When it comes to free agency, the Bengals aren't going to be one of the teams making moves that are highlighted on ESPN and leave analysts in shock. They aren't usually going to bring Mario Williams, Peyton Manning, Brandon Carr or Carl Nicks to Cincinnati. The biggest free agency moves made by the Bengals before the 2012 season were re-signing Reggie Nelson, who was courted by the Jets as well, and signing BenJarvus Green-Ellis, neither of which qualified as one of the biggest free agent signings.
The year before they signed Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard and re-signed Cedric Benson, but they also lost Johnathan Joseph to the Texans, which was one of the biggest moves made of the offseason and is a move the Bengals are still paying for today.
The Bengals have typically done their building in the draft, which has worked for them over the past few seasons. However, before we just turn a blind eye to free agency, lets pretend the Bengals aren't the Bengals and talk about what free agents they could go after (in our wildest dreams).
BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a successful year in 2012, running for over 1,094 yards and six touchdowns. However, he showed that he doesn't have the breakaway speed that most big-play running backs do. Since this is something the Bengals offense has been missing, and since Bernard Scott is set to hit free agency, the Bengals could either draft a running back or bring in a veteran. Assuming that Green-Ellis is still going to be the No. 1 back, free agents that could be considered No. 1A include Reggie Bush or Felix Jones. Both would add the explosiveness missed in the running game and both will likely be available.
The Bengals are more likely to look to the draft, but if they don't which free agent running back would you want them to go after, if any?
The Bengals can't afford to lose Andre Smith. They have successfully turned him into a very talented and capable right tackle and if they can't continue to draft players, develop them and then allow them to take their talent to other teams (in other words, they can't let Smith be Johnathan Joseph version 2.0). However, if they lose Smith, they could sign another big-name tackle (which, I admit, makes zero sense, but for the purpose of this article, play along). Some of the tackles available include Jake Long or Ryan Clady. These two would cost more money than re-signing Smith would, so signing them wouldn't make much sense, especially when they have to re-sign other players.
Michael Johnson had the best season of his career at the right time, racking up 11.5 sacks and showing the Bengals, and the rest of the league, that he has what it takes to be an elite pass rusher. If the Bengals, for some reason, can't re-sign him, there are other options. Those options include: an aging Dwight Freeney, Cliff Avril or Osi Umenyiora. The three could do the job of rushing the passer opposite of Carlos Dunlap and next to Geno Atkins, but part of Johnson's appeal is not only his pass rushing ability, but his youth. It would be nice to see him stay in Cincinnati.
Linebacker is a position that the Bengals could very likely look to sign free agents. The only linebackers under contract for the 2013 season are Donte Moch, Emmanuel Lamur, J.K. Schaffer and Vontaze Burfict. All three original starters, Thomas Howard, Manny Lawson and Rey Maualuga, are set to hit free agency, along with Vincent Rey, Dan Skuta. Burfict has shown that he can start, but we haven't been able to see enough from Moch or Lamur to know much about them. The Bengals could re-sign Howard and Lawson and move Burfict to the middle, letting Maualuga go, or they could re-sign him as well. Here are some of the free agent linebackers that they could be interested in as well: Anthony Spencer, Paul Kruger, Shaun Phillips and Connor Barwin.
The Bengals have repeatedly made trips to the island of misfit toys and brought back cornerbacks and safeties over the past few years. Sometimes it has worked out (Terence Newman, Nate Clements and Adam Jones) and sometimes it hasn't (Taylor Mays and Chris Crocker). Clements is set to hit free agency and we aren't yet really sure what we have in Dre Kirkpatrick or Jason Allen yet. Also, Newman isn't getting any younger. The Bengals used a first-round draft pick on a cornerback in the 2012 Draft and they could look to free agency to shore up the position. They're also in need of an upgrade at strong safety, where they could look to the free agent market as well. Some cornerbacks set to hit free agency are Brent Grimes, Aqib Talib and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Some possible available safeties are William Moore or LaRon Landry.
Like I stated earlier, The Bengals aren't really known for throwing wads of sweaty cash at big-name free agents to bring them to town. If they do nothing more than re-sign guys like Andre Smith and Michael Johnson and other playmakers as well as upgrade a positon or two, even if it's with a lesser-known guy, I'll be happy, especially if they draft the way they have been over the past couple years.
There's nothing wrong with dreaming, though.
What do you think?