Earlier this week, the Cleveland Browns made a decision to release Donte Whitner. This news comes at a time when the Bengals are also dealing with issues at the safety position, given Reggie Nelson is signing a two-year deal with the Raiders, leaving their depth in question.
Although Whitner is a strong safety and Nelson is a free safety, bringing in the three-time Pro Bowler to compete for some sort of position on the roster could pay dividends. The Bengals are set at starting strong safety with the recently re-signed George Iloka, but they still could use a significant amount of depth at the position with Shawn Williams likely taking over as the starting free safety.
Why the Bengals should be interested
Whitner, a former Ohio State Buckeye, was once considered one of the best and most versatile defensive backs in the nation. His impressive NFL resume so far has done nothing but reinforce that assessment. If the Bengals are looking to shore up their depth, bringing in a multi talented player like Whitner could be exactly what the team needs.
At 30-years-old, there's a decent chance that Whitner is unable to find much more than a short contract worth about what he made with the Browns last year ($4.5 million). Compared to George Iloka's contract ($6 million per year) and Reggie Nelson's projected market value ($5 million per year), that seems like a pretty good deal for a player who has been so consistently impressive in the NFL.
How interested will the Bengals actually be?
It's probably a fairly significant long shot that the Bengals will be interested in any legitimate talks with Whitner before the draft at the end of this month. For starters, they likely don't plan to dish out the type of money Whitner will attract. The Bengals have done a lot of spending (for them) in free agency so far, and the budget is quickly running out there.
There's a much better chance that they will want to look to the draft to find a viable depth player to help shore up the back end of the safety roster. It's hard to imagine that the Bengals feel comfortable with Floyd Raven Sr, Taylor Mays, and Derron Smith as the only options at safety behind Iloka and Williams. But, it's also hard to imagine they will go against their traditional mode of operations by making a big deal with an aging veteran.
As the Bengals didn't bring back the talented and accomplished Nelson, probably due to age, they might not even realistically give Whitner much more than a second look before the draft. As attractive of a proposition as it seems, this just isn't the way the Bengals typically do things before the draft. Then again, after the draft, it might actually not be as crazy of an idea as it sounds at first. They usually aren't opposed to bringing in bargain bin veteran free agents.
Don't forget that the Bengals signed another former Buckeye, A.J. Hawk, last offseason to be a backup. He was a long time starter in the NFL and generally played as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme that didn't seem compatible with what the Bengals were trying to do. However, his sheer talent and potential led to the Bengals finding a way to work out a deal with the veteran and bring him onto the team. A similar deal with Whitner might be on the table if the draft doesn't pan out like they hope and if Whitner's stock declines to the point where he becomes significantly cheaper.
From where we're standing right now, it seems like a much more realistic prospect that the Bengals will look at some free safety prospect in the draft, rather than pouncing on the potential of a guy like Whitner. Guys like Darian Thompson, Miles Killebrew, and Kavon Frazier all fit the Bengals' scheme pretty well and could be taken anywhere between the third and seventh rounds. Still, bringing in a talented veteran safety like Whitner couldn't hurt and ultimately, could end up being a very profitable strategy.