Take a pencil and a single sheet of college-ruled paper. Light the candle's wick on the warped dinner table, sharpen the pencil and write down who you believe is Cincinnati's "must keep" free agent. You get two choices. Bengals offensive tackle Andre Smith and defensive end Michael Johnson. Khaled Elsayed with Pro Football Focus through ESPN.com, lists five "must keep" free agents in the NFL, listing Smith as an obvious choice (In$ider).
He didn't help himself by getting arrested last week, but considering his play on the field, the Bengals can ill afford to move on from a player who has developed into one of the best right tackles in the game.
On a line that generally doesn't get much push for its runners, Smith has been the shining light. He is capable of getting to the second level, outmuscling defensive linemen and (outside of a Brandon Graham-sized beating) shutting down pass-rushers. It isn't much of a surprise that the Bengals averaged 4.6 yards per carry outside right tackle, with the total team average at 3.9.
The Bengals need to add to their running game, not lose their best player in it, with replacements Dennis Roland and Anthony Collins not cut from the same cloth as a guy we voted as a starter on our All-Pro team.
Originally Smith signed a four-year deal with a two-year option, which the Bengals declined because Smith was taking his sweet time being a productive member of NFL society. If a long-term deal isn't reached by the start of free agency, it's likely that the Bengals slap the franchise tag on him. Early franchise tag projections have tackles making $9.66 million, all guaranteed.