It's no secret that the Bengals have some free agency needs, aside from re-signing their own players. Three of those needs that we have talked about (at length and over and over and over again) in the last few weeks have been at running back, linebacker and at backup quarterback. Pro Football Focus reiterated the same thing in a recent article, however, their solutions were a little different, and quite a bit more interesting, than what we've been talking about.
First at linebacker, an obvious need, due to the fact that Thomas Howard, Manny Lawson and Rey Maualuga are all free agents, the folks over at PFF believe the Bengals could rectify the situation by signing former Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill.
Bengals sign player with off the field trouble - it's a familiar headline. This could be a scenario where Leroy Hill's off field troubles help the Bengals however, and allow them to upgrade the position while leaving their large amount of cap room relatively untouched. Off the field issues aside, Hill has been solid since entering the league, finishing each season since we began grading in 2008 with an overall positive grade.
He saw his role in Seattle diminish as the season wore on, seeing just 315 snaps in Weeks 4 to 17 after seeing 198 in the first three games of the year. Still, he remained solid against the run, with 15 of his 21 solo tackles resulting in a defensive stop, which earned him a Run Stop Percentage of 7.4% from his 203 snaps as a run defender. With that all in mind, he fits the bill in Cincinnati for more than just his off field activities.
Hill, a WILL linebacker is an interesting prospect for the Bengals. Not only would his off-field issues make him a cheap sign for the Bengals, but he could help the team tremendously. However, signing Hill for the WILL position would likely mean they'd be skipping out on Howard. If Howard isn't healthy, that would be fine, but if he is healthy, why bail on Howard to sign a player that has been a problem off the field.
If he could make the jump to SAM then we could be talking about a very different story.
Next, PFF brings up the running back position. The Bengals have BenJarvus Green-Ellis locked up through the 2014 season but they've made it clear that they're looking for a back that can complement his style of play, adding speed to the offense and an ability to stretch plays around the edge. I personally doubt that the Bengals will look to add a running back in free agency, instead I think they'll grab one, or possibly two backs in the draft. However, the guys at PFF think that the Bengals could bring in former Raiders running back Mike Goodson.
Part of a crowded backfield in Oakland last year, Mike Goodson is the kind of player who could come in and upgrade the backup running position, and provide a few big plays throughout the year. With two talented running backs ahead of him in Carolina at the start of his career, opportunities were hard to come by. However, taking advantage of his chance when he got it, due to Darren McFadden's injury after being traded to Oakland, Goodson should have caught the attention of a few teams with his play.
As a receiver he saw just 16 passes thrown his way, however, thanks to two big plays against Miami and Atlanta, he finished the year with 195 yards receiving and five missed tackles forced while adding another 221 yards on the ground. That in itself might not seem impressive, but when you realize he did it on just 35 carries, and forced eight missed tackles on those 35 carries, his production stands out a little more. Those 13 missed tackles from his 41 offensive touches, to go along with an average of 4.89 Yards After Contact per carry, gave him an Elusive Rating of 124.5, the second-most of any running back with at least 40 offensive touches.
Goodson is an interesting option, but like I stated earlier, I doubt the Bengals sign a free agent back two years in a row. They have four picks in the first three rounds of the draft and I would be shocked if they didn't use one of those four picks on a running back. They could possibly use a late-round pick on one as well.
However, the most interesting possibility that the guys at PFF thought us was at backup quarterback. The Bengals' current backup Bruce Gradkowski is set to be an unrestricted free agent. Instead of bringing him back to the team, even though he's familiar with Jay Gruden's west coast system, they propose the team signs former Bills backup Tarvaris Jackson.
After spending the past two seasons in Seattle and Buffalo, with no snaps at all during 2012 for the Bills, Tarvaris Jackson finds himself back on the market again this offseason. While his previous performances won't command a starting gig from the word go, he has played well enough in the past that it's not unreasonable to think he could be a solid backup and someone who could potentially upgrade a team like the Bengals.
His big arm would fit with the team's top receiver, A.J. Green, as Jackson completed 50% of his passes on the left side of the field and 20 yards or more downfield in Seattle in 2011. The quarterback situation in Cincinnati isn't critical enough that they are looking for someone to start over Dalton right now, but a team as talented as this can't be held back by their QB forever and, at some point, they need to see if they can find someone else out there.
I don't like the idea of signing Jackson as an eventual replacement for Dalton because I don't think Dalton needs to be replaced, even if the guys at PFF do. However, Jackson's talents, especially when it comes to running the ball, could add a new dimension to the Bengals offense. I've never been a big fan of rotating quarterbacks because I don't think it usually works in the NFL. However, if the Bengals could work Jackson in on occasion to run a wildcat-ish offense in which he also throws the ball (not just run the ball like the Jets did with Tim Tebow), it could keep the offense guessing. At the same time, though, I don't think that Dalton should be left with the thought that he has a chance to get replaced.
All-in-all, I doubt that any of these guys end up in stripes in 2013 and while they're interesting prospects, the team can do just fine in the draft and by re-signing their own guys. Signing a guy like Jackson or another free agent running back like Goodson or even a talented linebacker like Hill would put the Bengals in the news, but I don't think that these guys offer them much more than re-signing Howard, finding a running back in the draft or either re-signing Gradkowski or even drafting a backup quarterback could do.
Now that the season is over, free agency moves are right around the corner. Get ready.