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Bengals Mailbag: Jeremy Hill's role, Mario Alford comparisons and Defensive Back trade bait

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We answer this week's questions about the effects of Giovani Bernard's extension, if defensive backs could be dealt and identifying a comparable past Bengals player to Mario Alford.

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Even in what should be some of the quieter times of the NFL calendar, the Cincinnati Bengals are still managing to grab some headlines. Another big contract extension has grabbed the attention of the Who Dey faithful. On Wednesday, running back Giovani Bernard signed a three-year extension reportedly worth $15.5 million.

It's the aftermath of the deal and its effect on other players that is on the mind of our readers this week, as well as some trade scenarios and comparing a current player to some other Bengals in the past. Send us your questions via email or Twitter to be featured in this weekly post!

Alan is referring to Bernard's contract possibly pointing at the team's preference of Bernard as a long-term back over Jeremy Hill. The thing with running backs, regardless of their style of play, is that their shelf life is shorter than a lot of other positions in the game. One could argue both are facing issues for a potentially long career, be it Hill's fumbles and more of a bruising between-the-tackles style of play, or Bernard's slighter stature and minor injuries throughout his first three seasons.

In terms of a possible Hill departure, there is no way the team gives up on him before the remaining two years on his contract are up and he faces free agency. Yes, he's in the doghouse and has a long way to go to get out of it this year, but this is still a guy who had 50 total first downs and 12 total touchdowns in 2015. Though his yards per carry average dipped by 1.5 yards, he's still producing in other areas.

More than Bernard's contract bearing an effect on Hill's future with the Bengals, it's going to be on No. 32 to get the front office working on a long-term deal for him too. There is a potential for Cincinnati to have one of the best running back tandems in the league and one that provides matchup nightmares within the division, if things fall into place. The problem has been that both backs have been outstanding at different times instead of overlapping ones.

Hill came in and ran through teams in the second half of his rookie season after Bernard looked pedestrian at times earlier in 2014. But, in 2015, Hill struggled finding lanes, looked tentative and had fumble issues, while Bernard was far more consistent and a bigger weapon in the passing game. Imagine if both get on track at the same time--it would probably look like what happened in Week 15 of the 2014 season against the Browns. Hill had 148 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while Bernard had 103 all-purpose yards (79 rushing, 24 receiving).

While other teams might be hesitant to invest heavily in a position that has been devalued in recent years, the Bengals could be more inclined to do so--especially if Hill bounces back over the next two seasons. The reasons range from always being in an enviable salary cap state, to their heavy investment in another lower-valued position in safety this offseason and two talented guys they don't want to see leave. I don't think Bernard's contract has anywhere near as much bearing on Hill's future with the Bengals than the embattled back's own play throughout the rest of his rookie deal.

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This is a difficult question, mostly because what we're basing any comparisons on with speedy wide receiver Mario Alford is on his college tape. He only had one catch for 15 yards as a rookie, and though he was an excellent kickoff return specialist at West Virginia, he hasn't had the chance to perform the duty with any regularity in Cincinnati.

Obviously, comparisons usually surround size, speed and skill set, so we might have to dig into the archives a bit for some accurate ones. And, with giant gazelles like A.J. Green, Chris Henry and others being in the lineup during the Marvin Lewis era, we might have to go back to pre-2003 days.

The one player who immediately came to mind when I read this question was former wideout, Tim McGee. At 5'10" and 183 pounds, McGee was the team's deep threat during the heyday of the 1980s and into the early 1990s. With a 16.7 yard per reception average in his time in Cincinnati and his early dabbling with some kick returns, there are some similarities.

Another guy who has some resemblances was Darnay Scott. The former San Diego State Aztec was the team's deep threat in the 1990s, but he had some size on Alford. At 6'1 and 200 pounds, Scott was the perfect complement to Carl Pickens during "The Lost Decade" of the 1990s. Scott also returned punts early in his Bengals career, and had 36 receiving touchdowns in Cincinnati.

In the Lewis era, Quan Cosby bears some resemblances, but he didn't have the straight-line speed Alford possesses. Glenn Holt, Cliff Russell and Antonio Chatman are a couple of other guys who have some similarities from the Lewis regime, too. But, the truth is, if Alford realizes his potential and properly utilizes his great speed, he could be a player who future generations of Bengals fans use as a barometer and comparison to future players because of his possible successes.

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The Bengals are deep in the secondary, but not many of the contracts in the back end of the defense are set to expire. Cincinnati re-signed cornerback Adam Jones and safety George Iloka to long-term deals this offseason, while also giving an extension to Shawn Williams. In drafting William Jackson III in the first round this year and Darqueze Dennard having at least two, and maybe three years left on his rookie deal if the Bengals exercise his fifth-year option, the amount of players they might deal start to dwindle.

The swingman in the secondary, Josh Shaw, showed promise as a rookie in 2015 and has three more years on his rookie deal. Safety Derron Smith also has three more years on his contract, so his isn't set to expire anytime soon either. I suppose some of the answers to this question reside in one's idea of "expiring", but if we're talking a year left on a deal, there's only one current player who fits the mold and could garner something of value.

Dre Kirkpatrick has had peaks and valleys throughout his NFL career, with his first full season as a starter last year resembling more of the latter. Recently, an excuse for his zero turnovers in all 17 games he started in 2015 was pointing to a shoulder injury he played through. Even though the stats don't wholly show it, Kirkpatrick did have spells of quality play last year.

He's in a big year for his career though, and while the Bengals are said to be working on a possible extension with the cornerback, he might be a valuable commodity on the trade market if negotiations totally break down. Aside from the big-play ability he flashed as a backup in his first three seasons in the NFL, Kirkpatrick has great length at the position.

At 6'2", he is currently the tallest corner on the Bengals' roster, and while he didn't grab any interceptions last year, he used his long arms to break up a career-high 16 passes. The height and length are what the team loved in his potential when they drafted him in the first round five years ago, and it's a selling point if teams come calling for cornerback help.

In order for Kirkpatrick to be dealt though, Dennard and Jackson would have to show a lot to the coaches in a short amount of time. Dennard began to flash last year, but he was injured again and Lewis has a spotty track record in trusting rookies like Jackson for big roles early in their career.

As deep as the secondary is, I just don't see a trade happening. Aside from the injuries that could occur, the AFC North has a lot of offensive weapons, in likely  what has been prompting the Bengals to continue to load up in the back end of the defense.