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Evan Mathis Remains The Only Unsigned RFA: Could the Bengals Be Placing Guard As Biggest Need?

The deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets with another team is midnight tonight. Once 12:00:01 passes, teams will hold exclusive negotiation rights with their restricted free agents. With Brandon Johnson (finally) signing his one-year tender for $1.759 million Thursday afternoon, the Bengals are left with one restricted free agent player that hasn't signed his tender yet. Offensive guard, Evan Mathis.

Here's how it works. If Mathis is looking for another team to offer him a contract, perhaps for some long-term stability (and who doesn't want that?), he has until midnight. After that, he's locked into signing with the Bengals either with the one-year tender or through a contract extension. There's also a financial point that Mathis should be aware of. If he doesn't sign his tender by June 15, the Bengals could reduce the tender to 110% of his 2009 salary.

While he's sitting on it, let's talk about an interesting dynamic that could result (perhaps indirectly) from Mathis' indecision.

First off, we're not here to suggest that the Bengals should be prevented from drafting a guard like Mike Iupati simply because Mathis signs his one-year tender. That's just crazy. Mathis is a good run blocker, but the position is one that's been identified as a need across the board -- it was always a matter of who they drafted and when.

We're pretty confident that the Bengals will draft a guard this year at some point anyway, but if you look at the roster, Bobbie Williams, Nate Livings and Jason Shirley are the team's only guards signed in 2010. That's it. One has to think that if Mathis doesn't sign by draft weekend, the Bengals could identify guard as the team's greatest need. That's right, greatest. First of all, Iupati could become the team's starting guard as soon as the first week of the season. Second of all, the team has no real long-term solution at the position. Why not settle the issue and draft a guard like Iupati if he's available with the team's 21st overall pick? There. You have a starter, as well as a long-term solution to a question that was barely asked.

This much, I know, all of you know. I'm speaking to the choir, rehashing the same things that each and every one of you have thought. Am I right? Our point here is to project what the Bengals might do.

And drafting a guard in the first round is something that they don't do. The team's 2003 second-round pick, Eric Steinbach, is the earliest any guard has been drafted by the Bengals (33rd) in franchise history. You read that right. Cincinnati has never drafted an offensive guard in the first round. Will that change this year? Will Mathis sitting idle push the Bengals to do something they haven't done before? I agree. Why not use the same arguments to draft Iupati, regardless of whether Mathis signs his tender? Simply put, the Bengals haven't historically put much value on guards. Aside from it being a need, the team likely thinks they can get a good long-term guard later in the draft -- and they might be right.

However, if the team identifies Iupati as the best guard available, and if he's there when the Bengals are on the clock, then the team should weigh the fact that they have no long-term solution at the position. Bobbie Williams is signed through 2011 and Livings is signed through 2010. Yet, there's no long-term prodigy and the team will be faced with a bigger need down the road. Furthermore, one could argue that there's really not another starter outside Williams. I like Mathis and Livings. I like big offensive linemen that can run block and keep Carson Palmer upright more.

Could guard be the team's greatest need? That's debatable. The team's situation at safety presents the same arguments that there's no long-term solution manning the position and the depth could use help. It's why Taylor Mays is in the discussion. One could argue that Tight End is a need, therefore putting someone like Jermaine Gresham at the top of one's debate. Could Mathis waiting to sign his tender push the Bengals into drafting Iupati? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, if the Bengals drafted Iupati with their first round pick, it might not be as sexy as Dez Bryant, but it would be a need addressed.

Like I said, it's an interesting dynamic.