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Bengals Need Only Blame Themselves If Johnathan Joseph Doesn't Return

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With free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha likely leaving Oakland whenever free agency resumes after a resolved Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Raiders quickly sealed their other cornerback, Stanford Routt, with a three-year deal worth $31.5 million and $20 million guaranteed. This comes several days after the Denver Broncos signed Champ Bailey to a four-year deal with $43 million and $11 million guaranteed at signing.

John Thornton writes that the Raiders have, once again, screwed the Bengals, because the deal will increase Joseph's minimum demands. Consider that while Routt will receive an average $10.5 million per season, he had a particularly above average last year at best. Quarterbacks completed 42.4% of their passes against targets that Routt was covering, with a quarterback rating of 69.0, four touchdowns allowed and two interceptions. Yet, Pro Football Focus graded him out at -9.3.

Even injured with a high-ankle sprain, Joseph allowed less touchdowns and picked off more passes that Routt hasn't allowed over 100 yards receiving in any game since the third week in 2009 against Pittsburgh. Furthermore, Joseph didn't allow over 50 yards receiving in nine of the 12 games he played in 2010.

The Bengals had to know that the cost for keeping Joseph would be high this year. Consider that the Franchise Tag amounts to the medium of the top five contracts at their respective positions. And consider that only quarterbacks have a higher franchise tag amount than cornerbacks, there was no doubt that keeping Johnathan Joseph would be costly.

The problem is, the Bengals sat on their hands, watching Joseph's value increase simply with the demand of a market always looking for quality cornerbacks in a passing-dominated league. Yes, Thornton is right in saying that the Raiders screwed the Bengals again. But the bigger point that he accurately points out is that the Bengals should have been more proactive in getting Joseph signed to a long-term deal last year, specifically before New York's Jets cornerback signed a $46 million deal for $32 million guaranteed, which will send a ripple throughout free agency amongst cornerbacks starting Asomugha.

Then again, did we even really expect the Bengals to sign Joseph? Several of the team's best players have left for free agency. Such as Pro Bowler T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Such as Justin Smith, who in his two seasons with the 49ers, has made the Pro Bowl. Such as Eric Steinbach, who was a Pro Bowl alternate during the 2006 season and has yet to be replaced in terms of productivity.

But if the Bengals let Joseph leave, that can leave little doubt that the Bengals will draft a cornerback in the first round. Not only would you need to replace Joseph, but you're likely willing to let Leon Hall leave as well. Why? Most likely, depending on how he plays this year, Hall could be the most coveted free agent in the secondary this time next year. And I'll guarantee you one thing. The Bengals will sit on their hands to find out.