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The Bengals’ biggest looming decision in NFL free agency

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What is the toughest decision facing the Bengals in free agency this year?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals-Training Camp The Cincinnati Enquirer-USA TODAY NETWORK

The Cincinnati Bengals will soon have some big decisions to make in free agency.

That includes re-signing key players, upgrading areas of need, and potentially dealing away AJ McCarron if he’s ruled to be a restricted free agent.

Over at ESPN, they went through the biggest offseason decisions for all 32 teams. When it came to the Bengals, re-signing Tyler Eifert was their biggest decision to make.

Eifert elevated the team’s offense to another level in 2015 when he emerged as the Bengals’ best red zone threat, but he has been unable to stay healthy for most of his career. Eifert has never played a 16-game season and has played only 10 games combined over the past two seasons. The Bengals would like to have him back, but that would probably come with provisions that he must be on the active roster to earn a large portion of his salary. -- Katherine Terrell

To a degree, I agree with this assessment. If the Bengals stay true to form and look to only re-sign their own free agents while adding in some cheap fillers in free agency, then re-signing Eifert is easily the team’s biggest decision this offseason.

However, Marvin Lewis has indicated the Bengals could be more active in free agency this offseason. If that’s the case, then I believe the biggest decision this offseason is how the Bengals look to upgrade their offensive line.

In ESPN’s recent ranking of the top 50 impending free agents, there is are a host of quality linemen set to hit the market, including Nate Solder of the Patriots, Jack Mewhort of the Colts, Josh Kline of the Titans, Justin Pugh of the Giants, Ryan Jensen of the Ravens, and Weston Richburg of the Giants.

That’s a host of players that could provide upgrades along the offensive line.

Then you’ve got the linebacker position, which also is in need of upgrades at middle and strongside linebacker. If the Bengals look for an upgrade here, guys like Avery Williamson of the Titans, Nigel Bradham of the Eagles and Anthony Hitchens of the Cowboys.

Sure, Eifert, at his best, is a better player than most of those guys. However, all of those guys have been far more durable than Eifert, who has missed 40 games over the last four seasons.

And it’s not like Tyler Kroft was a big downgrade from Eifert. Kroft managed to start all 16 games this past year, something Eifert has never done, and catch a career-high seven touchdowns. Eifert has caught that many just once in his five-year career, albeit a spectacular 13-score season in 2015.

Again, if the Bengals operate business as usual, re-signing Eifert is, realistically, the most important decision for the team to make this offseason.

But if the Bengals go outside the box and look to actually spend in free agency, then finding upgrades at bigger positions of need is more critical.

Heck, you could make the case that signing Kroft to a long-term extension (hits free agency in 2019) is a bigger priority this offseason.

What would you say the Bengals’ biggest decision to make in free agency will be?