Over the past few days, we've taken a look at some possibilities for the Bengals to bring in this offseason, via free agency. We started with Chris Ivory, an impending free agent running back with the New Orleans Saints and then took a look at Baltimore Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. Since those two positions seem to be two of the biggest needs for the Bengals this offseason, we're going to focus on another player at one of those positions.
Chris Rainey was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers last season in the fifth round, 159 overall, wedged between the two picks that the Bengals made in the round with cornerback Shaun Prater and wide receiver Marvin Jones. At the time, a lot of Bengals fans were clamoring for the team to grab Rainey as a good supplemental option to BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Co. After all, Rainey did run an impressive 4.45 second 40-yard dash at the Combine.The Steelers nabbed him though, and they then designated him their speed back and kick returner.
Rainey's 2012 season wasn't all that pretty for a variety of reasons. He only had 26 rushing attempts on the year, for 102 yards (3.9 YPC average) and had a critical fumble in a game against Cleveland that they ended up losing. He did have two rushing touchdowns though, and contributed in the passing game with 14 receptions in backup duty. Rainey also had a relatively impressive 26.5 yard per return average on kickoffs, showcasing his speed.
The big problem with Rainey occurred off of the football field after the 2012 season. ended. Per multiple sources, Rainey was arrested for domestic abuse of his girlfriend on January 10th, 2013. The next day, the Steelers cut him and Rainey has been in search for a job. Behind the Steel Curtain, the Steelers' SB Nation blog, Rainey cleared waivers and is free to sign with any team at this point. There hasn't been any takers as of yet.
Cue the eye rolls and the "Bengals bring in another questionable character" rhetoric, right? Well, technically, the charges from Rainey's girlfriend were dropped in the case and there doesn't appear to be anything else coming down the pike for Rainey in this particular situation. Still, the damage to his reputation has been done and teams are shying away. However, with the dire need that the Bengals have at the running back position and the cheap price that Rainey would likely come for, the move could make a lot of sense.
Of course, the deal for Rainey would have to be on a "prove-it" basis and the team would likely have to let Rainey know that he'd be on a short leash (and stick to that rule). Still, the Bengals could have three open spots at the running back position and having Rainey's speed as a change-of-pace guy could be helpful. Throw into the mix that the current kick returner, Brandon Tate, is set to become a free agent and the Rainey acquisition could affect a couple of fronts.
For those that might be asking "why not just bring back Bernard Scott?", there's a couple of differences there. One is that Rainey seems to have a little better speed and the other is that Rainey isn't coming off of a season-ending knee injury like Scott is. Scott had his off-field issues while in college, but has been squeaky-clean since arriving in Cincinnati in 2009.
Honestly, we can see the reasons for both opinions on the Bengals bringing in Chris Rainey. However, a minimal deal for Rainey where he would have to work his way onto the club could pay big dividends in 2013. The Bengals offense needs more speed and a player who can catch at the running back position and Rainey provides that. As I mentioned earlier, the kick return ability is also an added bonus.
If Rainey was signed before the draft, it could open up a pick for the team to use at another position of need instead of using it on a speed back. We wouldn't be surprised if a team didn't sign Rainey until after the draft though, based on filling their remaining needs from there.