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Bengals mailbag: AJ McCarron trade talk, Jabrill Peppers and Rex Burkhead’s future

The Bengals experienced gains and losses in the first couple of days in free agency, but large questions still remain. We addressed some on this week’s episode of The Orange and Black Insider.

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To say the Cincinnati Bengals have frustrated their fan base with their free agency approach the past few seasons would be an understatement. There are a number of folks standing in the defense of the Bengals’ tactics in this regard, but a second straight season with a number of high-profile personnel losses has folks on high-alert.

As always, this week on The Orange and Black Insider we fielded listener questions on the air. This week’s queries centered around how the Bengals could get creative in adding talent, since they’ve lost two critical players (Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler), and the team’s penchant for laying low in grabbing outside talent.

Whether it’s in player trade possibilities, NFL Draft options at No. 9 overall, or the future of one of the few inside free agents of theirs yet to be signed, our listeners are promoting creativity for the franchise.

Trading AJ McCarron—either to the Jets or elsewhere:

Earlier this week, a report surfaced that the New York Jets are interested in trading for McCarron. The package might include former Pro Bowl defensive lineman, Sheldon Richardson, who has become a polarizing figure in The Big Apple. Apparently, it’s more than just chatter.

In terms of adding Richardson to the team, there are pros and cons. Obviously, he’s a talented player who was a big key to an often-stout Jets defense, but he’s had some suspension issues, as well as reports of him not being the best teammate inside of the locker room. There’s also the issue of him largely playing in a 3-4 type of defense, so one has to wonder how the Bengals would use Richardson to his proper strengths.

However, Richardson could provide an injection of talented youth in a front that showed some age last year. After a pretty nice 2015 season, Domata Peko didn’t play as well last year, while promising fourth round tackle Andrew Billings missed the entire season with a knee injury. Wallace Gilberry and Peko aren’t under contract, so adding a 26-year-old first round talent like Richardson with Billings’ return could bring a nice bounce-back year from the defensive line.

If Richardson isn’t in the equation for a McCarron trade, then the team should really think hard about dealing their backup quarterback this offseason. For one, the team kept Jeff Driskel on the 53-man roster last year, proving that they like his potential. It was a rare occasion in which the team kept three quarterbacks all season, so Driskel might be in the team’s long-term plans.

Secondly and most obviously, the team seems to either like or have been forced into the idea of using most or all of their 11 draft picks. Since they use the draft to build their team and in losing some major contributors over the past two offseasons, getting a relatively high pick for McCarron should be considered. Though they run the risk of another failed season if Andy Dalton goes down with injury, they need talent at a lot of spots to replenish their once-deep roster.

What about the versatile Jabrill Peppers at No. 9?

Given the losses of Whitworth and Zeitler, very few options should be off of the table for the Bengals at No. 9 overall. We’re going with the thought that the Bengals won’t be moving up from the spot, given that they have only done so a whopping three times in their history, so it’s probably going to come down to who falls their way.

Pass-rusher, wide receiver and linebacker all seem to be the top projections for the Bengals at the spot, but might they surprise everyone? Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers is a talented kid, who recently worked out in the linebacker and defensive back groups at the NFL Combine and put up some nice numbers. Still, NFL teams are questioning just what he is at 215 pounds.

On one hand, I can see Peppers being a productive hybrid player in the mold of guys like Troy Polamalu, Tyrann Mathieu, Mark Barron, and Deone Bucannon. Though he may not have a specific body type for certain NFL positions, he could be a playmaker if given free reign in a creative defenses.

However, not only might Peppers struggle to shed blocks as a linebacker-type, he’ll have to be used properly to get the most value if he was to be selected as a top-10 picks. If the Bengals view him more as a defensive back, that would be lower down the line of positional needs for them.

And, quite frankly, my trust and faith in this team is shaken on multiple fronts. Their getting the most out of projects and getting creative with schemes for certain players hasn’t been proven to produce positive long-term results.

Rex Burkhead’s future:

The Bengals have put out the notion of having just $2-$3 million left to spend in free agency out publicly, so further additions will apparently be coming on the cheap. And, that was before taking Eric Winston into account. Shortly after the season concluded, the Bengals made it known they wanted Burkhead to return. Undoubtedly sparking the idea was his impressive performance in the season finale against the Ravens.

He is a valuable guy who is versatile on offense and adds some special teams ability. With Giovani Bernard rehabbing a torn ACL he suffered in Week 11 and Jeremy Hill having mediocre seasons since his breakout rookie campaign, one could see Burkhead possibly having a more prominent role in 2017.

However, Burkhead might need to be convinced by the Bengals that he’ll have a heavier workload in the offense next year, if he is to return. For the veteran back, that might mean a little more than getting a slightly more lucrative contract.

We’re not totally sure what the running back situation will look like next year, in terms of which players will be prominent. Cincinnati thinks they can right Hill’s issues in a contract year, while another report has then very high on LSU running back Leonard Fournette at No. 9 overall. If that’s true, then someone becomes expendable. Maybe that’s Burkhead. We’ll see.

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