Traditionally, the Bengals aren’t big players in free agency. Whether it’s their preference of keeping as many compensatory draft picks as possible, or their trust in the draft-and-develop strategy, the club prefers to stick with the devil they know over the one they don’t.
However, their tendency in the early months of the year might be changing a bit, as evidenced by the recent signing of free agent cornerback, Bene Benwikere. After being drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Benwikere was a solid player in the team’s dominant 2015 defense that led them to a Super Bowl appearance.
Though he has two interceptions and three fumble recoveries over the past three seasons as mostly a rotational defender, Benwikere struggled as a starting cornerback for Carolina after Josh Norman went to the Washington Redskins in 2016. The team cut him four games into the season and Benwikere subsequently had ineffective stints with the Dolphins and Packers.
Upon signing with the Bengals, a number of teams were interested in his services, but the coaches, Cincinnati’s defensive scheme and potential playing time opportunity was appealing to Benwikere in The Queen City. However, does the signing mean he’s slated for a big role in the team’s 2017 defense, or is it merely a low-risk/high-reward move by the Bengals as Benwikere is on a path to redemption?
On this week’s Orange and Black Insider, Scott Schulze and I discussed the signing and what it means for the Bengals. Aside from adding more talent to a group littered with high picks, the signing also presents questions about the future at the position.
From the outside looking in, the move makes a lot of sense on a couple of fronts. Dre Kirkpatrick is facing free agency and could receive a lucrative contract, while 2016’s other starting corner, Adam Jones, faces legal issues. With last year’s first round pick, William Jackson III, missing all of last year and Darqueze Dennard not yet living up to expectations, Benwikere brings both depth and an insurance policy.
There are reasons for caution as well though. Though the Bengals tend to re-sign their own over getting outside help when the calendar turns to March, they also let valuable players they have developed walk if the bill becomes unbearable. There are a few factors as to why they operate this way, so it’s possible they won’t want to pay Kirkpatrick elite cornerback bucks.
Given the limited returns on compensatory picks when letting good players walk and the low dividends on high-potential players of late, heavily relying Benwikere in 2017 is risky. It’s especially tenuous when Benwikere failed as a starting NFL corner last year.
Now, if the plan is for the bengals to utilize Benwikere in nickel and dime packages, it makes more sense. He may not be starting-caliber by NFL purposes, but he could be a good slot man, especially given his 4.6-second 40-yard dash speed.
However, as it always seems to go with the Bengals, there are other issues that linger deeper under the surface. If the Bengals hope for him to be a slot corner, what does that mean for other young guys who need more playing time like Dennard (if Jones and/or Kirkpatrick stay), Josh Shaw and KeiVarae Russell? Doesn’t that play into the masses’ complaints of not letting promising youngsters properly develop?
Regardless, Scott and I agreed that it was a savvy move by the Bengals in an effort to lessen major needs as they enter the NFL Draft. The only way Cincinnati might spend yet another first round pick on a corner is if they cut ties with Jones and Kirkpatrick bolts elsewhere. We don’t see things playing out that way, so the Bengals’ continuation of reclamation projects seems to be another potential good one with Benwikere.
What are your thoughts on the team’s most recent addition?
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