It's not every day that the NFL's leader in interceptions from the previous year becomes an unrestricted free agent the following year, with reports that his former team isn't interested in bringing him back. It seems like it would be a slam dunk for some other team to waltz in and work out a deal with a player who has so much upside.
This year, that player is Reggie Nelson. His interception count last year (8) tied with Kansas City's Marcus Peters for the most in the NFL. But, it appears that most NFL teams don't expect him to hit those heights again. On top of there being reports that the dynamic free safety is no longer in negotiations with the Bengals, he also reportedly received interest from the Giants last week but nothing has materialized to this point.
Other than the one potential lead with the Giants, however, there has been virtually no buzz surrounding Nelson in free agency. That's unfortunate for Nelson's chances of signing a big contract, as buzz is very good for business (see: Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu). It's not the most encouraging thing for Nelson going forward, but it's understandable why teams might be weary.
Aside from all the positives of Nelson's five year tenure with the Bengals, there are a lot of red flags for him as he heads into free agency. At 32-years-old, he's probably nearing the end of his NFL. As a safety, you can probably bet that he'd be able to play for another three to four years as long as he stays healthy. But, that's where the other problem comes in. Nelson dealt with various injury problems last year.
He never missed a game, but a groin injury hindered his performance in Week 1 against the Raiders. Add to that the ankle injury that caused him to leave the Wild Card game against the Steelers in the second quarter and teams may be concerned about the effects of a nine year career in the NFL.
Save for being wrongly identified (which was later rescinded) as a potential accomplice to Aaron Hernandez in a 2007 shooting case, Nelson has been clean as a whistle and incredibly effective in his NFL career. But, teams might not think that he has the potential to be as effective going forward.
Why the Bengals should take advantage
Veteran leadership is incredibly valuable to a team, especially when personalities like Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict are so intensely woven into the fabric of the defensive unit. Nelson is easily one of the most effective players on the team, even if he is already 32. Therefore, Nelson's positive influence can be a counter agent for the young defensive backs to balance out the above-mentioned strong personalities.
For example, with George Iloka locked up long term, Shawn Williams appears to be the next in line to take over as the Bengals' starting free safety. Williams is known as a hard-nosed and punishing tackler. Although, his most well known play in the NFL to this point, while being brought up under Nelson's influence, is a game-changing interception on Ben Roethlisberger that turned into the go-ahead touchdown against the Steelers in Week 8 of the 2015 season. A young, impressionable player like Williams is going to be looking to the veteran players for an example. It would be great for Nelson to be there to show him how to exercise control and play like a professional, while still utilizing his very physical nature.
Furthermore, the lack of buzz surrounding Nelson is really good for the Bengals if they're considering that he might be too expensive to retain. His market value is estimated at approximately $4.8 million per year, via Spotrac. But, with teams not finding much interest, there's a chance the Bengals could get him to sign for price between what the Vikings paid Michael Griffin ($2.5 million for one year) or what the Cardinals paid Chris Clemons ($885,000 for one year).
Nelson has already expressed his desire to return to the team. That's not to say he is willing to offer a hometown discount, but he might have to offer a general discount now that he's made it through the first week of free agency without being talked about much at all. The Bengals should reward his stellar play with a new contract, even if only a brief one.