As we near the kickoff to free agency on Tuesday, we wanted to dust off our needs file. Obviously anything can happen from now through April, however needs are needs and based on the team's list of free agents, most of those needs are going to be defensive in nature. Starters are needs but keep in mind that the bulk of any roster is comprised of role players and backups and frankly, with Cincinnati's defense, starter is somewhat meaningless due to the team's use of rotations.
SAFETY: We hate using the word "obvious", only because our definition of something incendiary may not translate similarly to everyone else. However the Cincinnati Bengals need safety-help. A pair of 32-year old defensive backs, who played safety in 2012, are hitting the market, leaving Jeromy Miles, Taylor Mays, George Iloka, Tony Dye and Robert Sands as replacements.
Though any one of them are serviceable as special teams players, none have generated enough of a known impression to warrant confidence for promotion into the starting lineup. Whether the Bengals address the position in free agency or the NFL draft, it's not entirely known but if current trends in regards to salary keep up, we're thinking more draft than free agency. And by draft, we mean the first round.
RUNNING BACK: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cedric Peerman and Daniel Herron are signed through 2013. The Bengals are certainly addressing the position. That's about all we have to say about that.
CORNERBACK: Honestly cornerback could go any direction. Beyond Leon Hall the team is trusting the position with those who have dealt with more injuries than production in the NFL. The Bengals figure to give Dre Kirkpatrick ample playing time, if not an early favorite to start opposite of Hall when the regular season comes around. But you need insurance and the Bengals are making it a point to get cornerbacks Adam Jones and Terence Newman back.
One can make the argument that Shaun Prater and Brandon Ghee should be given the opportunity, and we agree. However how much is the team willing to risk that, based on limited NFL service at this point? We could see the team going after Jones and Newman regardless, stabilizing the position and relying less on unproven talent with a history of injuries.
But then what happens in the unlikely case that Jones and Newman don't return?
LINEBACKER: A situation where the team could lose more free agents than linebackers currently signed to the 2013 roster. Rey Maualuga (SAM) and Thomas Howard (WILL) could return, but save for a handful of PR-like responses to specific questions, we're not exactly sure how probable that is. Additionally it's not clear if the Bengals will move Vontaze Burfict to the middle, or just keep him at weak-side linebacker where he generated a team-high 174 tackles -- why fix what's not broke?
We believe that the Bengals will add another starter-level linebacker either through free agency or the draft, but we're thinking the draft. However the bulk of the team's depth also needs attention, especially with how free agency pans out.
DEFENSIVE END: Cincinnati's re-signing Wallace Gilberry Sunday to a three-year deal certainly downplays the necessity of addressing the position, but right now the Bengals have Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap and Gilberry signed for 2013 and plans for Jamaal Anderson's future in stripes seem a bit foggy. Additionally the Bengals may need to anticipate Johnson leaving after his franchise season if they're unable to re-sign the four-year defensive end to a long-term deal.
The Bengals have a bunch of situational guys, but outside of Johnson, they're lacking three-down defensive ends.
OFFENSIVE TACKLE: Pay Andre Smith, keep him for another four years and this suddenly becomes a non-issue, right? Maybe not. Smith is expected to enter free agency as an unrestricted free agent and based on where he goes, it could skyrocket Cincinnati's need for an offensive tackle.
That being said Andrew Whitworth, who has been dealing with a knee for two years, underwent an offseason procedure and the early estimates are that he'll miss a majority of the offseason workouts. Despite that, he's getting somewhat long in the tooth and eventually the team will need to think about a future at left tackle -- largely dictated by Whitworth's production this year too. However the logical move is to sign Smith with Anthony Collins as a backup to both positions, and the tackle issue becomes a non-issue.