Even though Burfict missed an uncharacteristic four tackles in the game against the Chiefs, the Bengals do not want to him to miss any more time in the future. Not only is Burfict the emotional leader on the defense, but they are already having to replace Vigil for the next few weeks.
If the Bengals want to look internally to fill Burfict’s spot, they still have Vincent Rey, Hardy Nickerson, and Malik Jefferson on the 53-man roster. They also have Chris Worley on the practice squad, but the chances of him being promoted appear slim.
Out of all the options the Bengals have on their current roster, Rey would make the most sense. He started in place of Burfict for the first three games of 2017 while Burfict was serving a suspension, and has started at all three linebacker spots at one point or another in the last eight years as a Bengal. Rey’s upside is that he is experienced and is one of the team captains, so he could very easily slide into that spot.
What is more likely to happen is Nickerson filling in most of the time. He has played quite a bit early on this year, especially when Preston Brown was down with an injury, but has not looked very good in his limited playing time. But for whatever reason, Marvin Lewis keeps sending him out there, so that trend might continue if Burfict can’t get back to the field.
Normally, Jordan Evans would be considered here, but he is playing in place of Vigil for the time being. So a likely scenario sans Burfict would be a combination of Nickerson and Rey at WILL, Brown at MIKE, and Evans at SAM.
But while the Nickerson/Rey duo will be less than ideal (especially since it will mostly be Nickerson), the Bengals might want to find a free agent to replace Burfict. If Lewis feels that the Bengals can still contend, then this is the best option for the team to if they want to reach the playoffs.
So, here is a list of potential free agents that the Bengals could sign. After all, sports journalism is nothing if not speculative.
The former 49er and Raider is the most attractive of the free agents on this list. His injury history is probably what scares most teams off, and it might cause the Bengals to hesitate given how thin they currently are at the position already. But a short-term deal isn’t out of the question for Bowman as the Bengals are just looking for a quick replacement in this scenario.
Even though he is 31 years old, Casillas could bring some experience to a room full of young potential. Casillas has never really been anything more than a spot-starter for the Giants, Patriots, Buccaneers, and Saints, as he only has one season where he had double-digit starts. But he has started at least one game in each of his nine NFL seasons, so he could be someone they look to for depth. In this scenario, the Bengals have already decided to stick with Nickerson and/or Rey but just want to add a body to roster in case another linebacker should go down.
The former first round draft pick is prepared to step away from football, but is staying in shape just in case. McClellin might be coaxed back into the NFL if the Bengals give him a call. McClellin is a veteran that could start or add some depth to the bench, but he is talented enough to start if necessary. He collected 81 tackles in 12 games as a member of the Bears in 2015, but hasn’t played since 2016 with the Patriots.
A former teammate of Bowman’s, Wilhoite would be able to add some experience to the young unit. The 31-year-old has had some good season with the 49ers, getting 227 tackles from 2014-2016. His last season was with the Seahawks was not up to his standards, but he can become a valuable backup or emergency starter for the Bengals.
A long time Steeler, Lawrence Timmons could go the way of James Harrison and join his former division rival. Most recently a member of the Dolphins, Timmons has plenty of experience and talent. Even though he is at the ripe age of 32, half a season of rest might do well for him. He had a down year in 2017 and only recorded 84 tackles. He has had over 100 tackles six times in his career, but if the Bengals call, he could add onto his total of 1,035 that he has accumulated over the course of his 11-year career.
Who would you like to see the Bengals sign?