The Bengals have long been known as a team which strategizes its free agency moves. It's been said they won't add certain players to ensure it doesn't impact the compensatory picks they're rewarded the next season. But things could shake up in free agency soon.
Beginning May 12, free agents signed by NFL clubs will not count against the teams' respective compensatory picks. This news won't matter to some teams, like the Giants, who signed three big-ticket free agents to monster deals. But to the Bengals, who should net four compensatory picks in 2017, as well as their AFC North counterparts, who are all on track to gain at least one compensatory pick next offseason, this news is big. The Browns, Bengals and Ravens all have more than $10 million in cap space remaining, and plenty of intriguing free agents remain available.
Though most assume the Jets will land their former quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, before the season, it's entirely possible a quarterback-needy team like the Browns could snatch him away with a nice deal. Cleveland, with over $40 million in remaining cap space, could legitimately have a shot at signing the signal-caller if the team doesn't like the prospects of Robert Griffin, Cody Kessler or Josh McCown taking significant snaps in 2016.
Former Texans running back Arian Foster is still available, and both the Browns and Ravens, at least in my eyes, have a need at the running back position. Why not give him a chance if he's not going to count against compensatory picks? If Trent Richardson has a chance in Baltimore, surely Foster should get a shot.
Fullback John Kuhn, who got his first NFL shot with the Steelers, is still available. Wouldn't it be such a Steeler move to bring back Kuhn just so that the team's fans can scream "KUUUUHHHHHNNNN!!!!," every time he touches the ball? This seems way too realistic of a scenario for me to ignore. And for what it's worth, Kuhn is still a solid fullback. It would be a savvy move for a fullback-needy team to sign him.
Wideout Anquan Boldin is available, and he'd be a great fit in Baltimore, considering how he and Joe Flacco showed a solid rapport on the Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl season. The Ravens have a weak receiving corps, and Boldin would be a nice addition to the group.
The Steelers, after losing Kelvin Beachum in free agency, are still tackle-needy. Perhaps Will Beatty, a fixture on the Giants' 2011 Super Bowl offensive line, could be a solution. Former first overall selection Jake Long would be another option, if Pittsburgh decides it needs to invest in its offensive line. Interior offensive linemen Louis Vasquez, Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs are also viable solutions for any team with needs along the interior of the offensive line. Former Steelers guard Willie Colon is also still on the market.
Edge rusher Dwight Freeney would make a lot of sense in Baltimore, as the Ravens love employing situational pass-rushers. Freeney still has it, as he beat Andrew Whitworth for the only sack the tackle has given up over the past two seasons.
Freeney's spin move still works against the best of the best pic.twitter.com/T5pGkHyOrF— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) May 6, 2016
So what does this mean for the Bengals? Ultimately, I don't think much. The only need the Bengals have happens to be at defensive end, where the free agent crop is scary. Even if Greg Hardy were to become a premier edge rusher, he's still a player I will never be able to get behind. And I don't see him fitting in with the Bengals, seeing as how Carlos Dunlap is the team's starting left end.
The Bengals worked out former Patriots defensive end Dominique Easley, who has too many red flags for my liking, and I don't imagine him getting a contract offer. On top of the red flags, Easley won't fit in Cincinnati's scheme as a defensive end without dropping a ton of weight--which could be an issue, considering how his work ethic has come into question on multiple occasions. And the team has too much depth at defensive tackle to sign a player who could disrupt the chemistry of the locker room.
The two free agents I could see as realistic options for the Bengals are Anquan Boldin and Walter Thurmond III. Keep in mind that I don't think the Bengals will sign either of these two players, but I think that if the team were to sign free agents, these two guys would be the best remaining candidates. If the Bengals elect to sign free agents, they'll need to cut players, as they're already at their 90-man roster limit.
Boldin, as previously discussed, is a reliable receiver who tallied 789 yards and four touchdowns, with Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, despite missing two games in 2015. With A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, and Giovani Bernard making plays in the Bengals' passing game, as well as a ton of young receivers gunning to make an impact, adding Boldin would be a fantastic move. The team already signed Brandon LaFell as a one-year stopgap at the receiver position, so adding a second guy to the mix while the team's young wideouts develop could make sense. At worst, the team could hold a competition between the two veterans and cut the guy who doesn't meet expectations.
Thurmond III is an interesting guy, because he'll likely avoid signing with a team that wouldn't start him. This may not sit well with Bengal fans, but Thurmond III could start at safety in Cincinnati. Sure, the team let Reggie Nelson walk to see what it has in Shawn Williams, but Thurmond III is a proven commodity and would fit in well with the Bengals' defensive scheme. He's young enough to be a long-term solution at safety and versatile enough to play corner if needed. Thurmond III would be immediately upgrade the safety position, and he would be a solid complement to Iloka. At 28, Thurmond III isn't young, but he also isn't old; he would be a good veteran presence for a very young secondary. I don't see this happening, but I would still be a huge fan of the move if it were to happen.