This is going to be a really tricky off season for the Bengals. There's a long list of potential free agents that the Bengals should probably re-sign but that might not happen because the current CBA expires in less than a month and it doesn't appear that there will be a new one in time.
Now, it appears that teams won't be able to use the franchise tag on players because the CBA expires on March 4. NFLPA leader DeMaurice Smith went as far to say that without a new CBA, a franchise tag is "meaningless." If the tags don't apply because the CBA expires, the Bengals could be in even more trouble.
This is why the 2011 NFL Draft is so important. Instead of drafting the best player available, the Bengals may have to draft to fill their needs. Because of the CBA situation, the Bengals may need to draft somebody higher than they would usually go because he fills a specific need.
Cornerback may be one of these specific needs.
Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph is, as of now, a free agent. As the CBA's expiration date creeps closer and closer, the Bengals have bigger and bigger chance of losing him. If they don't sign him by the time the CBA expires, or they attempt to tag him, they run the risk of losing him to a team that boasts a bigger wallet than the Bengals do (like all of them).
Because of this, the Bengals may be forced to draft a cornerback to replace Joseph even though Adam Jones is waiting in the wings. The current draft class may be short on quarterbacks and running backs, but it isn't short on corners.
The top-three corners coming into this year's draft are LSU's Patrick Peterson, Colorado's Jimmy Smith and Nebraska's Prince Amukamara. The last of these three young cornerbacks wants to raise his draft stock even higher, possibly onto the Bengals very large and desperate radar.
Amukamara did not take the opportunity to partake in the 2011 Senior Bowl, which disappointed some scouts, so his decision to compete is definitely a plus.
The consensus number two cornerback on the board, Amukamara has seen his stock slip recently. No scout will question his technique or natural ability to play the corner back position, but his straight line speed and quickness were called in to question at times this season.
If the CBA does expire, and it's likely it will, and the Bengals miss their opportunity to re-sign Joseph, they may feel the need to draft a cornerback to take his place. With Carson Palmer wanting out and with big name players like Dhani Jones, Johnathan Joseph and Cedric Benson hitting the free agent market with an expiring CBA, the Bengals are quickly going to find out that they're in a very tough situation. It's going to be an interesting couple of months.