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We're almost two weeks into free agency and it appears that the Bengals had some tricks up their sleeves after all. With their roster shaping up rather nicely, the team is positioning themselves nicely heading towards the draft. They'll likely still make some roster moves up to the draft and fill in any other holes via free agency after it, but they're in a much better state than they were just a week ago.
Speaking of Bengals draft options, I was asked a couple of questions by a close friend of mine, via Twitter, about what the Bengals might do because of their recent free agent acquisitions:
Two great questions here--I'll start with the first question about cornerbacks. Most Bengals fans saw the Adam Jones signing coming down the pike. He was getting some sniffs from other clubs around the league, but Cincinnati was the most serious player and Jones likes playing for defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer. Jones joins newly-inked corner Jason Allen, formerly of the Houston Texans, to form a suddenly deep position group. Those two join Leon Hall, Nate Clements and Brandon Ghee to a suddenly crowded position group.
The problems? Hall is their top corner and he is rehabbing an Achilles injury, making him a question mark to start the season. Though they have a good group of fill-in starters, there's not one of them that makes opposing offenses fearful of throwing the ball their way. That's where a possible high pick on a corner could be used.
A lot of early mock drafts have the Bengals taking the troubled corner out of North Alabama with one of their first round picks. As we all know, the Bengals have had the penchant on taking chances on guys with character concerns, sometimes paying off for them and other times not so much. Jenkins has a boatload of talent, but also has a long rap sheet to go with it. Unfortunately, the public perception is that the Bengals still have the same philosophy with these players, even though it's not entirely accurate.
Lately though, a lot of draftniks have Jenkins falling into the second round because of his character concerns. Because of that, more recent mock drafts have the Bengals taking Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick or South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore over Jenkins. I'm partial to Gilmore personally, but both fit the Bengals mold of a big, physical corner that has speed and can tackle. But, with the recent additions of Allen and Jones, they may opt to go with players at different positions instead.
The real interesting situation would be if Jenkins ends up sliding into the second round when the Bengals pick. If they decide to go a different direction in the first round, I would not be surprised if they felt that Jenkins was a worth the risk in the second round. In fact, they may be banking on this possibility. With roster holes remaining at wide receiver, offensive guard and even running back, they could go that direction with their first two picks and then spring on Jenkins in the second, if available. Another cornerback possibility after that would be Vanderbilt's Casey Hayward in the third round.
Speaking of running back, even with BenJarvus Green-Ellis signing with the club, there could be a need for another back. The Bengals are going with a committee approach this year because of the ineffectiveness of both Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott in 2011. Green-Ellis isn't a big-play threat--he is a north-south runner who has a nose for the end zone. He also hasn't ever really been an every-down back since he joined the Patriots and probably won't be one in Cincinnati. He'll likely get a lot of carries here, but he'll split them amongst the other backs that they keep on the final roster.
I'm going to operate under the assumption that Trent Richardson won't be available to the Bengals when they pick at No.17 because it's likely he'll be drafted before then. If, by some miracle he falls to them, I'd assume they'd pounce on him because of the value he'd give the team at that spot. If you're wondering if the team will trade up to get him, I'd say that that isn't happening. They have too many other holes to fill and their picks are at a premium this season in order to build the highest quality roster that they can. The Green-Ellis signing all but locked up the fact that they won't be trading up for any back, even Richardson.
However, there's been growing speculation that the Bengals could take Boise State's Doug Martin as early as No.21 overall. "The Muscle Hampster" has slowly been rising up draft boards and depending on who you ask, is often being mentioned as the second-best running back prospect in the draft. Both Marvin Lewis and Jay Gruden were present at Martin's Pro Day this week (where he wowed scouts at), which I think speaks volumes on the level of interest that they have in the back. Some liken Martin to Ray Rice and that type of prospect would be hard to pass up.
The issue with Martin is that he is a relatively similar runner to Green-Ellis. The team could look at backs after the first round who provide some major speed and big-play capability. Shiftier players like Lamar Miller, David Wilson, Isaiah Pead, Ronnie Hillman, or LaMichael James could all be a great change of pace runner to Green-Ellis. If they went with one of these quicker backs, it would likely mean the end of Scott's career in Cincinnati, as he's viewed as the current speed back on the roster.
It really just depends how much they actually value Green-Ellis' ability. If they think he's good enough to be their feature back, they'll probably bypass guys like Martin and go with one of the names I listed above. If they feel that Green-Ellis would be a good complementary piece, I think Martin is their guy. Thanks for the questions, Kyle--let's grab some Taiko soon, bud.
With the recent changes in philosophy and mode of operation, I began to wonder where the credit should be placed. The most obvious place to look would be Marvin Lewis. With his contract negotiations going into the 2011 season, it was implied that Lewis would only re-sign in Cincinnati if certain demands were met--mostly that of personnel control and changes in team operations. Under his watch, we've seen the unlikely trades of Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco, the replacement of offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski for Jay Gruden, the "retirement" of the Director of Player Personnel, Jim Lippincott and most recently, the addition of two scouts. These are likely some of the demands that Lewis made in his negotiations, and really they're not demands that should have needed to have been made if the team was ran the way every other NFL franchise is. So, kudos to Marvin--it's going to be really interesting to see what happens after this season when his most recent contract expires.
One also has to give credit to owner Mike Brown. He's come under massive amounts of scrutiny over the past two decades (and rightfully so), but he allowed Lewis to institute some of these changes and could easily have said "no", as he's done so many times in the past. It's likely that Brown caved to these demands because he's seen ticket sales plummet, but regardless he's doing the right things for his football team. There's still quite a few of Brown's fingerprints on the team, such as the recent signings of former top-ten draft picks, Derrick Harvey and Jamaal Anderson, but he also seems to be easing his grip on the reigns and that's definitely a positive.
The forgotten person who deserves a lot of credit here is Katie Blackburn. Like her father, she deserves credit simply by saying "yes". It's becoming more and more apparent that she is gaining control of the franchise and pushing her father towards making these concessions. How so, you ask? If you look back to the 2003 offseason, Katie was a big proponent of bringing Lewis in as the head coach. There were also rumors a few years later that she was behind a major push for an outside General Manager to be hired. It never happened, but the rumor was out there. There were also implications that she had her daddy's ear in the Carson Palmer trade situation, as Brown was steadfast in keeping Palmer until Andy Dalton's progress, the generous offer from the Raiders and Katie's persistence made Brown move No.9.
There's nothing really directly pointing to Katie being the big proponent of all of these recent changes in the organization, but I believe that she's working behind the scenes and letting Lewis take the credit. Some fans on Cincy Jungle are dreaming of the day that Lewis takes over as G.M. and they promote either Gruden or Mike Zimmer to head coach. I was initially extremely skeptical of this ever happening, but it's looking more possible by the day. Lewis is already the longest-tenured Bengals coach in their history and Gruden surprisingly signed an extension to stay with the team after being offered interviews for various head coaching jobs around the league. The conspiracy theorist in me thinks that this scenario could be possible, but as I said earlier, we'll have to wait and see what happens next offseason when Lewis' contract expires.
In next week's mailbag, I'll be answering more questions and will release my post-free agency mock draft. Feel free to send me questions!