The Cincinnati Bengals' list of unrestricted free agents has been well-documented for months now, but people are finally starting to notice how talented Cincinnati's free agents are. Many Bengals fans began to fear of the possibility of losing Marvin Jones, George Iloka, Adam Jones and Reggie Nelson before the 2015 season even began, but it took until now for experts and fans of other teams to begin to really understand why.
When Alshon Jeffery either signs a long-term deal in Chicago or takes the franchise tag, Marvin Jones could become the top free agent wide receiver available. Robert Mays from the MMQB believes he is a risky, yet talented free agent. Mays doesn't believe teams should sign Jones as their top target, as he's best suited for a number two role and also said that at a best-case scenario, teams signing Jones will hope he has a Golden Tate-like impact, where the worst-case scenario signing would be giving him Torrey Smith money to be a team's top pass-catcher. Here's more on what Mays had to say:
What makes Jones the most attractive option in a shallow pool of free-agent receivers is that his talent is undeniable. Though he's average size for a receiver (6- 2) Jones is a viable deep threat with great speed and exceptional ball skills. But his ability to make an impact goes far beyond the long ball. He caught plenty of screens for a Cincinnati offense that loves to throw them. The concern with Jones is that teams still don't have much to go by when evaluating him. After missing the entire 2014 season with an ankle injury, Jones has started only 21 games in his career.
Andre Smith, like Jones, has a case to make as the best player at his position in free agency. Browns right tackle Mitchell Schwartz is the only player who even comes close to Smith in terms of skill level, but Smith, who shut out Justin Houston in 2015 and J.J. Watt in 2014, looks to be the better option. NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal has Smith ranked as the NFL's 17th-best free agent, with this to say on the massive right tackle:
How will Smith react to getting paid big bucks (again)? While his career has included some ups and downs, Smith has often been a top-shelf starter.
George Iloka, perhaps the Bengals' most valuable upcoming free agent, has finally caught steam, which could be bad for Cincinnati. Standing at 6'4" with the ability to prevent touchdowns, make plays against the run and lay the wood into opposing pass-catchers, Iloka is one of the most talented safeties in the league. And at just 25-years-old, Iloka has even more time to improve. Andy Benoit from the MMQB has Iloka rated as the #1 player who could surprise in free agency, with this to say on the defensive back:
Don't be surprised if Iloka scores one of the 10 biggest contracts in free agency this year. Safeties are increasingly valuable in today's NFL, and he's one who can play centerfield or in the box. He also has experience as a corner from his days at Boise State, though he'd have to be used unexpectedly and sparingly in this capacity. At 6'4", 225 pounds, and with arms so long he can practically tie his shoes without bending over, Iloka has the innate physical traits to be elite.
Benoit also brought up Brandon Thompson, a very under-the-radar Bengals player as a guy who could surprise in free agency as well, surprisingly ranking him second on the list of potential surprises. Here's what Benoit had to say on Thompson:
It's a testament to Bengals veteran Domata Peko that Thompson never worked his way into the starting lineup as a nose shade. Thompson was tremendous against double-teams when forced to fill in at this position for a few games in 2013. Last season, he played mostly as a three-technique, backing up Geno Atkins. Thompson doesn't have Atkins's combination of movement and raw strength (few do), but he plays with natural leverage and balance. Whoever signs him will get a potential three-down force.
Most Bengals fans saw Thompson's talent prior to the 2015 season, rightfully urging Cincinnati's staff to give the defensive tackle more snaps. In 2015, Thompson actually saw less playing time and was only active for about half of gamedays this past season. But Domata Peko's brilliance also can't be understated. Coming off a major injury, an ACL tear in Week 17, Thompson likely won't sign a very big deal. Hopefully the Bengals will be able to keep him on the squad and give him some more snaps come 2016.