The Cincinnati Bengals are very familiar with cornerback William Gay.
Gay spent 10 of his 11 NFL seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and just became a free agent as the Steelers cut him as a cap casualty on Monday. Now that the Bengals have declined to pick up the option on Adam Jones’ contract, might Gay be on the radar?
Gay is nearly a year and a half younger than Jones, and put together what was probably the best season of his career in 2016 when he became one of the best slot cornerbacks in the NFL and earned an overall grade from Pro Football Focus of 83.7. Out of 52 cornerbacks, he allowed the second-fewest yards per cover snap in the slot, behind only Denver’s Chris Harris, Jr.
But, like Jones, Gay struggled mightily last year. He only played in 27 percent of the defensive snaps for the Steelers, and his overall grade plummeted to 51.4. He still was one of the better run-stopping cornerbacks in the league. Gay received a poor, 51.4 grade from PFF last season. Comparatively, PFF gave Jones a 47.0 grade in 2017.
One plus for Gay is his durability. A fifth-round pick of the Steelers in the 2007 NFL Draft, Gay never missed a game during his 11 years in the league. His best year statistically came in 2014 when he recorded 69 total tackles and set a Steelers’ record by returning three interceptions for touchdowns. His 19 total tackles last year were his lowest since his rookie season.
Jones was set to make a base salary of $5.3 million this year, along with a prorated bonus of $666,668. Cincinnati realized a cap savings of $6,281,250 by cutting Jones before his contract became vested.
Gay was set to make a base salary of $1,750,000, with a prorated roster bonus of $633,334. Pittsburgh realized a cap savings of $1,750,000 by releasing Gay early.
The Bengals would probably be able to bring Gay on board for something approaching the veteran minimum, and his experience in the slot would allow Cincinnati some additional flexibility. But Jones offers the added bonus of being a punt returner and is a threat to break a big one every time he touches the ball. Plus, his eight years of experience roaming the Bengals’ secondary is invaluable.
With the addition of left tackle Cordy Glenn from Buffalo, Cincinnati’s pool of available free agent money is suddenly dwindled and the question may be a moot one. That is especially the case if the Bengals hope to re-sign center Russell Bodine and defensive lineman Chris Smith.
The Bengals are interested in bringing back Jones on a reduced deal, but we’ll have to see what the veteran is willing to take and if he explores his options elsewhere
Time will tell.