After reports surfaced a few weeks ago that the Bengals were bringing back safety/linebacker Taylor Mays, all that remained was for the team to make the official announcement. Cincinnati made it public on Friday, confirming their signing him to a veteran minimum deal.
Though the prevailing belief is that Mays has an uphill climb to make the final roster, his versatility and roster flexibility because of a four-game suspension he'll be serving at the beginning of the season give him a shot to be a contributor in 2016. Like many other players on their roster, it's the versatility gene that defensive coordinator Paul Guenther recently gushed about when talking about the Mays signing with Bengals.com.
"When you have a guy like that who can play safety and nickel linebacker and can do a lot of different things and help Darrin (Simmons) on special teams, he’s a good guy to have," said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. "He’s a value."
"Value" is a good term to use, even if Mays hasn't yet lived up to his billing as a 2010 second round selection, he's comfortable in the Bengals' various systems and was signed to a reported one-year deal worth $840,000. The value to the Bengals would seem to increase even further if the team suffers unfortunate injuries to safety and/or linebacker around the time Mays comes back from his suspension, he could become a band-aid over that issue.
It sounds like Mays has had his heart still with Cincinnati since leaving the club after the 2014 season. While experiencing stints with the Raiders, Lions and Vikings, Mays still intently watched the team's last-minute implosion against the Steelers in the Wild Card game with great interest, but also knows that the Bengals are on the verge of something great.
"Regardless of what happened. Good or bad. You want to want to be there because those are your people," Mays told Geoff Hobson. "That’s what I was thinking about watching Pac, Tez, watching everybody. Why not do it while you still can? This team can make run. We just have to figure out what to do differently."
Ironically, the Bengals have had six other chances to "do something differently" in postseason play, but it has yet to happen in the Marvin Lewis regime. However, that is another topic for another time.
"It’s a hard thing to walk away from (leaving the Bengals after 2014), but I was looking for a different opportunity," Mays said. "I still consider myself a safety. I was just trying to get a chance to play more and when I got to Oakland and settled in I had the opportunity to play linebacker and safety. That was a positive."
But, it's the overall talent on this roster that has Mays excited in re-joining his buddies who play for The Queen City.
"Cincinnati is a legitimate team to host the AFC championship game and I saw that on TV watching the Bengals on TV last year," Mays said. "It’s something I want to be a part of and hopefully contribute to. You gain an appreciation and understanding when you step back from it from the perspective of being on another team."
Mays did start five games at safety for Oakland in 2015 and had a respectable Pro Football Focus grade in his performances. While he might be slated as a backup defensive back with the Bengals, it's that nickel coverage linebacker role where Mays will have the best shot at making the team.
"Hopefully he can nail down some spots in the spring and understand his role . . . He knows us, we know him. He’s a guy that we’re comfortable with and we know how we can use him," Guenther said.
Perhaps the most intriguing thing with Mays, aside from his being a physical freak, is the unfortunate limited sample size he has had in the nickel coverage linebacker spot. The experiment started in 2013, but he only played eight games that year. While attempting to fit into the role in 2014, the coaching staff became enamored with Emmanuel Lamur and Mays took a backseat to his development. We'll see if Lamur's departure, not coincidentally in a contract also with Mike Zimmer's Vikings, and a re-commitment to the Mays "hybacker" experiment will pay dividends for the Bengals in 2016.