The Cincinnati Bengals are enjoying a relatively quiet offseason, despite Andre Smith's arrest last week, but there are plenty of questions that this team will be forced to addressed. We take a look at ten of those issues.
1) ANDRE SMITH WON'T BE SUSPENDED: It's entirely possible that the league won't suspend Andre Smith, who was arrested last week after authorities discovered a handgun in his belongings at an Atlanta-based airport on Thursday. That is based on precedence, using Shaun Rogers as an example for a similar incident in 2010, and this being his first-offense of the league's Personal Conduct Policy. His preliminary hearing begins Feb. 4.
If Smith is handed a suspension, they'll need someone to replace him. Figure that goes to Anthony Collins, but then you're without a backup for a number of games. Now you've either argued for the team drafting an offensive tackle, but the most likely scenario is bringing Dennis Roland back. Stop groaning. Actually, go ahead and groan.
Then again Cincinnati may not have to deal with Smith's possible discipline.
2) SMITH AND MICHAEL JOHNSON WILL RETURN: Andre Smith and Michael Johnson are clearly Cincinnati's top free agents scheduled to enter free agency in early March. Expect one to sign a long-term deal while the other is slapped with the franchise tag. It's believed that the Bengals want to sign both players to long-term deals, and the team has reportedly reached out to most of their 23 unrestricted free agents; unknown whom though.
However Cincinnati's negotiation with Smith isn't expected to change simply based on his arrest. The Bengals know what they have with Smith and it's entirely possible that his legal troubles were nothing more than unknowingly carrying something that he didn't realize was in his belongings.
3) MAUALUGA WON'T RE-SIGN UNTIL AFTER FREE AGENCY: Cincinnati's starting middle linebacker isn't sure about his future. He doesn't think that the Bengals will want him, based on the postseason loss to the Houston Texans.
I've said from the beginning that I believe Cincinnati will sign him, but it'll be closer to a one or two-year deal that will offer performance-based bonuses that isn't so restrictive to the salary cap, especially if the team releases him after finding an upgrade by May. But I do believe that Maualuga will be given a shot to test the market before the Bengals drop by.
4) BENGALS LOOK TO DEVELOP YOUNG BACKUP QB: I've been on this kick for the past week that the Bengals will look into developing a young quarterback with the eventual goal of having a young passer backing up Andy Dalton. Don't expect controversy or some discussion as a replacement. It'll be a Saturday selection through the draft, or maybe even another undrafted free agent.
Even if they do that, they may still sign a veteran quarterback this year with the intension of promoting the young quarterback next year into the full-time backup role. It's possible that they'll bring Bruce Gradkowski back one more year because of his knowledge of Jay Gruden's system.
5) RB POSITION WON'T BE BLOWN UP: Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard are unrestricted free agents and Cedric Peerman is restricted, leaving BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Daniel Herron as the team's only signed running backs in 2013. Peerman will be back, if for anything, his special teams contributions. Brian Leonard? Maybe.
Either way running back has to be a favorite for the 2013 NFL draft. Specifically a change-of-pace back and an effective player on third downs as a blocker and receiver out of the backfield. Though Green-Ellis is best suited as a short-yardage back, I'd still expect him to see 15-20 carries per game in 2013.
6) BRINGING BACK THOMAS HOWARD: Thomas Howard's second season with the Bengals prematurely ended after the linebacker suffered a season-ending injury during a Thursday practice in mid-September.
If Cincinnati decides to move on without Maualuga and moves Vontaze Burfict inside, they'll need to bring Howard back to replace Burfict as the outside linebacker, especially in nickel situations, which the Bengals used over 50 percent last year.
7) KEEP THE DEPTH AT CORNERBACK: An argument could be made for drafting another cornerback within the first three rounds of the 2013 NFL draft. Due to the way offenses have evolved over the years, you now need three top-talent cornerbacks on defense. Leon Hall is the only cornerback that could be defined as one.
Dre Kirkpatrick should be another, but his injured knee makes him otherwise unreliable until he repairs those durability concerns. To keep the depth at cornerback, the Bengals need to bring unrestricted free agents Adam Jones and Terence Newman back. Jones on a multi-year deal and Newman on a limited one-year arraignment, as his age forces hesitancy for anything longer.
8) MAKE SAFETY A PRIORITY: It's easy as observers to say, "find someone!" Sometimes there's just no one to be found. So you rely on an aging Chris Crocker to start opposite Reggie Nelson, hope that Taylor Mays develops, fill the position with a converted and aging cornerback Nate Clements with some work from an undrafted free agent from Jeromy Miles.
We're not demanding that the Bengals "get someone", only because we're aware that "getting someone" doesn't translate especially if there's no one there. And we're childish enough to demand that the team gets someone just to have a new body, no matter how little they improve the position. But at the very least, make it a priority.
9) THE "REPLACEMENTS": Clint Boling replaced Travelle Wharton, who suffered a major season-ending injury during the preseason. Trevor Robinson replaced Kyle Cook, who was placed on Injured Reserve through the first three quarters of the season with a high-ankle sprain.
Instead of automatically giving the veterans their starting jobs back, despite the early successes from the offensive line prior to Cook's return, at the very least make both positions competitions. Boling is more likely to start next season than Robinson, who of the three starting Bengals centers in 2012, scored the best grade according to Pro Football Focus.
10) DEFENSIVE END WILL BE A "NEED": Wallace Gilberry, Robert Geathers, and Michael Johnson are unrestricted free agents this year. I don't believe that the Bengals allow Johnson to leave, but it's always possible. Gilberry went from street free agent to an effective pass rusher last year and Geathers added some production, especially on the ground.
Players will leave and the Bengals will have to rotate players to give Carlos Dunlap and, hopefully, Johnson a breather. Brandon Joiner and Dontay Moch are possible pass rushers that could fill-in, but in reality there's too many unknowns. Has Moch put the migraine issues behind him? Rookie Joiner, who will fight for a spot on the 53-man roster, will not have played played football for well over a year when training camp comes around.