Every Bengals’ fan knows exactly what it is going to take to turn the season around: an instinctual, speedy, sure-tackling linebacker who can cover running backs and tight ends, and a road-grading offensive tackle. But are either one out there for the taking?
Let’s take a look.
According to NFLTradeRumors.com, there are a limited number of linebackers and offensive tackles listed among the top-50 free agents still available. But do any of these fit Cincinnati’s needs?
The highest-rated linebacker on that list is former Packer outside linebacker Nick Perry. Perry was selected by the Packers in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft and has all of the measurables the Bengals are looking for. Perry stands 6-4 and weighs 235 pounds, and ran a 4.51 40 all those years ago.
Unfortunately, Perry is more of a run-stopper who provides additional help as a rush end. His coverage skills seem to be lacking. Through six years in the league, albeit in a 3-4 scheme, Perry has recorded only one interception through 48 starts. He has 11 passes defensed in his career, seven of which came in the 2016 and 2018 seasons, but has struggled with injuries.
Then there is former Raiders and Broncos inside linebacker Brandon Marshall. His last head coach, Jon Gruden, call Marshall “one of the best coverage linebackers in football.” He was once a key contributor to the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 run, but the juice has all been lost.
Marshall, who turned 30 last week, has been dealing with a knee injury that kept him out of most of the spring with the Raiders. But f he is able to make a full recovery from those health issues, Marshall would be someone Cincinnati should seriously consider. His contract with the Raiders was worth up to $4.1 million for one season and, even with the A.J. Green extension looming, the Bengals should be able to find room for him.
Another option is Former Arizona Cardinals’ inside linebacker Josh Bynes, who came into the league in 2011 as an undrafted free agent with the Baltimore Ravens. Although logging most of his time in the league as a career backup, Bynes has recorded a couple of interceptions and 22 passes defensed to his credit, including 17 over the past four years.
He did notch 11 starts for the Cardinals last season, and his 75 total tackles included a pair of sacks and five passes defensed. He also had a fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown. Bynes, who turned 30 this summer, does not have the speed the Bengals covet, but his high football IQ helps him to be in the right place at the right time.
Manti Te’o made his reputation in college with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, but has been something of a disappointment in the pros. A second-round selection of the San Diego Chargers in the 2013 NFL Draft, injuries have kept him from living up to his potential.
Malcolm Smith was a seventh-round selection of the Seattle Seahawks in the 2011 NFL Draft who, in 2017, signed a five-year, $26.5 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers. Smith was released in August and has yet to find a home. After missing all of 2017 with a torn pectoral muscle, Smith played in just 12 games, including five starts, last season and was no longer a part of the 49ers plans.
Finally, Mason Foster was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft and was released by the Washington Redskins this summer after leading them in tackles in the 2018 season. Foster finished the year with 133 total tackles, including 84 solo tackles, one sack, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions. He also had four passes defensed.
Foster is a little short for a linebacker at 6-1 and comes in at 250 pounds. But he does have the speed to stay with most tight ends in the league, and has recorded eight interceptions and six fumble recoveries over the course of his career.
Without a doubt, the most compelling left tackle still on the market is Matt Kalil, the No. 3 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings. Kalil made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season, but that was by far the high-point of his career.
The Vikings soon realized Kalil couldn’t cut it as a starter and he found himself signing with the Panthers in 2017 and started all 16 games. He missed 2018 after undergoing a knee scope and was released in March of this year. He quickly signed with the Texans, struggled with injuries and was released on September 1.
At 6-7 and 315 pounds, size is just about all Kalil has going for him. What makes matters even worse is his now unreliable health. Is he worth taking a flyer on? At this point, they don’t have much to lose.
The pickings get pretty slim after that. Desmond Harrison probably has the most upside of the group, but he comes with red flags. At 6-6 and 292 pounds, Harrison ran the 40 in 4.9 seconds at the 2018 NFL Combine, and recorded an unofficial time of 4.75.
Harrison signed with Cleveland as an undrafted free agent and quickly ascended to a starting position. But he lost his job to Greg Robinson, and was eventually waived because of “one too many missteps.” The Cardinals claimed Harrison the day after he was waived, but released him after learning of assault allegations and a felony arrest warrant in North Carolina.
Isaiah Battle, who stands 6-7 and weighs in at 310 pounds, played his college ball at Clemson and was a fifth-round selection of the Los Angeles Rams in the 2015 of the Supplemental Draft. He spent most of his career as a reserve and would probably only be suited for back-up duty.
The signing of linebacker LaRoy Reynolds and practice squad addition of offensive tackle Dino Boyd seem like the only transactions we are going to see at either position for the time being—and for good reason. There’s not much help left out there.