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Off Season Job One for the Cincinnati Bengals: Take Care of Their Own

January 10th, 2012 at 10:49 AM
By Chuck Chapman

Before examining the NFL free agent pool, before deciding who to draft in April, the Cincinnati Bengals have a more pressing job: evaluate and decide who among the current players on the 53 man roster who are eligible for free agency they want to sign and keep.

That's quite a long list for Cincinnati and involves some players who started and/or played integral roles on this year's team. The Bengals will need to consider how they think each player will fit into the future and at what cost against the cap.

Before we get into players, let's take a look at the NFL's free agency structure. There are essentially three kinds of free agents in the NFL. Unrestricted free agents are players with at least five years of NFL service who are free to solicit any deal they can get from any team in the league once free agency opens in March. The team receives no compensation for these players if they leave. Restricted free agents are players with three to five years of service who are free to negotiate with other teams, but the Bengals have the right to match any offer. Additionally, if the Bengals tender these players an offer prior to free agency, the team is entitled to compensation based on the level of the tender. Exclusive Rights Free Agents are players who are going into their second or third year of NFL experience and can only sign with the Bengals unless the Bengals release them. These are usually undrafted free agents working on one year deals.

So looking at them in reverse order, here's what the Bengals have to deal with and what we think they should do:

Exclusive Rights Free Agents: LB Vincent Rey, RB Cedric Peerman. Both Rey and Peerman were valuable special teams contributors, Peerman so much that he received Pro Bowl consideration. I would think neither would draw strong consideration from other teams for starting positions, so it would make sense for them and the Bengals to remain together and work out new deals.

Restricted Free Agents: LS Clark Harris, DT Nick Hayden, FB Chris Pressley, LB Dan Skuta. Harris replaced long-time long snapper Brad St. Louis after St. Louis got the "yips" in 2009. He's been consistent and should be retained. Good long snappers shouldn't be taken for granted. Nick Hayden didn't contribute much, but there will be some change in the defensive line rotation. If he's willing to take a similar deal to what he has now, keep him. If another team wants him, let him go. Dan Skuta was outstanding on special teams and filled in ably for Rey Maualuga after he was injured. He could get some looks. The team shouldn't overpay to keep Skuta, but he provides quality depth that would have to be replaced somehow. He should at least be tendered an offer. The status of injured LBs Roddrick Muckelroy and Dontay Moch might be a factor in whether Skuta stays or goes.

Unrestricted Free Agents: RB Cedric Benson, WR Andre Caldwell, OT Anthony Collins, DE Jonathan Fanene, CB Kelly Jennings, LB Brandon Johnson, CB Adam Jones, LB Manny Lawson, TE Donald Lee, OG Nate Livings, OG Mike McGlynn, S Reggie Nelson, K Mike Nugent, OT Dennis Roland, DE Frostee Rucker, TE Bo Scaife, WR Jerome Simpson, DT Pat Sims, OG Bobbie Williams

Let's break this extensive list into offense and defense. On offense. as we wrote yesterday, the Bengals should chip in for any offer that would take guards Nate Livings and Mike McGlynn out of town. Anthony Collins filled in for Andre Smith, but has had more than a fair opportunity to take a spot on the offensive line. If he's willing to come back and provide veteran depth at a low price, that's one thing. The Bengals probably will let him test the waters and possibly tender him a one year deal conditional on him making the team in training camp. Dennis Roland is in the same boat, a nice veteran who can provide depth but who has shown no reason to think he can be any kind of long-term solution. For as much leadership as Bobbie Williams has provided, bringing him back at his age off of a broken ankle doesn't make sense. Here's hoping the team does offer him some continued role in the organization.
At wide receiver, Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson will likely get some looks from other teams. Neither is worth breaking the bank over. Caldwell is coming off a sports hernia injury (Chris Perry?) and Jerome Simpson, for all his acrobatics and flashes of brilliance, still doesn't run consistent routes and has the outstanding off field issues regarding a house full of marijuana. If either can get better deals from other teams, the Bengals would be wise to part ways and replace through the draft or free agency, both of which offer a wealth of talent this year. Jordan Shipley will be back and Ryan Whalen proved valuable in the latter half of the season. The Bengals could certainly get better value by replacing these two.
At tight end, Bo Scaife never got a chance to show his skills due to a preseason shoulder injury that could be career threatening. In any event, with Jermaine Gresham firmly entrenched as the starter and the encouraging play of rookie Colin Cochart, there's no room for Scaife. Donald Lee, even though advancing in age, should be kept around as a third tight end if he's willing. His Super Bowl experience and leadership is invaluable to the two developing youngsters ahead of him.
That leaves Cedric Benson. Benson has reinvented himself in Cincinnati, but it's time for him to go. Benson once again topped 1000 yards, but didn't show late in the season any burst or ability to extend runs needed at that position. He's not a good pass catching back, which is crucial in Jay Gruden's offense, and developed a fumbling problem at the end of the regular season. For what Benson can get in the open market, the Bengals can go to a well-stocked draft and free agent pool to find his replacement.
Tomorrow, we'll take a look at the defensive side of the ball and what the Bengals need to do there.
Tags: Cedric Benson, Cincinnati, Cincinnati Bengals, Donald Lee, Football, Jerome Simpson, Nate Livings, NFL

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