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Mailbag: Bengals free agency priorities and taking character risks in the Draft

Is Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon worth the risk for the Bengals? Which players and positions should the team prioritize in free agency this offseason?

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The next couple of months will be interesting for the Bengals, given some figureheads’ proclamation of a different approach to the offseason. But we’ll see if that actually means the Bengals won’t be afraid of their own free agency shadow in March.

On this week’s Orange and Black Insider, we received a handful of interesting fan questions in our listener-driven segment. While the questions we answered on air were predictably in those two offseason strategies, they brought interesting discussions nevertheless.

In terms of free agency, one listener asked the question of the team’s free agency priorities. We not only looked at some of the positions in most need of help next month, but also which internal free agents seem to be the most important.

While Dre Kirkpatrick, Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth are all deemed very valuable, Connor Howe, Scott Schultze and I all ranked the three Bengals in different orders. Is offensive line of utmost importance, given the struggles last year? After all, Whitworth and Zeitler were the two most steady performers on the shaky front last year.

Or is Kirkpatrick the one the Bengals absolutely need to keep? Adam Jones’ legal issue is muddying the waters at the position, but hopes are still high for the young trio of William Jackson III, Darqueze Dennard and Josh Shaw as viable NFL corners.

One thing is for certain: with nearly $44 million the team has projected in cap space this offseason, excuses regarding affordability won’t fly with fans this year. We’ll see if the “changes” Marvin Lewis and Duke Tobin recently spoke of are actually more than words.

Shifting gears to the Draft, the team’s strategy in 2017 has to be focusing on getting immediate contributors. With the plethora of talent at a number of positions this year, the team coming off of a disappointing 6-9-1 season and their championship window potentially closing, might it be time for the Bengals to explore talented, but troubled players at the collegiate ranks?

Because of the team have two free agent running backs in Rex Burkhead and Cedric Peerman, as well as Giovani Bernard coming off of knee surgery and Jeremy Hill becoming an average NFL back, improvements could be made at the spot. What if a player falls to the team who can immediately help them, but would also bring a public relations black eye?

The talent that comes with Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon is obvious, and because of it, he was the center of another question in the segment. If he falls to day three of the draft, might he be too good of a value for the Bengals to pass up?

As a football player, Mixon brings multiple dimensions of production to an offense. As a sophomore with the Sooners, Mixon had 1,812 yards from scrimmage (1,274 rushing, 538 receiving) and 17 total touchdowns (12 rushing, five receiving). He also helped out as a kick returner, returning one for a score and even threw a touchdown pass in 2016.

Though he’s a little smaller than Le’Veon Bell, some of his attributes bring about a viable comparison. His vision, patience and multi-dimensional skills are obviously areas that will make scouts froth at the mouth.

But, as it often goes with some of these talented youngsters, Mixon comes with an extremely checkered past. While it’s basically one incident that is tarnishing his Draft stock, it’s a major one. He redshirted the 2014 season because of a misdemeanor after he was charged with in punching a woman at a campus cafe. He broke bones in her face and some ramifications of the incident are still playing out right now.

Making the already-awful incident even worse was the public release of a video showing the situation. It conjured up the feelings most felt when they saw the terrible Ray Rice footage a few years back, and we all know that Rice was never given a chance at restarting his football career after punching his then-fiancee in an elevator and subsequently dragging her out into a hallway.

Additionally, Mixon displayed a bit of his hot temper once again in 2016 when he ripped up a parking ticket he received and threw the pieces at the attendant who wrote it. This is nowhere near as big of a deal as the assault, but he was suspended for one game for the act and it’s part of a concerning track record.

There is no doubt that teams will have a lot to talk to Mixon about in the pre-draft interviews. Talent-wise, Mixon is an easy second or third round option. However, teams may remove him off of their boards completely, causing him to fall to day three.

Scott felt as if a day two risk would be worth it because of the possible reward, while Connor and I feel that he would have to be a late-round pick or undrafted free agent in order for it to make sense. Mixon could be a guy who matures (he’s only 20-years-old) and puts this stuff behind him, or he might be a guy who teases a club with one or two good seasons before another legal run-in, a la Josh Gordon or Odell Thurman.

If he’s there and they have addressed many other needs, should the Bengals take him? Or, is his apparent temper, coupled with Jones’ legal issues too much for Cincinnati to handle in one season?

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