On Monday, Josh Kirkendall wrote up a piece arguing the desperation mode that the team is in at the cornerback position. As a follow-up and part of a possible series of "point/counterpoint" articles that we'll be doing, recent developments have me wondering if another position is in more dire straights than cornerback. After all, the team did bring three free agents in at the position this offseason.
Click the jump to see both sides of the argument.
The Bengals need to invest an early draft pick this weekend on an impact receiver. In free agency this season, Cincinnati lost the embattled Andre Caldwell to the
Peyton Mannings Denver Broncos. Most fans have expressed concentrated disappointment towards Caldwell, who played the slot and outside, but the truth is that he made plays to help Cincinnati during his four-year Bengals career (think game-winning touchdowns against Pittsburgh and Baltimore in 2009). Though Caldwell likely won't be missed by fans, his departure hurts the overall depth at the position.
Aside from Caldwell, the Bengals also lost their starting No. 2 receiver on Tuesday when Jerome Simpson signed with the Vikings. Simpson was inconsistent and fans' opinions on him returning to the club were mixed. The fact remains that the starting wide receiver position opposite A.J. Green is wide open. Currently, the player with a leg up on that competition appears to be the unproven Armon Binns; and though native Cincinnatians are comfortable with him locked into that spot, many others aren't.
There's also Jordan Shipley's rehabilitation. When he's healthy, one can argue that Shipley is the team's No. 2 target from the slot. The argument could be made that this offense sputtered at times in 2011 because Shipley missed 14 games and parts of a 15th. While it looks like he's on track to make it back in time for Training Camp this year, knee injuries like the one he sustained can be nagging--both physically and mentally. By my count, that's three receiver positions that are being affected going into 2012.
In free agency, the team sat in the movie theatre as others signed quality starting receivers to plug in on the outside. Besides passing on re-signing Simpson, players like Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan and Robert Meachem were also overlooked - mostly due to the surprising contracts they signed. Now with the free agent wide receiver market completely picked over, the team is forced to look in two directions: post-Training Camp cuts and this weekend's draft.
Given that the position lost two players during free agency, the Bengals will need to address it where talent is the richest. First round prospects available include Michael Floyd and Stephen Hill -- with Kendall Wright arguably dropping on team's boards. While Floyd and Wright could contribute at the No. 2 sooner rather than later, the jury is still out on Hill. The former Yellow Jacket could be exactly what the team needs at the position, providing a tall deep ball and redzone target for Andy Dalton. He could be an immense flop though, as teams could be enamored by his workout stats.
Conversely, one could argue that the team doesn't need to invest a high pick in this year's draft to fill the depth at the receiver position. First, the Bengals used a top-five pick on a receiver just last year. By using another first-round pick at the same position during consecutive seasons, the team could be instigating salary cap hell in a few short seasons, especially if the aerial component with this offense ignites as we hope it will. If Green continues to put up numbers the way that he did last season, he'll earn a huge-money deal soon and the Bengals will be facing the migraine-inducing question on whom to extend and whom to give the franchise tag to -- though like Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall several years ago, each player could be addressed during separate offseasons. Yet knowing this team's attitude with big contracts, we can assume that the Bengals wouldn't be able to keep both and would likely opt for the inferior and cheaper talent, thus hurting the team.
There's also a large amount of expectations that comes with another first-round pick. If the team spends an early selection on a player at the position and he doesn't pan out, the offense simply won't work. If that scenario takes place, they will likely be in far worse shape next season than they were with Simpson working out of the No. 2 spot last season.
Finally the talent pool in this year's draft at the wide receiver position is deep, perhaps the deepest of any position. You can find big, possession receivers in the middle rounds with guys like Alshon Jeffery, Nick Toon and Marvin McNutt beyond the second round. You can find the "poor man's version" of Kendall Wright in players like A.J. Jenkins and Marvin Jones, in rounds two or three. There's also possible NFL-level contributors out there in Juron Criner and DeVier Posey.
Though none of these players are considered "elite", if they fit the Bengals' West Coast system, they'll be effective pros, and with A.J. Green already on the roster, it might be exactly what the Bengals need.