The Cincinnati Bengals entered this offseason facing the possibility of losing both of their starting safeties.
Thankfully, they were able to re-sign George Iloka to a long-term contract, despite him being viewed as the harder guy to get back between he and Reggie Nelson. As it turned out, Iloka was re-signed quickly once free agency began, but getting Nelson back has proven to be far more challenging.
Now, Nelson is set to meet with the safety-needy Oakland Raiders.
And Bengals free-agent safety Reggie Nelson headed to visit/meet with Oakland later today/tomorrow, per source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 4, 2016
Nelson has been a full-time starter in Cincinnati's secondary since 2011, playing both the strong and free safety spots at a high level. He's been pivotal in the Bengals having one of the NFL's best defenses over that span, and he's coming off arguably his best year as a pro.
In 2015, Nelson tied for the NFL-lead in interceptions (8) while racking up 77 tackles and 14 passes defended. He also tied a team-record this season by recording an interception in five consecutive games and was voted into the Pro Bowl for the first time, though he dropped out of the game due to an injury suffered during the Wild Card loss.
Despite his big year, Nelson has drawn very little interest around the NFL, not to mention the Bengals offering him a minimal contract to return. It's a tough break for Nelson if he can't land a nice deal since he's never really been paid like the caliber off safety he's played like in Cincinnati.
His most recent deal came in 2012 when he signed a four-year, $18-million deal to remain in Cincinnati. He more than rewarded the Bengals as he racked up 23 interceptions, five forced fumbles, 313 tackles and five fumble recoveries across 93 career games in Cincinnati.
There's really no question that Nelson was one of the five or six most important Bengals this past season, and losing him would be a major hit to a secondary that's been among the league's best with Nelson a part of it. In 2015, the Bengals ranked fourth in yards allowed per pass (6.6), fifth in opponent passer rating (78.9) and allowed the second-fewest touchdown passes (18).
But at 32 years of age, it's safe to say the Bengals and the rest of the NFL are unwilling to commit a big contract to Nelson. At this point, it looks like he'll have to settle for a one or two-year deal that doesn't pay him much, if any more annually than his previous contract did.