The new league year begins today at 4 p.m. (ET) when free agency officially kicks off. The Bengals have a lot of money to spend if they want, which is the most in the NFL, but they're not expected to spend much like some other teams do. Instead, they're likely to try to keep their own guys around and maybe grab a couple cheaper guys to fill some holes and add some depth.
Cornerback is a major area of concern that the Bengals have heading into the 2012 season. Leon Hall is trying to come back from a season-ending Achilles injury and the team is still trying to bounce back from the loss of Johnathan Joseph. They are expected to address the position in the draft, possibly with one of their two first-round picks, but if Hall isn't 100 percent at the beginning of the season, they would be forced to start a rookie opposite of Clements, who will be 33 in December.
It would be smart for the Bengals to sign a free agent cornerback to help fill in if the rookie isn't ready and Hall isn't back to 100 percent yet at the beginning of the year. Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan are both obvious choices, but they also will cost quite a lot of money and that's money the Bengals are likely unwilling to pay. So, here's a few stopgap corners that the Bengals may be more willing to spend money on.
Porter is 25 years old and has four years of experience in the NFL, all with the New Orleans Saints. You may remember Porter from his interception of Peyton Manning's pass to Reggie Wayne late in Super Bowl XLIV which he returned 74 yards for a touchdown, ending the Colts' hope of a comeback.
He is going to test free agency since the Saints obviously had higher priorities when it came to re-signing their own players. He has yet to complete a full season as a starting corner, which may drive his price down a little, and he has 194 career tackles, one sack, four forced fumbles, seven interceptions for the one touchdown. When it comes to price he wouldn't be too terribly expensive but he likely wouldn't be what I would call cheap either.
Marshall is a 27-year-old cornerback who has six years of experience. He played his first five seasons with the Carolina Panthers and last season with the Arizona Cardinals. He was a second-round pick in the 2006 draft and has not missed a single game in his NFL career.
Marshall has good size and speed and is very quick. He would be a good fit in a defense that runs a lot of man coverage but can play in zone as well. He has 500 career tackles, seven sacks, 17 interceptions and two touchdowns. Like Porter, he is probably looking for more than a one-year deal and wouldn't necessarily be cheap but still not too expensive.
Wright is 26 and has five years of experience. He was a second-round pick by the Browns in 2007 and played four years in Cleveland before signing a one-year contract with the Lions last year. He is very athletic and would be good in both man and zone, but he isn't very physical when it comes to stopping the run, which could be a problem in the tough AFC North sometimes.
Wright has made 323 tackles, one sack, 13 interceptions and one touchdown in his career. He has been in regular contact with the Lions, according to reports, and will probably return if he isn't offered a decent contract with another team. He shouldn't cost too much money if the Bengals decide they want to sign him to a two-year contract.
Bengals fans should be familiar with Gay, who has been a starter for the Steelers' tough secondary for some time. Gay is 27 years old, and while he isn't nearly as talented or athletic as some of the other top corners around the league, he has found success because he's tough, intelligent and fits in well with a physical defense. He could be considered a liability if he was left one-on-one with a talented receiver, though.
Gay has 247 tackles, three sacks and only three interceptions in his five-year career. He is coming off one of his better years and was a part of the Steelers' top-ranked pass defense, but since the Steelers are trying to get back under the salary cap, they may not be able to re-sign him unless nobody else wants him.
Griffin is 29 and has six years of experience, all with the Vikings. Griffin is a physical cornerback and is good in press coverage. He is also very physical in run support, which could be of use in the AFC North. He had a down season in 2011, which means he may be a little less expensive to sign.
Griffin has made 377 tackles and picked off eight passes in his six-year career. Griffin was coming off a torn ACL that sidelined him in 2010 last season and the Vikings released him a few days ago.