The Cincinnati Bengals have a well-documented list of players set to hit free agency. Some have used this list to suggest why the team won't make the playoffs in 2016, while others debate whether Cincinnati will even be able to sign one of its top five players who will soon be free agents. But the Bengals are far from being the only AFC North team who will struggle locking up its own players.
Several key players on opposing AFC North teams will hit free agency along with Marvin Jones, George Iloka, Reggie Nelson, Adam Jones, Andre Smith and others on the Bengals. While the Bengals' overwhelming list of 15 players set to hit free agency seems long, the team actually has the least players of any AFC North team set to hit free agency.
Two key players on the Steelers, left tackle Kelvin Beachum and corner Brandon Boykin, will both become unrestricted free agents this offseason. Among the team's 24 pending free agents, Ramon Foster, Steve McLendon, William Gay, Will Allen and Cam Thomas stand out as other impact guys who could walk. And while Antwon Blake and Robert Golden have disappointed, they'll be free agents as well.
Of the Steelers free agents set to hit the market, only the team's two top free agents (Beachum and Boykin), wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski look like guys the Bengals would even have a remote interest in pursuing. Gradkowski was Cincinnati's backup quarterback from 2011-2012, and while he didn't have many opportunities to play, he knows the Bengals' system fairly well. If Cincinnati were to field trade offers for AJ McCarron, it could sign Gradkowski to a minimum contract and draft a rookie quarterback in the fifth or sixth round of the draft to develop as the long-term backup. If the Bengals were to lose Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, Heyward-Bey could be an option as a deep threat. However, this seems like a longshot and it's unlikely the Bengals would even consider it.
The Ravens could potentially lose a couple of key guys, as well. Justin Tucker, Courtney Upshaw, Kelechi Osemele and Kamar Aiken are set to become free agents. Other role players set to hit free agency include Matt Schaub, Shareece Wright, Marlon Brown, Jimmy Clausen, Terrance West, Chris Givens, Chris Matthews and Chris Carter. In total, Baltimore has 31 players hitting free agency. And aside from Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown, the majority of Baltimore's impact players hitting free agency are unrestricted free agents.
The Bengals will certainly take a look at Chris Carter, who impressed in the preseason and earned a spot on the team's final roster before being waived in December in response to Andy Dalton's thumb injury. They would also be wise to give Upshaw a look, as he's been fairly reliable on the outside while in Baltimore. Finally, Justin Tucker would be a drastic upgrade over Mike Nugent (and would be worth the higher salary), but it's hard to see Cincinnati shelling out money for a special teams player. They're more likely to look to the draft and undrafted free agents for an upgrade at kicker, should they choose to seek one.
Finally, the Cleveland Browns have a quietly exciting list of players set to hit free agency. Headlining this year's upcoming free agents for the Browns are Tashaun Gipson, Travis Benjamin and Mitchell Schwartz, three of Cleveland's best players outside of Joe Thomas and Joe Haden. Cincinnati would be wise to inquire about all three players. A secondary with George Iloka, Tashaun Gipson and Shawn Williams at safety would be lethal. These are likely the only players from the Browns the Bengals would take a look at. After all, these players are on the Browns for a reason.
Of the aforementioned players, Justin Tucker, Courtney Upshaw, Brandon Boykin, Travis Benjamin and Tashaun Gipson would be the best signings, if the Bengals were looking to bring in a big name in free agency from around the division.