Down three of the Bengals’ regular starting linebackers, the last thing they needed was another linebacker injury. Unfortunately, opening day starter Vincent Rey went down with a jaw injury against the Vikings.
Already down Pro Bowler Vontaze Burfict, team leading tackler Nick Vigil, and offseason headliner Kevin Minter, the Bengals took another hit at the linebacker spot they could not afford.
The only linebackers on the active roster right now are Jordan Evans, Hardy Nickerson, and Brandon Bell. Evans was one of the last players to make the 53-man roster out of preseason. Nickerson was been signed to the practice squad and cut twice before joining the 53-man roster. Bell has spent most of the season on the practice squad until being promoted this week for the game against the Vikings. Needless to say there is very little experience between the three.
Even if the Bengals aren’t looking for a starter to jump to the top of the depth chart, they are desperate for depth at the position. Which free agents should the Bengals consider signing?
The former Lions linebacker is only two years removed from a 151 tackle season. 2015 was by far the best year of his career.
He was released before the 2017 season started because of prolonged health issues. He had offseason surgery on his meniscus, which was one of the problems that had continually bothered him in 2016. If the Bengals wanted to sign him now, he would be nine months removed from his operation and has not played football in over a year. His health should not be problem, even though his fitness might be.
Former Ravens linebacker retired due to health concerns, but received some positive news in January. Orr would love to return to the NFL, and the Bengals might just be the team to give him that opportunity.
He might be the most talented linebacker on the market, and at age 25 might make a good long-term steal. He had 132 total tackles, five passes defended, three interceptions, and one forced fumble in 2016.
Smith has been a starter in the NFL since he was drafted by the Jaguars in 2004. Though he is a mature 35 years old, he has not played since 2016 and should be well rested. In the last six seasons in which he has started all 16 games, he has recorded 100 tackles in five of them and 97 tackles in the sixth. Even though his last season, with the Buccaneers, was disappointing, the Bengals would love to see him turn a new leaf in the later part of his career if they were to sign him.
Spikes has spent most of his NFL career with the Patriots, where he had the best years of his career. If the Bengals want a veteran leader for all the young linebackers, they could go to this 30-year-old who has spent four years under Bill Belichick.
The former Toledo Rocket was an undrafted free agent signed by the Colts in 2015. At Toledo, he recorded 218 tackles and 7.5 sacks in his final two years, getting 100 tackles each year. He has signed with the Colts, Bills, and Dolphins but he has never played a down in the NFL.
The 27-year-old Liberian was drafted in the third round by the Raiders in the 2013 draft. Even though he has played for five different teams in three years, he has started 29 of the 47 games he has been active. His numbers aren’t exactly mind-blowing, but then again, neither are anyone else’s currently on the Bengals.
Cole has played for under Mike Zimmer for three years before being released in 2017. He could bring six years’ worth of experience on one of the best defenses in the NFL over the last few years.
Even though he was a former Bengals fourth round draft pick, he spent almost all of his time in Cincinnati on Injured Reserve.
Again, even though injuries have derailed his career, he has not played or practiced at all this season, so health should not be an issue.
Boulware was one of the best players on Clemson’s National Championship defense in 2016. He won the Jack Lambert award for the country’s best linebacker, and was the Defensive MVP of the National Championship game that year.
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