Taylor Mays is back in Cincinnati.
The former Bengals safety has agreed to terms on a new contract with his former team, per NFL.com's Rand Getlin.
I'm told safety Taylor Mays has agreed to terms with the #Bengals.— Rand Getlin (@Rand_Getlin) March 17, 2016
Mays spent last season in Oakland, where he played in 14 games with the Raiders. He even made five starts opposite Charles Woodson at safety. Mays, a free agent, could've seen some interest on the open market, but a four-game suspension to start the 2016 season swayed most teams away from the safety. The suspension is for violating the NFL's policy on substances of abuse.
In 2015, Mays was signed and cut by the Vikings, Lions and Raiders. The Raiders re-signed him though nine days after releasing him in the late summer, cut him again in October and then re-signed him again 10 days after that.
The Bengals just re-signed Vinny Rey to a three-year deal, but he'll be one of two nickel linebackers for the Bengals' first three weeks, during Vontaze Burfict's suspension. Rey Maualuga and A.J. Hawk are also on the roster, but neither player will likely see any time in nickel packages. With Mays' four-game suspension, the question of who will team up with Vinny Rey during the suspensions to Burfict and Mays in nickel packages has yet to be answered.
Shawn Williams, P.J. Dawson, Marquis Flower and Jayson Dimanche are guys to keep an eye on, if the Bengals don't sign a linebacker before the 2016 season. That being said, however, Cincinnati will still likely aim at selecting a linebacker early in the 2016 NFL Draft. It's also very possible that Mays doesn't make the 2016 Bengals roster and could be cut before the start of the season.
Signing former players has become a noticeable pattern for the Bengals, who signed Michael Johnson and Pat Sims in the 2015 offseason, following lackluster stints outside of Cincinnati by both players. If anything, this signing just adds to the Bengals' free agency argument that their players' best option is to remain with the Bengals.
The Bengals will likely try to line up Mays at nickel linebacker following Emmanuel Lamur's departure. During Mays' final seasons in Cincinnati, the Bengals were one of the first teams to try and convert a safety into a nickel linebacker, though Emmanuel Lamur's ascendance and injuries to Mays never really gave the player a chance to stand out. Mays will likely have a chance to prove himself as more than just a high-upside, low-impact player in 2016.
For what it's worth, Mays is also a quality special teams player who brings experience and knowledge of the system to a secondary which could be younger than ever in 2016. His contract will likely come at or near the veteran minimum, so if Cincinnati doesn't like what it sees with Mays, it could cut ties with the player during training camp or during the season without many repercussions, if any.
Depth signings like this are why Cincinnati has remained one of football's deepest teams since 2011. The signing may not be flashy, but not every free agency signing needs to be jaw-dropping to be a success. Mays will have another chance to prove himself in 2016; hopefully he can capitalize on that opportunity.