As the Cincinnati Bengals prepare for the beginning of free agency this week, there's some good news to celebrate even before the first player is signed. Cornerback Leon Hall, who went down in week 10 with an Achilles injury, is recovering nicely and expects to be back full strength for 2012.
Hall is already running and is beginning to do football drills. Last week, he met with new secondary coach, Mark Carrier. With cornerback already an area of concern with Adam Jones and Kelly Jennings being free agents and the age of Nate Clements, the return of a healthy Hall would make a major difference in 2012. Even so, look for the team to pursue a free agent at the position as well as using a draft pick there.
Speaking of free agency, the NFL has announced that the salary cap for 2012 will be $120.6 million, just a fraction above 2011's number. That means that the Bengals will have around $60 million in cap space when the carryover from 2011 is factored in. Fans shouldn't expect Cincinnati to spend all that now, however.
First of all, the new mandate for teams to spend up to 90 per cent of the cap doesn't go into place until next season. Without the mandate and with next year's cap figure expected to increase dramatically based on revenue projections, the Bengals may be wise to maintain much of that space.
Instead, look for the team to immediately address their own restricted free agents and exclusive rights players. Dan Skuta and Cedric Peerman wold fall into that category. The team also has 20 unrestricted free agents from 2011 who are on the open market come Tuesday. As Bengals 101 has pointed out, signing S Reggie Nelson must be the team's number one priority. They would also be wise to lock up Jonathan Fanene, Brandon Johnson and Anthony Collins, although each will most certainly look around the league for a potential starting position before signing with Cincinnati.
So as much as we would all like to see Cortland Finnegan and Carl Nicks sign next week, it's doubtful. What may be likely, however, is a hard run at Raiders running back Michael Bush.
All this means March Madness has arrived in the NFL as well. The "dead" period immediately following the Super Bowl is over and Bengals fans can expect ongoing news all the way up to training camp as we follow free agency, the NFL Draft, mini-camps and off season workouts.
As always, stay with Bengals 101, your best source for up to the minute Bengals news and analysis.
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