The signing of cornerback Nate Clements prior to the 2011 season added veteran leadership, quality play at the cornerback position, but most of all, it filled the void left by the departing Jonathan Joseph. Clements, appropriately wearing the No. 22, started 15 games, picking off two passes and generating a quarterback sack. However, he's largely been considered a place-holder until the team found a long-term solution opposite Leon Hall -- which happened last weekend with cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.
Kirkpatrick is the cornerback prodigy in Cincinnati, and if he is ready, he should have the starting job in 2012. Logic says with Kirkpatrick in, the aging Clements may very well be out -- a scenario that Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer pointed out.
Dre Kirkpatrick could be the starter at left corner depending on what the future of Nate Clements is with the team. He is in the last year of his contract and has a cap number of $5.5 million this season ($4.3 million base, $1 million prorated bonus and $200,000 reporting bonus). If Kirkpatrick is their guy, then Clements could be a June 1 release.
The entire discussion, along with any number of scenarios developing, may be moot if Leon Hall is unable to return quickly enough from his Achilles injury. But assuming Hall is healthy, then the following is the Bengals' cornerback situation:
Including Shaun Prater and recently signed UDFA Derrius Brooks, the Bengals will have nine cornerbacks on roster (once the draft picks are signed): Nate Clements, Leon Hall, Dre Kirkpatrick, Terrance Newman, Jason Allen, Adam Jones, Brandon Ghee, Prater and Brooks. Though Clements proved his dependability last season, the issue isn't so much about ability as it could be a matter of circumstance. Clements could be owed up to $5.5 million this upcoming season, but over $1 million would be saved by the Bengals if he were released. Terrance Newman and Adam Jones are both under contract for less than $1 million, and hardly any money would be saved from their respective releases. Jason Allen inked to a two-year deal worth $8.2 million contract.
Even if Prater does not make the roster, that still leaves a logjam at cornerback. If the team feels as though that is too many, then logically, Nate Clements is at much risk to leave as anyone.
It's like a bad break up. Nate, I know you filled in when we needed you most. I know you played well. Trust me, I know. But we both knew this wasn't going to last. And see, there's this new cornerback, Dre. He's young, and fast, and talented. Please understand. I don't know what to say Nate. I'm sorry. It's not you...it's me.