Multiple news outlets are reporting an agreement in principle between NFL owners and the NFLPA on economic issues with a few ancillary issues remaining to be sorted out. Plans are to announce the end of the lockout officially on July 21 at the league meetings in Atlanta. If events hold to that schedule, the Bengals would set up camp at Georgetown on July 28, leaving the team only a week to negotiate contracts with its draft choices, free agents, and non-roster free agents. That's a lot of wheeling and dealing in a week.
On the plus side for the team, the compacted window for negotiations affects all teams and should drive down the market somewhat for free agents. On the down side, that narrow window probably means the Bengals, who have a history of not investing heavily in free agency, won't be filling any needs via free agency. It also increases the likelihood that some players may choose to hold out to maximize their negotiating time.
Cincinnati has 12 players from last year's roster who are free agents. Let's take a look at what the Bengals are likely to do in each case:
Cedric Benson, RB
Coming off consecutive 1000 yard seasons, Benson is an absolute must to resign. Given the transition into Jay Gruden's new offense and Carson Palmer's retirement, retaining Cedric Benson to tote the rock is imperative if the Bengals have any hope of contending in 2011. Look for signing Benson to be priority one for the organization.
Brian Leonard, RB
Cincinnati hasn't had a fullback of Leonard's quality since Lorenzo Neal. Additionally, his 50 catches out of the backfield in two seasons in stripes make him a perfect fit for Jay Gruden's new offense which is more "West Coast" oriented. Protecting the new quarterback, probably Andy Dalton, will also be a premium. With that in mind, the Bengals would be wise to invest in Brian Leonard.
Terrell Owens, WR
TO blamed the offensive staff for his poor 2010 showing and then injured his ACL in the off season. The only way TO gets into Paul Brown stadium is if some other team signs him and they play the Bengals.
Reggie Kelly, TE
What to do with this valued veteran is a puzzler for the Bengals. Kelly has been one of the best blocking tight ends over his career and has been a positive influence in a locker room often resembling a circus tent. The question is if the Bengals are willing to invest in an aging, one-dimensional tight end with Jermaine Gresham and Chase Coffman already receiving hefty contracts.
Evan Mathis, Nate Livings, OL
Left guard is an intriguing spot for the Bengals. Nate Livings has been the starter, but has not performed up to expectations. Mathis started there in 2009. performing admirably but not beating out Livings for the starting spot in 2010. The Bengals drafted Clint Boling out of Georgia this season. Look for the team to sign one of the two and let him compete with Boling in camp for the starting job. My pick would be Mathis, but it will likely come down to who is willing to work cheaper.
Kyle Cook, C
Besides Benson, there's probably not a more key signing than Cook. Having a veteran center would be a huge advantage while breaking in a new quarterback.
Dhani Jones, LB
Like Reggie Kelly, Jones has provided outstanding leadership both on the field and in the locker room. He's getting a little long in the tooth, however, and the Bengals may be comfortable enough letting Keith Rivers and Rey Maualuga step into that leadership role. The drafting of Texas' Roddrick Muckleroy could also signal the end of Dhani Jones' stay in Cincinnati.
Brandon Johnson, LB
Johnson has been a dependable back-up and spot starter while with the Bengals. Much will depend on how much he's asking for and his willingness to contribute on special teams.
Johnathan Joseph, CB
Joseph is a top flight cover corner, and in a normal off season would command a king's ransom. With an unusually crowded market for corners (Champ Bailey and Nnamdi Ashomouga) Joseph might not have the leverage to swing a large deal from another team. Additionally, the injury bug has bitten J-Jo several times, which might give some teams pause in signing him to a big deal. If Adam Jones is suspended or gone from the team, however, his leverage with the Bengals is much larger.
Chinedum Ndukwe, S
"Chinny" has been a mainstay in the Bengals secondary, but the acquisition of Reggie Nelson last season and the drafting of Robert Sands make him expendable. If he can swing a better deal from another team, he'd be wise to take it because I don't see the Bengals paying him and he'll have a dogfight for playing time here.
Gibril Wilson, S
Thanks for visiting the Queen City, Gibril. Best of luck elsewhere.
The Bengals have a lot to accomplish in the week or less that they'll have to get everyone signed. And this doesn't even begin to address the continuing saga of Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco. More on that next week.
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