In case you missed the news yesterday, veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby visited the Bengals on Wednesday and it appears that the Bengals are highly-interested in him. If he were to sign, it would be one of the bigger names that the Bengals have brought in via free agency and one who isn't considered far past his prime. It would be a good addition to an already strong defensive unit.
In case you hadn't noticed Marvin Lewis and the rest of Cincinnati's coaching staff loves their players to be versatile. They like to see that their running backs are solid in pass protection as well as running the football. They some of their defensive ends to be stout enough to kick inside to tackle in obvious passing situations. And, they like some of their players to be able to play multiple positions--namely offensive linemen and linebackers.
That's likely why the Bengals are visiting with Dansby because he has experience playing every linebacker spot in both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes. He also played in defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle's system last season in Miami and there are likely some adopted principles there from Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's scheme.
On Wednesday night, Joe Reedy of The Cincinnati Enquirer sent a tweet out chronicling Dansby's history of versatility and where Dansby could play in the Bengals defensive system. Really, it's possible that he could play any one of the three linebacker spots and an argument could be made why he is best suited at each respective spot. Given Dansby's above-average pass coverage skills, weakside linebacker would seem like an ideal fit. If that's the case, Vontaze Burfict would then likely have to be moved to the middle, even if Lewis hinted at there not being changes with the linebacker corps in 2013.
However, given Dansby's experience, football smarts, and spending the 2012 season as a middle linebacker in a 4-3 defensive system, one has to believe that that spot might be the best should he sign with Cincinnati. With Rey Maualuga struggling in the middle over the past two seasons and a still-relatively-inexperienced Burfict playing well at the WILL spot in 2012, having a heady and rangy veteran linebacker to make sure that the defense is properly lined up. If you moved Maualuga to SAM, where he has played his best NFL football, and then keep both Burfict and Dansby at the spots that they played well at last year, it could be a recipe for another strong defensive campaign.
However, if Dansby signs with the Bengals I see the former situation where he plays the WILL spot. Even though Lewis has a penchant for sticking to what he says at times, and we could see a scenario where Maualuga stays in the middle, I think that the Bengals' head coach's new pet project is Burfict and there is likely an itch that Lewis will have to scratch by eventually trying Burfict at his natural position at MIKE. Again, this could all be moot if Cincinnati doesn't end up signing Dansby, but it's fun to speculate, right?
Another big name on the free agent market is apparently on the Bengals' radar in running back Ahmad Bradshaw. In the comment thread of the post we wrote on the news, commenter "spif" (who has one of the most disturbing avatars in his profile) proposed an interesting question: running back Felix Jones or Ahmad Bradshaw for the Bengals? It generated quite a few responses and we wanted to chime in on it as well. Aside from Bradshaw being back in the Bengals' sights, they also had Jones in for workout earlier in the week.
For me, this isn't a "black/white answer". I would think that the answer to this question lies in which rookie running back the Bengals like this year. You see, I'm operating under the mindset that two more running backs will be added to the roster--one rookie and one free agent. With that assumption, the answer to the preference of Jones versus Bradshaw would coincide with which rookie back the Bengals take.
If the Bengals are looking to supplant BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the near future with a potential "every down back" such as Alabama's Eddie Lacy, South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore or Wisconsin's Montee Ball, then I'd think that a shiftier, faster back like Jones would be a great free agent addition. Jones' ability to break a long run and catch the football would be a good complement to the above-mentioned backs.
However, if the coaching staff is enamored with a rookie running back that has the traits that Jones has flashed, Bradshaw would then be the good addition. If Cincinnati decided to pair Green-Ellis with someone like Oregon's Kenjon Barner, North Carolina's Giovani Bernard, UCLA's Jonathan Franklin, or Clemson's Andre Ellington, then another hard-nosed runner like Bradshaw would be a better addition than Jones.
While I could see the team potentially adding a free agent safety or linebacker before the draft, I don't see them adding a running back until after it all shakes out to see what falls to them. The good thing is that they have options. Given the age (Jones is almost 26 years old and Bradshaw is 27), wear and tear (Jones has 569 career carries, Bradshaw has 921), the element of speed that Jones brings and the price tag that they both have, I'd have to give the early edge to Jones. Not by much though, because both have had injury issues and both are above-average at catching the football.