Sure there are far more interesting stories for Bengals fans heading into offseason, but I'm here to make a compelling case for cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris to become a full-time first team player next year. Cincinnati has two key players set to become free agents at the cornerback position, and some important needs elsewhere to address in the draft. Why not save resources with somebody who has done a good job when called upon?
Lewis-Harris has been with the Bengals for four years, and in the 2015 season, he played in seven games, which was the most in his career. The Tennessee-Chattanooga product has often been bypassed by other cornerback hopefuls, but he's been the one to ultimately stick with the team. He played less than 4 percent of the snaps on defense - not counting the Wild Card game this season - but with five or six spots available at the cornerback position and only two players currently under contract, I think now is a good time to be reminded of a player who can help the Bengals if given the chance.
With both Leon Hall and Adam Jones set to hit the open market next month, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and head coach Marvin Lewis are going to have to round out the unit with one or two talented backs if they want to maintain last season's success. The Bengals' secondary was one of the best in the NFL last season, despite all the injuries and Dre Kirkpatrick's occasional blown coverages. Lewis-Harris was not a key member of the secondary, as evidenced by his playing time, but he was there when needed and even Guenther praised him after the Ravens game in Week 17. He would go on to have an even bigger role against the Steelers in the playoffs, being on the field for 24 snaps.
Of course the Bengals usually select a cornerback or two in the draft and they've added Darqueze Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick in the first round and last year picked up Josh Shaw in the fourth. But, Lewis-Harris has always managed to stay around, even when he was demoted to the practice squad for a few weeks in 2015 after a rib injury. Now it might be time to give him a chance to claim a regular spot in the roster, joining Kirkpatrick, Shaw, Dennard and either Hall or Jones. Even if they retain both of their free agents, the Georgia native could stay as Shaw can play some safety as well.
After four years one and off the practice squad, injuries to nearly every cornerback on the Bengals' roster made Lewis-Harris play the most of his time this past season, and I think he proved he can be a good role player in this league. When his time came against Pittsburgh in the Wild Card game he was targeted on just his second play on the field, he did not allow wide receiver Markus Wheaton to beat him on the go route and Ben Roethlisberger just threw it way past him.
Big Ben would be sacked on the next play, in which the entire secondary, including Lewis-Harris, played the comeback routes combination nicely giving Vontaze Burfict extra time to get to the quarterback, eventually forcing the Steelers to punt.
Next time he was targeted he did allow a short completion to Antonio Brown, but the Bengals were giving him cushion to try to avoid getting beaten at the line of scrimmage.
Lewis-Harris also made a good play preventing Martavis Bryant to get more yardage after Jeremy Hill's fumble, and lined up in the slot to force a third down on the following play, breaking up a pass intended for Brown.
And he was also guarding Brown when things went south for the Bengals later on in the fourth quarter. The Steelers receiver did not make the catch thrown his way on the play where a tackle by Burfict caused Brown to exit the game, and the window was tight on that play between Brown and Lewis-Harris. Going up against one of the top receivers in the last three-four years in crunch time is impressive, and Lewis-Harris showed you can trust him when needed.
I'd give the man a chance and focus on other positions in the draft. Cincinnati could really do worse than Lewis-Harris as the fourth or fifth cornerback with his ability to play inside and outside and his experience under Guenther and with the other Bengals cornerbacks.