Cornerback Leon Hall has enjoyed a successful NFL career as one Cincinnati's key defensive players since he was drafted No. 18 overall during the 2007 NFL draft. When you see Hall, nicknamed the Technician, there's a certain reliability there. A comfort. Remembering back in '09, arguably Hall's best season, he was paired with Johnathan Joseph to create one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL. Cincinnati hasn't seen a pair like that since and one could make a distant, yet conversational, comparison with Ken Riley and Lamar Parrish -- had Hall and Joseph stayed together for longer than four seasons at least.
There's no doubt that Hall isn't really comparable to Darrelle Revis in his New York Jets prime, or today's contemporaries in Richard Sherman and even Patrick Peterson. Qualified enough to handle receivers in single-coverage, Hall wasn't a playmaker but he's always qualified. From '07 through '10, Hall led the team in interceptions each season (shared with Joseph in '09), posting a combined 18 picks. Quick? No. Fast. Not really. But no one beat him with technique, which has served him for eight seasons and he will be in Cincinnati for a ninth.
Over time, his numbers have dropped. During the last two seasons, Hall has played 20 games (missed most of '13 with an injury) and generated two interceptions, nine pass defenses on 115 targeted throws. In '14, opposing quarterbacks completed nearly 70 percent of their passes with a passer rating of 104.9. Save for his rookie season in '07 (108.8), the worst rating he had achieved was 84.8 ('11). Pro Football Focus graded Hall's '14 season as the worst on the books with a pass coverage score of +0.4.
Hall, now entering his ninth season in the NFL, turns 31 this December and will carry a cap number of $9.6 million (tied with Andy Dalton for second-highest behind A.J. Green's cap of $10.172 million).
It's time that we reexamine Hall's contract.
Hall is entering the final year under contract, slated to earn $7.7 million -- more than everyone else on the team, save for A.J. Green ($10.176 million) who benefits from the fifth-year option on his rookie deal. Again, Hall is turning 31 and his production appears to be waning while the team may approach next season with greater focus on a youth movement in Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard -- two rookie cornerbacks drafted in the 2012 and 2014 NFL drafts respectively. Is the production drop a result of age or two Achilles tears?
Cincinnati have create extensions/deals that limited the impact on their salary cap in the past. It's possible that Cincinnati takes his remaining salary ($7.7 million) and converts that into a roster bonus, add two more years and throw in more bonuses/incentives on top of a manageable base salary.
Make no mistake. The Bengals don't have a need to generate cap space. According to OverTheCap.com, the Bengals have a projected cap of $148.8 million with $38.9 million available in space. Spotrac has Cincinnati's cap space at $28.2 million next season. Rookie salaries will account for $5-10 million and the Bengals aren't players in big-name free agents.
In addition to the free agents this year, the Bengals could manage a number of extensions this offseason for players that are entering their final year under contract in '15. Such as cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones, wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, safeties Reggie Nelson and George Iloka, defensive end Wallace Gilberry, and offensive linemen Andrew Whitworth, Kevin Zeitler and Andre Smith.
And we should add that if the Bengals are unable (unwilling) to promote Kirkpatrick and Dennard into starting roles next season, making Hall a slot corner and applying Adam Jones as a full-time returner and cornerback No. 4 designation, then something is wrong. Terence Newman, who turns 37 years old this year, is contemplating retirement and probably isn't returning. This sets the stage for a significant battle for the fifth spot at cornerback.
Either way, change should have priority over status quo this offseason.