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Top 10 Bengals free agents signed during Marvin Lewis era

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With free agency in full swing, I thought it would be fun to compose a list of the top 10 free agents signed during the Marvin Lewis era.

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The Cincinnati Bengals have long had a reputation for shying away from splashy free agency signings. However, there have been a good number of free agents who turned out to be key contributors during the Marvin Lewis era. The following is a list of the top 10 free agents signed under Marvin Lewis. Keep in mind, the list is based on each player’s time with the Bengals. I did not consider their careers with other NFL teams.

10. Mike Nugent

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After four seasons with the New York Jets and a short stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Nugent signed with the Bengals. He always had consistency issues during his six seasons in Cincinnati, but he had a solid career with the Bengals nonetheless. We saw Nugent struggle at times, but he always seemed to find a way to get back on track. Unfortunately, he was never able to recover from his struggles during the 2016 season, and as a result, the Bengals reluctantly decided to part ways with Nugent. Despite his abysmal 2016 season, Nugent should be recognized for the successful seasons he had with the Bengals.

9. Chris Crocker

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Crocker signed with the Bengals halfway through the 2008 season. He showed the team enough to earn a four year, $10 million contract after the 2008 season. Crocker was a veteran presence and well-liked in the locker room, which is a common theme among most of the players on this list. Crocker enjoyed six productive seasons with the Bengals as a reliable safety and an example of how to be a professional for the younger guys.

8. Terence Newman

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Newman was selected fifth overall by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2003 NFL Draft. As a rookie, Newman became an immediate contributor for defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer’s stout defense. Newman enjoyed a successful career with the Cowboys, but eventually the two parties decided it was best to move on from each other. In 2012, Newman decided to reunite with Zimmer, and take his talents to Cincinnati. At 34-years old, Newman wasn’t exactly the shutdown corner that he was during his time in Dallas, but he was still a productive player and a veteran presence in the locker room. He would end up having three solid seasons with the Bengals before moving on to the Minnesota Vikings, reuniting with Zimmer once again.

7. Adam Jones

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Jones was drafted sixth overall by the Tennessee Titans in the 2005 NFL Draft. It never panned out there because of numerous run ins with the law. He then had a short stint with the Dallas Cowboys, but legal troubles followed him there and he seemed to be out of opportunities. After a failed attempt to play in the Canadian Football League, Jones signed with the Bengals in 2010 and has been with the team ever since. His legal troubles have never really escaped him, despite the Bengals constantly insisting that he’s a changed man. However, Jones has been a solid player as a kick returner and cornerback. He also seems to be well-respected in the locker room by the players and coaches. Jones had a down year in 2016, but it seems the Bengals are keeping him around and hopefully he gets back to the high level of play he showed during the 2015 season, for which he made the Pro Bowl.

6. Reggie Kelly

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Kelly was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the second round of the 1999 NFL Draft. After his rookie contract was up in 2003, Kelly signed with the Bengals. Kelly was never known as an elite pass catching tight end, but he was a highly skilled technician as a blocker. Unfortunately, the ability to block is an overlooked component to a tight end’s game. Kelly’s game wasn’t exactly aesthetically appealing to the average football fan, but if you appreciate a well-rounded football player then Reggie Kelly is your guy. He would end up playing seven seasons with the Bengals, and he was a respected teammate and a productive football player throughout his tenure in Cincinnati.

5. John Thornton

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Thornton signed with the Bengals in 2003 and played with the team for six seasons, until his retirement in 2009. Much like Kelly, Thornton wasn’t a guy who made flashy plays, but he showed up and did what was asked of him. I’m not a fan of clichés, but Thornton was a blue-collar guy who showed up with his lunch pail every day. Thornton played a big part in molding then-young players like Robert Geathers and Domata Peko. Thornton was a pro’s pro, like many other players on this list.

4. Bobbie Williams

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Williams signed with the Bengals in 2004 after a successful stint with Philadelphia Eagles. He was the starting right guard for eight seasons in Cincinnati. I know I keep saying this, but Williams was a leader and veteran presence just like Kelly and Thornton. They each had a significant impact on the franchise for essentially the same reasons. The Bengals like to bring in veterans who are good locker room guys. We’ve seen it over and over again, and it’s an underrated strategy that’s overlooked by many fans. (Brandon LaFell in 2016 was another example of this and it’s a reason he’s sticking around in 2017.)

3. Dhani Jones

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A sixth round draft pick by the Giants who also made stops in Philadelphia and New Orleans, Jones signed with the Bengals in September of the 2007 season, and went on to play three more seasons after that. During the 2008 season, Jones implemented himself as a leader on Mike Zimmer’s defense. He was the leading tackler for the Bengals for three consecutive seasons, and was instrumental in the defensive resurgence under Zimmer. Jones was a fan favorite and an all-around good guy who had a significant impact on the franchise.

2. Cedric Benson

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Benson signed with the Bengals in 2008 after being considered a bust for the Chicago Bears—he was selected in Round 1 of the 2005 NFL Draft with the No. 4 overall pick. His time in Cincinnati turned out to be a much better experience. I still remember the game against the Bears in 2009 where Benson ran for 189 yards. There was an emotional moment between him and the fans after he broke off a long run, and did the football version of a curtain call on the sidelines. Benson’s time with the Bengals was filled with good memories and great production. He had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and will always be remembered fondly by Bengals fans.

1. Tory James

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James signed with the Bengals in 2003, Lewis’ first year with the team, and went on to have four very successful seasons with the Bengals. He totaled 21 interceptions over four years and joined fellow cornerback, Deltha O’Neal to headline what turned out to be an elite secondary. James led that secondary in interceptions three out of the four years he spent with the team and was one of the more underrated players during his time in Cincinnati. I thought I would give him the recognition he deserves by putting him atop this list.

What do you think? Who are the top 10 Bengals free agents from 2003 to the present?