ESPN AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley recently tackled the free agency decisions the Bengals are about to face. The Bengals are currently $10.2 million under the salary cap and they have to re-sign guys like Michael Johnson and Andre Smith, as well as extend the contract of Geno Atkins and a few others. They will have some tough decisions to make when it comes to who they decide is worth bringing back, or who they can afford to bring back, and who isn't.
Hensley believes the list of players that the Bengals should re-sign is as follows:
- Michael Johnson
- Andre Smith
- Terence Newman
- Adam Jones
- Thomas Howard
- Pat Sims
- Wallace Gilberry
- Kevin Huber
- Bruce Gradkowski
The Bengals' priorities are Johnson and Smith. If Cincinnati can't sign both to long-term deals, one has to get the franchise tag (and the Bengals have plenty of salary-cap room to do so). The Bengals don't have to re-sign Newman because Dre Kirkpatrick has a shot to be a starter this year. But Newman exceeded expectations and was the 19th-ranked corner by Pro Football Focus. He can continue to be the starter until Kirkpatrick is ready or can provide experienced depth.
Jones was the Bengals' best returner in 2012 and should handle that role this season. Howard, the team's leading tackler in 2011, deserves to come back if he's making progress with his season-ending knee injury. Gilberry, who had 6.5 sacks and three fumble recoveries, was one of the biggest surprises on last season's team.
For the most part, Hensley's right on. Re-signing Johnson and Smith are priorities, as should be the re-signing of Jones and Newman. Sims and Gilberry can continue to provide depth to the talented defensive line. Howard can re-take his starting position at WILL, moving Vontaze Burfict to MIKE. Huber had a great season and locking him up is a no-brainer as is securing the team's backup quarterback that is already familiar with the offense (though the Bengals could save money by drafting a new backup quarterback instead of re-signing Gradkowski).
As far as players the Bengals shouldn't re-sign, Hensley had a list of them as well:
It's time to cut ties with Maualuga, especially after he was picked on by the Texans in the playoff game. He also had the fifth-most missed tackles in the NFL last season. The Bengals can move Vontaze Burfict to the middle. Cincinnati needs to upgrade from Crocker and Lawson. Tate became a liability with his decision-making as a returner. Clements, 33, is showing his age on the field. The Bengals need to get more speed in the backfield, which makes Leonard expendable.
This, I'm not so sure I can agree with completely. It is time to cut ties with Maualuga, in my opinion, unless they can sign him as a backup at league minimum. I also think they can cut ties with Clements, Tate, Crocker and Geathers. They could probably do without Lawson, but I'd like to see them bring him back to at least compete for the SAM position. While I agree that the team needs more speed in the backfield, and I think they will draft at least one running back, probably high in the draft, I don't know if I like the idea of letting Leonard go.
Leonard has made a ton of huge plays as the Bengals' third-down back and I would hate to see him go, but I would understand if the team decided to take that route.
Placekicker: Mike Nugent or Josh Brown. What a difference a season makes. Last year, the Bengals placed the franchise tag on Mike Nugent, who set team single-season records for points (132) and field goals (33) in 2011. Then, after Nugent injured his right calf in December, Brown converted 11 of 12 field goals (91.7 percent), with his only miss coming on a desperation 56-yarder in Pittsburgh. His 43-yard field goal with four seconds left on Dec. 23 in Pittsburgh clinched a playoff berth for Cincinnati. It doesn't help Nugent's cause that he ended two of the past three seasons on injured reserve. This decision could go either way.
Six one way or half a dozen the other, in my opinion.
What are your thoughts?