The Cincinnati Bengals rarely sign external free agents in free agency, but when they do, they usually don't sign anyone who would count against their compensatory picks. Because the team is set to see multiple compensatory picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, there's more than a good chance the Bengals won't sign a single external free agent this offseason.
If the Bengals were to sign an outside free agent, the player would count against one of the compensatory picks they're set to gain in 2017 for departing players like Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Emmanuel Lamur and whoever else may leave and become a starter on another team in 2016.
However, players who have been cut by their former team do not count against compensatory picks, so if the Bengals elect to bring in a player from another team, there are a few guys available. With wide receiver, defensive line, linebacker and defensive back among the team's biggest needs, let's take a look at each of these positions and what the Bengals can do.
With Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu leaving in free agency, the Bengals will need a pass-catcher to line up out wide opposite A.J. Green; otherwise, Brandon Tate could actually see meaningful snaps.
1. Brandon LaFell
The former Patriots receiver is a year removed from a 74-catch season in which he tallied 953 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Sure, LaFell's production dropped off in 2015. But I'm willing to bet that when he gets healthy, LaFell will be much more of a difference-maker. Despite missing half of last season due to injury and clearly not being 100 percent healthy, LaFell has still recorded 500+ yards receiving in five straight seasons.
2. Mike Wallace
The receiver who most recently played for the Vikings is better known for his four dominant seasons as a premiere deep threat in Pittsburgh. Wallace isn't as bad as people make him out to be; he's just not worth the money teams were paying him. From 2013-2014, the receiver notched over 1,700 receiving yards and caught 15 touchdowns. His production obviously took a hit when Teddy Bridgewater was his quarterback, as the young signal-caller can't throw a deep ball. But with Dalton's arm strength getting better on a yearly basis, Wallace may be worth a shot.
3. Jeremy Kerley
Kerley isn't ranked third on the list due to his abilities; frankly, he made it here because he'll be a cheap option in free agency and because he was college teammates with Andy Dalton. Kerley isn't as talented a receiver as even Mohamed Sanu, but in the right system, there's a chance he could see a career resurgence. After all, he's only 27-years-old. Maybe he could be a nice free agency steal.
4. Roddy White
I want to reiterate here that I'm not saying the Bengals should sign any of these players. If I were to write a list of receivers to sign, White wouldn't be anywhere near the top five. But when it comes to guys who have been cut, there isn't much to work with. White's production has taken a serious hit over the past three seasons, and it's tough to see him getting any better at 34-years-old. Still, he's a savvy veteran receiver who could make a decent impact in the right role.
5. Marques Colston
Deciding who to sign between Marques Colston and Andre Johnson would've been exciting five years ago, but today, it's the opposite. Frankly, Colston's being two years younger than Johnson was one of the determining factors in his making the list. After all, both players caught four touchdowns in 2015, and both players went for right about 500 yards receiving. This wouldn't be a pretty signing, but it could be a nice stopgap as the Bengals develop whoever they select in one of the early rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft.
The Bengals will need depth behind their four starters on the defensive line, and an upgrade at nose tackle wouldn't hurt.
1. Terrance Knighton (NT)
I've already written in-depth on why the Bengals should sign Terrance Knighton, so take a look if you're interested. To sum it up, he'd be a significant upgrade at nose tackle, a position where the Bengals have really struggled--especially in the playoffs. (Note: Knighton actually would count against the Bengals' 2017 comp picks, but we'll leave him in here.)
2. Chris Long (LE)
What type of defensive lineman will the Bengals would look for in a Wallace Gilberry replacement? It's a question most probably can't answer. Ideally, would the Bengals want someone similar in stature to Gilberry? If so, Long would be great. But if Cincinnati were looking for a tall end like it utilizes in the starting lineup, Long wouldn't be the guy. It also hurts that Long plays on the left side; Carlos Dunlap rarely comes out of the game for any reason. Long would have to kick inside to have a chance at playing in Cincinnati, but that's always an option if need-be.
3. Jason Hatcher (DT)
Like Chris Long, Jason Hatcher doesn't exactly fit the Bengals' scheme perfectly. Hatcher is more of a 3-4 defensive end than a 4-3 defensive tackle, and if he were to play in Cincinnati, he'd likely be Geno Atkins' backup. He probably wouldn't be okay with this, so Hatcher is definitely a longshot.
4. Chris Clemons (LE)
Clemons is another longshot, as he's already in talks to make a return to the Seahawks after a stint in Jacksonville. He's also essentially the same player as Chris Long, just four years older. Cincinnati shouldn't take a chance on Clemons; unfortunately, he just happens to be one of the best five defensive linemen available who wouldn't count against compensatory picks.
5. Quinton Coples (RE)
Coples could actually have a shot to sign with the Bengals if the team deemed him worthy of its time. Once a first-round pick for the New York Jets, Coples is now a journeyman free agent. But at 6'5 and 25 years old, it's very likely Cincinnati could bring in Coples as a reclamation project. After all, Margus Hunt has shown little to no progress since being drafted and competition could either speed up his development or present an upgrade.
Vontaze Burfict will miss the first three games of the season, and the Bengals are in need of linebacking depth, regardless with Lamur officially signing with the Minnesota Vikings today.
1. James Laurinaitis (ILB)
I've already written about why the Bengals should at least consider signing the former Rams middle linebacker, so be sure to check that out if you want. To sum it up, Laurinaitis is the A.J. Hawk the Bengals were actually looking for in free agency last year but didn't see in signing Hawk. He's a great team leader and instinctual linebacker who can not only make an impact on the field but also serve as a mentor to the team's young linebackers.
2. Daryl Smith (ILB)
The former Ravens linebacker, at 34-years-old, continues to defy his age. He notched over 120 tackles in all three season she spent in Baltimore, racking up nine sacks in the process. He'd be a stopgap in Cincinnati, but he's a talented player. Perhaps the Bengals could bring him in for the three games Burfict sits out and then cut ties if they decide to move on.
3. Justin Durant (OLB)
Durant has never been known as a difference-making linebacker, but he's an intriguing role player who could still make an impact with limited snaps. I don't know whether Cincinnati is looking for an inside linebacker, outside linebacker or both, so Durant made sense to me in this list.
4. Donald Butler (ILB)
Butler is one of the scariest prospects available, as Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote a hate letter to Butler after the linebacker's departure. Still, the linebacker is only 27-years-old. Bengals fans may remember him for making 12 tackles (two for loss) and forcing a fumble in the Chargers' 2013 playoff win over Cincinnati.
5. Bruce Carter (ILB)
Carter is versatile enough to play inside or outside, and he's still fairly young at just 28-years-old. He's nowhere near suited to start for the Bengals, but he could make an impact as a role player.
Bengals should bring Reggie Nelson back
For the most part, fans are content with the Bengals role in free agency this week. However, they should think twice about shutting the door for a Reggie Nelson return.
The Bengals will need to address cornerback and safety with the impending loss of Reggie Nelson, increasing age of Adam Jones and potential departure of Leon Hall.
1. Brent Grimes (CB) [Note: Grimes has been signed by the Buccaneers since this post was written.]
Why the Dolphins elected to cut Grimes in favor of Byron Maxwell is beyond me, well, it's actually likely because of his crazy wife. Grimes could be a nice upgrade at the slot, despite being 32-years-old. He's intercepted at least four passes in each of the past three seasons, but his wife's antics could scare Cincinnati away from signing the veteran.
2. Rahim Moore (S)
The 26-year-old safety would be a great backup to sign in case Shawn Williams isn't the player Cincinnati hopes he is. And even if Williams pans out as the starting safety of the future, it never hurts to have a capable backup. While Moore is best known for his blown coverage in the 2013 AFC Championship, he's still a decent player.
3. Antonio Cromartie (CB)
Cromartie will never be the player he once was, and he's coming off a terrible season. Still, there's always a chance he could be somewhat useful. With Dre Kirkpatrick struggling in coverage, Cromartie would be a solid backup in case the young corner doesn't show signs of progress. If it means anything, Cromartie has had good and bad seasons every other year for the past few years, and he's coming off a bad year. Maybe that could be a good thing for the Bengals.
4. William Moore (SS)
Moore is well past his prime, but he would be a cheap safety who can play sporadically if the Bengals get hit by injuries. There's not much else to say about the former Falcons safety; he's only recorded two interceptions in the past two seasons. Cincinnati could probably sign him to a veteran minimum contract if needed.
5. Dashon Goldson (SS)
Goldson may be the flashier name than William Moore, but he's not much of an upgrade. If anything, Goldson proved that he's not suited to be a starter in his disastrous 2015 season with the Redskins. Despite this, I still believe Goldson could be an intriguing player in the right role. He'd also come cheap, too.