It's been a bit of a mixed bag with the Bengals and their forays into free agency this year, with the team looking like a unfamiliar one, yet also operating in an identical, internally-focused manner. Each signing the team has made thought the first week of free agency has been new contracts to players who were on their roster last year, or in a past year (like Taylor Mays) while a handful of other big departures have the team reassessing their direction.
Wide receiver, linebacker, defensive tackle and safety are all positions on the table for replenishment or improvement, be it in the continuing NFL festivities occurring this month in free agency, or the ones at the end of April in the draft. While the Bengals are proving their desire to use the draft as the main source of roster building blocks, there are a few veterans out there who have seen their value slowly drop for a variety of reasons.
It's in that vein and the positions of safety and linebacker are the primary focus of reader questions this week.
@CincyJungle if we don't re-sign do you think we will go 2nd-4th for a S. Since we only got 1 backup safety that's seen the field— 12-4 (@JustinP1998) March 16, 2016
This is referring to Reggie Nelson (after a prior Tweet) talking about the still unsigned safety. I'm not wholly sure why the market is so soft on Nelson, who has played six good-to-great seasons with the Bengals since 2010. A lot of people simply point to age, as he'll be 33-years-old at the beginning of the season.
While I certainly think that plays into it, as does his camp likely overvaluing him as teams throw his age in Nelson's face, there is another subtle factor that may or may not be playing into his lack of a contract at the moment. In the Wild Card loss to the Steelers, Nelson tweaked his ankle during the game and didn't return. It was also severe enough to keep him from participating in his first Pro Bowl. We haven't heard anything about surgeries, or it even being a lingering issue, but it might be part of what's going on in his quest for a new deal.
Bengals should take advantage of lack of buzz surrounding Reggie Nelson
NFL teams don't seem to be taking much interest in re-signing Reggie Nelson. Here's why that's good news for the Bengals and how they can take advantage.
If the Bengals were going to keep one of the Nelson/Iloka safety duo, the wiser decision was to keep the 26-year old Iloka, whose physique and years ahead of him provide much more upside. But, the entire secondary as a whole has played well when Nelson was back there, likely guiding some of the youngsters into proper positions. Now that the market has settled a bit and Nelson is getting little to no interest from teams, the Bengals might be able to strike a team-friendly rental deal with him, which I'd be far more comfortable with than another mega-deal.
A short-term contract to Nelson would hinder the progress of younger options behind him in Derron Smith and Shawn Williams, but one could look at it as an opportunity for those guys to continue to develop and step in once Nelson hits his mid-30s. All of this would require Nelson to take a hit to his pride though, and given the radio silence on him of late, it doesn't sound likely to happen soon.
If Nelson doesn't make it back to Cincinnati, it's definitely possible the Bengals draft another safety in rounds 2-4. That is, after all, their sweet spot in selecting the position under Marvin Lewis, with guys like Madieu Williams (second), Marvin White (fourth) and Williams (third). Are Williams and/or Smith ready to be starters if Nelson doesn't come back? Williams has flashed and seems to have improved from his days when his reputation was a pure run-stopper, but this is the final year of his rookie deal. Are the Bengals going to ride with him in 2016 and tell him to put up, or shut up before a new contract?
The Bengals use "free" and "strong" safety designations a little more loosely than other teams, as both players are assigned multiple tasks. So, if the Bengals are searching for a safety in this year's draft, they aren't going to pigeonhole themselves into a specific kind of guy. Rather, they will look for one with versatility and the skill set to fit in their defensive scheme.
Ohio State's Vonn Bell, Southern Utah's Miles Killebrew, Duke's Jeremy Cash, LSU's Jalen Mills and Clemson's T.J. Green are all options who fall in that mid-round range. Wide receiver, linebacker and defensive tackle look to be bigger priorities, but they very well could look at one of these guys on day two or three. Keep in mind that Iloka was a back-end fifth round selection when most pundits believed him to be a second or third round prospect.
One thing we do know is that "hy-backer" Taylor Mays has been added to the mix, but his role might be more closely-resembling that of an outside linebacker. Still, he might line up in safety and/or take up a roster spot usually designated for a safety once his four-game suspension is up, so Nelson or a rookie might prove to be a moot point.
There is a little more to play out here--stay tuned.
Is there a chance the Bengals sign Karlos Dansby ? @CincyJungle— Christian No Grey (@Call_Me_Flash) March 17, 2016
There is definitely a chance. How big of one, I'm not sure at the moment. Dansby made it known that he wants to play for a contender and particularly singled out the Bengals, saying: "Yeah, I think the Bengals are licking their chops right now. I hope they are. We'll see what it is."
Dansby fits the Bengals mold of a versatile player who can play multiple spots in a respective position group. He's also well-versed in both 4-3 and 3-4 schemes, and has been successful in both systems, making him one of the headiest linebackers out there.
On one hand, I love the possibility of Dansby coming to Cincinnati. He's a veteran who wants to win and could be productive, even as a rotational player on the Bengals defense. He would undoubtedly bring leadership and would quell the three-game loss of Vontaze Burfict with the suspension he'll be serving. Most believe he would take A,J, Hawk's roster spot, if signed, but that would play out down the road.
By the way, how great is it that one of the most consistently solid players in the league expressed his desire to win a championship and do so with the Bengals? Though Cincinnati's free agency operating mode hasn't changed, the perception of the team around the league sure has.
Anyway, on the other hand, we're talking about stunting the potential development and playing time for a promising second-year player in P.J. Dawson. With Vincent Rey back in the fold, Dawson will likely only be a rotational guy with he and possibly Dansby, if signed. Maybe we're putting too many eggs in the Dawson basket, but a lot of folks want to see what he can do after being a very productive college player. There is also the possibility of the team drafting a linebacker high in the draft, too, so would that potential immediate-impact player have to ride the pine behind Dansby?
I'd be for the signing, though. Dansby improves the team, even if slightly, on a couple of fronts, including leadership and depth. He was due $5 million this season, and though he had a very productive season last year (108 tackles, two forced fumbles, three interceptions), he will be 35 years old in the middle of next season. So, if the Bengals want to sign him, it will likely have to be for about $2.5-$3 million per year on a one or two-year deal, if even that.
Right now, I would give the possibility of the Bengals signing Dansby about 50/50. I think he knows the Bengals are/were interested, based on their reaching out to him during 2014 free agency, and, based on his comments, I wouldn't be surprised if his representation has reached out to Cincinnati's front office representatives to gauge interest. The Bengals also like high-profile veterans at the end of their career, who they can get on a deal to bolster their roster (Sam Adams, Hawk, James Harrison, Terence Newman).
Still, this would be one of the team's more splashy signings they have made in recent free agency, believe it or not. Based on position, age and resume, if the Bengals were to sign Dansby, I think it would closely resemble the contract Harrison received with them a few years ago.