Free agency is right around the corner, and plenty of exciting players are available on the market. I've already outlined my dream offseason, in which the Bengals don't spend a ton in free agency, but there's always a chance for surprise--especially considering the Bengals' big cap carryover from 2015.
One free agent who could make perfect sense for a surprise signing is former Redskins nose tackle, Terrance Knighton. PFF's Ben Stockwell initially made the suggestion, citing that the pairing of Knighton and Geno Atkins "could elevate the Bengals' defense to another level."
Knighton, a 29-year-old, 355-pound nose tackle is both experienced and savvy. Before spending a year at nose tackle in the Redskins' 3-4 scheme, Knighton played nose tackle in the Broncos' 4-3 scheme for two years and spent four seasons in the Jaguars' 4-3 scheme. He plugs the run lanes very well, which could leave plenty of room for Atkins, Michael Johnson and even Carlos Dunlap to make plays against the run.
Stuffing the run is Knighton's strongest suit, which would be a huge help to the Bengals' defense, which has constantly struggled defending the run in the playoffs. Knighton has recorded at least four run stuffs in five of his seven seasons pro, achieving this feat in each of his past two seasons. While he may not have the most impressive numbers, Knighton is one of the NFL's best run-stopping interior lineman, and he's young enough that he'd still be valuable for at least three more seasons.
Domata Peko had a nice year in 2015, tallying a career-high five sacks, but he only recorded three run stuffs with only two stuff yards. He's not nearly as explosive a player as he once was, and he's very slow off the line. And while Peko offers valuable leadership capabilities, Knighton has emerged as a team leader on each of the two teams he most recently suited up for. Simply put, Knighton offers everything Peko offers and more. A change at nose tackle could be what the Bengals need to finally get the playoff monkey off their back, especially considering how the team's run defense has completely fallen apart in every playoff game during the last five years.
Knighton, who signed with the Redskins in 2015, looks like a guy who could take a less lucrative deal to play for a contending team. Chris Baker, one of Knighton's closest friends, was able to convince the nose tackle to sign with the Redskins last offseason with the prospect of playing together and improving a poor team. The Bengals are one of the NFL's strongest teams and the prospect of suiting up in stripes could be a huge incentive to come and play in the Queen City.
And if not Knighton, there are plenty of other capable nose tackles and defensive tackles on the market. Ian Williams, Nick Fairley, Damon Harrison and even Haloti Ngata could all be options for the Bengals if the team decides to move on from Peko (which, for the record, I don't believe the team will do) or add a veteran into the mix. In addition, plenty of nose tackles will be available in the draft, if that's the direction the Bengals want to move in. A'Shawn Robinson, Vernon Butler, Jarran Reed, Andrew Billings and Kenny Clark could all make an immediate impact and become the long-term replacement at defensive tackle. And if Cincinnati doesn't want to draft a nose tackle early, D.J. Reader and Antwaun Woods could be available in the late rounds.
Peko has been a fantastic nose tackle throughout his tenure in Cincinnati, but the team needs to prepare for the future. Knighton would be a great stopgap for a few years while the team looks for a long-term solution, but several draft prospects could also fill the gap with ease. And if all else fails, Brandon Thompson has shown glimpses of promise in his limited snaps and could come at a good price in free agency.