You'd be crazy to ignore the potential for a few key Bengals player to leave the team and follow former offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson, to the Cleveland Browns. The last time Jackson was an NFL head coach, he made an effort to reach out to his former team for a blockbuster trade deal. That was the now infamous deal that sent Carson Palmer packing his bags and heading to Oakland to play for Jackson and the Raiders.
At the time it seemed like a fevered dream that anyone would offer the Bengals a large enough deal to get Mike Brown to trade Palmer. His trade value was fairly high, but Brown insisted on not giving into the demand and forcing him to retire. But, Jackson offered the Bengals a king's ransom. The Raiders ceded one first round draft pick in the 2012 draft and a conditional second round pick in 2013 that could have turned into a first round pick if Palmer and the Raiders made the playoff in their first year together.
As the Bengals head into 2016, there are quite a few players who may consider Cleveland their first stop if they don't get resigned by the Bengals prior to the start of free agency. Some could leave in a trade, while others might simply leave as unrestricted free agents. Here are some of the most likely candidates who could be calling Cleveland home by this summer.
This one seems so obvious that it's probably not going to happen. Predicting personnel moves in the NFL is, quite simply, never this easy. But, if you think about it, depending what's given on the other side of the trade, a good enough deal like this could be a win-win for both franchises. Obviously, the Bengals would never want to make a trade that improves one of their division rivals, but McCarron's value and current position make him a prime target to be traded.
Remember what happened when guys like Matt Cassel, Kevin Kolb, and Matt Flynn filled in for a starting quarterback? They played well enough to catch the eye of teams across the league and they all cashed out on teams that were desperate for a decent quarterback to stabilize their struggling position. McCarron could command the same kind of value, but still has two years left on his rookie contract and has proven himself to be extremely valuable to the team as a backup quarterback. Therefore, it would probably take at least a second round pick and potentially a starting player to rip him away from the Bengals (much like when the Patriots traded Cassel to the Chiefs).
If Jackson is willing to take the kind of risk he took with Palmer, the Browns could be willing to offer the Bengals a trade they can't refuse. Bengals fans likely don't want to see McCarron in a Browns uniform, but they'd probably enjoy an early draft pick or two for a player who wasn't likely to see a whole lot of action going forward with the Bengals.
Marvin Jones will be an unrestricted free agent as soon as his contract with the Bengals runs out and free agency begins on March 9, 2016. Whether the Bengals like it or not, they're probably going to have to pay Jones a hefty sum of money for him to stick around. Don't forget that Andrew Hawkins was offered $13.6 million in 2014 to join the Browns, and Hawkins didn't have the same kind of production as Jones.
Hawkins' best season with the Bengals came in 2012 when he recorded 51 catches for 533 yards and four touchdowns. If that was enough to warrant the kind of money he got from the Browns, imagine what they'd pay for a receiver who put up 65 receptions for 816 yards and four touchdowns in 2015 and also has a strong relationship with the head coach already. The Bengals could very well elect to pay Jones the salary that he is going to demand elsewhere, but there is also a good chance that doing so will see Mohamed Sanu take Jones's place on this list.
With the Bengals taking two offensive tackles with their first two picks in last year's draft, it would be fairly surprising if Andre Smith returned to the team in 2016. Not only is he a free agent this season, but his inconsistent and sloppy play over the years suggest that the Bengals will not be willing to pay him what he is worth on the open market.
But, Smith's former offensive coordinator might want to bring a familiar face to his new team to build up one of the NFL's most under-appreciated positions. The Browns have some great offensive linemen in Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, and Cameron Erving. With Joel Bitonio coming back from injury, a talented right tackle could be all they need to put together one of the most solid offensive lines in the NFL. It's also worth noting that Alex Mack could opt out of his contract this year, which will be worth keeping an eye on as the offseason progresses.
Reggie Nelson had a great season in 2015, but due to his age and the number of Bengals players due to be unrestricted free agents in March, there's a chance that he could end up being one of the high-profile cap casualties for the Bengals this season. Jackson is an offensive guy, so he's likely going to want to build his defense with guys that he's familiar with. Nelson led the NFL in interceptions last year (8), so him hitting free agency would be like winning the easiest lottery ever for Jackson.
Does anyone think Brandon Tate will return to the Bengals this season? Each season there is talk of the Bengals moving on from him, but they never do. However, this year is different. Like so many other players, Tate is about to become an unrestricted free agent in March. He's juggled both wide receiver and kick returner duties for the Bengals since arriving in 2011 but hasn't exactly rewritten record books during his time. Still, he's provided a consistent and reliable factor for the team during some potentially volatile years. Someone like that who can fill multiple roles is exactly the kind of player the Browns need right now. You can probably go ahead and make your bets now that he will end up in Cleveland should the Bengals decide to (finally) move on.