When it comes to the Bengals' secondary, this year's unit can be looked out with a glass half empty or glass half full mindset.
Glass half full: You've got four first-round picks at corner, one of whom is a Pro Bowl-caliber player (Adam Jones), another solid contributor in Josh Shaw, and two quality starting safeties back in the fold.
Glass half empty: Adam Jones turns 33 this year, Darqueze Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick have been very injury prone to this point in their young NFL careers and William Jackson III, for all of his talents, is a newbie playing for a team that's very hesitant to play rookies.
Oh, and did we mention there's virtually no experience at safety behind the starters, one of whom is stepping into a starter role for the first time?
I tend to side more on the glass half empty side in this discussion, which people far smarter than I do as well. It's a unit with a lot of promise, but far too much potential to turn into a weakness for a great defense overall. That potential mainly comes from the Bengals lacking insurance behind the starters to step up if injuries arise.
Last year, that's what happened at safety throughout the year as Williams filled in for both Reggie Nelson and George Iloka for various stretches. There is no Williams this year since he's now a starter and Nelson is gone, leaving unproven guys like Derron Smith and Clayton Fejedelem to start if injuries arise.
All things considered, you could make a good case for the Bengals either standing pat at defensive back or adding one more experienced veteran before the season begins. In fact, the Bengals currently have 89 men on the roster, and are allowed to have 90 at this point in the offseason. So, there is reason to believe another signing will be made before training camp begins. Over the past few weeks, we've seen the names Donte Whitner and Leon Hall come up as players who could fit that bill.
Whitner is strictly a safety, but could offer depth at both spots and essentially be the third safety in a defense where the third safety plays frequently. Even for a horrific Browns team last year, Whitner showed he could still make a positive impact for just about any defense that has a better supporting cast than that of Cleveland.
Heck, the way Whitner plays, the Bengals may be able to sneak the hard-hitter in at linebacker on obvious passing downs, similar to how Taylor Mays is used (and Whitner is still far better than Mays). We've already made the case for signing Whitner, and with training camp opening next month, you would think Whitner would like to find a new team soon.
And it's not like Whitner has prime years left under his belt that allow him to command a big contract. He probably can play a few more years before father time takes over. Perhaps he's willing to take on a reduced role if it means playing for a Super Bowl contender, which it's fair to consider the Bengals as being.
But what about Hall? After all, the veteran corner has spent every year of his professional career with the Bengals. He's still got enough left in the tank to be the team's third or fourth corner while providing insurance for the injury-prone guys, meanwhile, also mentoring Jackson.
As deep as the cornerback position seems, a quick drop off between Jones' age/durability, Dennard's durability, and Kirkpatrick's durability/inconsistent play could leave the Bengals relying on their fourth, fifth and even sixth corners this year.
I'd rather see Hall be a part of that group than someone like Chris Lewis-Harris. Heck, I'm not convinced Hall isn't still a better corner than Kirkpatrick, who could leave next offseason anyhow. Sure, Kirkpatrick needs to start when the season opens, but if he's as big of a liability as he was at times last year, giving Hall some of his reps may be necessary.
There's also the likelihood Hall works a lot more at safety for his next team, which is even more likely if it's the Bengals. Having a veteran play multiple spots is something the Bengals rely heavily on seemingly every year, and I don't see that guy currently on the roster.
For the sake of this discussion and poll, we'll pretend that the deal in question is one year for $2 million, and that applies to both Whitner and Hall. If Hall signs with the Cardinals, whom he's reportedly considering, that's about the most they can offer him with just $4.6 million in free cap space.
That also makes sense for Whitner, who probably will be unable to find much more than a short contract worth less than what he made with the Browns last year ($4.5 million), even if he's capable of playing at a level deserving of more.