Bengals secondary slowly started to crumble one game at a time.
There is going to be some quality talent available on the open market starting tomorrow and the Bengals will have a grand opportunity to add more pieces to the puzzle. Free agency and the draft are going to be the best routes for the Bengals to upgrade the secondary. Both the free agent market and draft aren't deep in terms of talent.
Matt Bowen, of National Football Post believes that former Washington Redskins' safety LaRon Landry is the best available safety in what he refers to as a "light market" because of his ability to play in multiple schemes. Bowen ranks Bengals safety Reggie Nelson as the fourth best safety available right behind Dwight Lowery of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Jim Leonhard of the New York Jets.
It's difficult to dispute that Landry has a ton of talent, but his issue is staying healthy. Over the past two seasons the former top-ten pick has only played in 17 of the Redskins 32 games. Last season he compiled 48 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and forced one fumble in eight games. While he has put up some gaudy numbers in the past, his recent injury history wouldn't be worth the investment in the end.
If he is indeed considered the top safety then he will undoubtedly want to be paid like one as well. Since the Bengals were reluctant to franchise tag Reggie Nelson when they had the opportunity it's hard to imagine them pursuing Landry. If the Bengals had tagged Nelson then he would have been set to earn $6.212 million in 2012 according to the recently released franchise tag numbers. But then again, it all depends on what type of contract Landry desires. For the right amount, he could be worthy of consideration at the very least.
A lot of fans have been petitioning for the return of Nelson. Since arriving in Cincinnati in 2010 Nelson has blossomed into a reliable safety. Last season he compiled 85 tackles, two sacks, and four interceptions in 16 games. But he might not be the Bengals long-term solution at safety. There are other options available that the Bengals will probably consider.
Lowery, who spent last season with the Jaguars and was rated as the second best available safety by Bowen, is two years younger than Nelson. And just like Nelson, he could blossom with a change of scenery. He earned a high coverage grade from Pro Football Focus and was cited as one of the biggest factors for the Jaguars' improved secondary last season. He has the ability to play corner as well. Before arriving in Jacksonville he was a backup cornerback for the Jets for three seasons.
As for Leonhard and Adams, neither one of them would represent much of an upgrade over Nelson. The Bengals do have internal options in Taylor Mays and Robert Sands. Both of them could be looked at as options, however both are unproven up to this point of their careers. For the Bengals it will be vital for them to upgrade the secondary, especially at safety. This is a position that the Bengals cannot ignore heading into free agency. Only time will tell what the Bengals do.