The Bengals will reportedly wait until Saturday to make most, if not all of their roster decisions before the 4 p.m. deadline to have their 53-man squad set.
That's a good indicator they'll be working the phones between now and then looking to make a trade or two in hopes of building the best possible roster while also not letting good players get away with nothing in exchange. There's a ton of capable bodies on the defensive line, but not enough roster spots for all of them.
Geno Atkins and Domata Peko will be the starting tackles and get the bulk of the reps. Fourth-round rookie Marcus Hardison will also likely get some snaps behind them, but if nothing else, has a roster spot locked up.
That leaves Devon Still, Brandon Thompson, Pat Sims, and undrafted free agent rookie DeShawn Williams fighting for those final spots. Williams has actually looked like the best of them, and he's at least under contract for three more years (if Bengals tender him as RFA in 2018). Sims, Still, and Thompson are all free agents next year, and they would all be near the bottom of Cincinnati's free agent priorities if guys like A.J. Green, Reggie Nelson, Adam Jones, George Iloka, Marvin Jones, and Mohamed Sanu all still yet to be extended.
In other words, keeping Williams may be the best option in the short and long-term. Then, instead of cutting Thompson or Sims, two quality players, the Bengals could try and trade them away.
That's where the Denver Broncos may come into play. Their defensive line is pretty good, but not particularly deep. There's a lot of college free agents and other offseason acquisitions backing up the starters.
With the offseason loss of Terrance Knighton, Sylvester Williams is the projected started. A former first-round pick out of North Carolina, Williams finished 2014 with a -9.9 Pro Football Focus Grade, so Denver may be best suited to have a capable backup behind him who could even push for him for his spot.
Again, it's a good line, but one that could use another body or two to hold up for the length of a 16-game season, plus the deep playoff run Denver hopes to make. Thompson or Sims could come in and give Denver more depth on the line while pushing for significant playing time.
In return, the Bengals could ask for one of their many tight ends in return. This position is still dangerously thin with Tyler Eifert's injury history, Ryan Hewitt being more of an h-back than a pass-catching tight end, and both Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah being raw rookies who didn't show much in the preseason. Uzomah would almost certainly clear waivers and make it onto the practice squad if the Bengals waived him, but even if they keep him, he's just not ready to contribute.
The Broncos won't be willing to give up Owen Daniels after signing him this offseason. Virgil Green is probably also off limits as he's become a guy on the rise in Denver. However, there are still three guys behind them in James Casey, Marcel Jensen and Dominique Jones.
Jensen is a former undrafted free agent out of Fresno State in 2014 who managed to make the Jaguars' roster, but only appeared in one game. He was waived in May before the Broncos claimed him.
Jones is a fifth-year man who was originally signed as an undrafted free agent out of Shepherd College in 2012 by the Colts. He has four years of NFL experience with 13 career games under his belt, but has just three career catches for 42 yards.
As for Casey, he's a seven-year veteran who actually visited the Bengals this offseason after Philadelphia cut him. He originally signed a three-year, $12 million deal in 2012 after playing more of an H-back role with the Houston Texans. However, the Eagles had Brent Celek and later drafted Zach Ertz, which prevented Casey from ever seeing consistent playing time on their offense, catching just six balls for 90 yards and two scores over his two seasons there.
Despite his limited playing time, Casey was actually a solid run-blocker in Philly, registering a 3.9 run-blocking grade in 173 snaps this past year, per Pro Football Focus. During his final in year in Houston, Casey caught 34 passes for 330 yards and had three scores as an h-back with Owen Daniels starting at tight end.
Casey then signed with Denver this offseason, but in exchange for a guy like Sims or Thompson from the Bengals, maybe they'd be willing to part with him. Any of the three aforementioned guys would be an upgrade from what Uzomah is going to give them this year.
If nothing else, the Bengals could send Thompson or Sims to Denver for a late-round draft pick. One or both of them definitely won't be on the roster next year, so getting something for them now might be the best play.