The Cincinnati Bengals are facing the possibility of losing both of their starting safeties this offseason.
Reggie Nelson and George Iloka have been the full-time safeties for the past three seasons, not to mention Nelson being the starter since 2011. He's been pivotal in Cincy having one of the NFL's best defenses over that span, and he's coming off arguably his best year as a pro.
This past season, Nelson tied for the NFL-lead in interceptions (8) while racking up 77 tackles and 14 passes defended. He also tied a team-record this season by recording an interception in five consecutive games and was voted into the Pro Bowl for the first time, though he dropped out of the game due to an injury suffered during the Wild Card loss.
Nelson may have been playing it safe and avoiding an unnecessary injury before he signs what may be the biggest NFL contract of his life. His most recent deal came in 2012 when he signed a four-year, $18-million deal to remain in Cincinnati. He more than rewarded the Bengals as he racked up 23 interceptions, five forced fumbles, 313 tackles and five fumble recoveries across 93 career games in Cincinnati.
There's really no question that Nelson was one of the five or six most important Bengals this past season, and losing him would be a major hit to a secondary that's been among the league's best with Nelson part of it. In 2015, Cincinnati ranked fourth in yards allowed per pass (6.6), fifth in opponent passer rating (78.9) and allowed the second-fewest touchdown passes (18).
But at 32 years of age, are the Bengals ready to commit another big contract to Nelson? That depends on what they do with Iloka, who is younger and has been as good as Nelson when healthy. The problem is, the rest of the NFL knows this, and Iloka should command one of the biggest contracts a defensive player gets this offseason.
I believe another team signs Iloka away from the Bengals, which then leads to them making a bigger push to re-sign Nelson. It's hard to say if a deal will get done though as it's hard to project the market for a 32-year-old Pro Bowl safety.
I do think the Bengals are able to re-sign one of their impending free agent safeties, and the more likely of the two to be back in the Queen City is Nelson.