Remember during the offseason when it appeared that safety Reggie Nelson was expected to leave for the New York Jets? Mike Brown is too cheap, many said. He doesn't care about winning; the same pessimistic crowd echoed after ranting that he's pillaging the city of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. The New York Jets submitted Nelson's representatives an offer on March 17, while Bengals fans sighed in exasperation that another high-profile free agent was set to leave Cincinnati. It was only a matter of time, anxiously waiting for Adam Schefter's tweet that Nelson was signing with the Jets. The "cheap" Mike Brown, the cartoonish CEO of a front office that powerfully sways its unshackled evil like Montgomery Burns over Springfield, signed Nelson to a four-year deal worth $18 million.
Fireworks shower the beautiful Cincinnati skyline, dudes jump in the air, bumping their chests in slow motion while Bengals bloggers stub the holy hell out of their toe.
"This is change."
Hell, the signing even promoted an unsubstantiated belief that Mike Brown has loosened his grip on the team's operational control. There was no other explanation for the fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, rivers and seas boiling, forty years of darkness, earthquakes and volcanoes, the dead rising from the grave, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!
The oddity of it all was that this was all over Reggie Nelson, who has had a marginal existence in the NFL that compiled a career-year at exactly the right time. This is the same guy, a former first-round pick during the 2007 NFL draft that Jacksonville so desperately wanted to get rid of that they gladly accepted cornerback David Jones and a conditional seventh-round draft pick.
This is how bad he was. During his final season in Jacksonville, opposing quarterbacks completed 40 of 46 passes against Nelson with a passer rating of 147.7 and four touchdowns.
We suspect largely due to Mike Zimmer's system, and the overall welcomed change in scenery, Reggie Nelson started feeling comfortable. Injuries in the secondary during his first season in Cincinnati allowed Nelson increased playing time - he didn't take his first defensive snaps until week seven against the Falcons. Since then Nelson only allowed 9 out of 20 passes to be completed for a passer rating of 30.4 and no touchdowns to finish 2010.
During his first-full season as the Bengals starting free safety last year, Nelson blossomed. He still allowed over 65 percent of passes he defended to be completed. But for only 316 yards total, including ten games in which he prevented all of his coverages from combining for double-digit yards.
He picked off four passes, most since his rookie season, one of which was returned 75 yards for a touchdown against the Seahawks. Nelson finished third on the team with 102 tackles, while forcing two fumbles. His quarterback sack in week one against the Cleveland Browns forced a punt and his second sack of the season against the Cardinals was a handful of possessions following his fourth interception of the season.
Nelson is no different from anyone else. He has as much to prove as anyone on this team. Despite showing flashes of brilliance last season, a prolonged history of inconsistency and poor play is inked on his resume. The question really becomes: Will the Bengals receive the Nelson from the 2011 season, a borderline All-Star or the one before that where Cincinnati will want to desperately unload his salary and lack of production?