Yesterday's signing of free agent running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis established an initial benchmark for the Cincinnati Bengals has they make moves this off season. Looking back on the team's needs, they have successfully addressed almost all of them, placing them in great position heading into next month's draft.
With Cedric Benson departing, running back was the most glaring need for the Bengals. Signing Green-Ellis fills that need, although probably not how most anticipated. Michael Bush was considered the top free agent target, and it's unclear why the Bengals went in another direction, but Green-Ellis more than fits the bill for what Jay Gruden needs from the position in his offense. Green-Ellis won't provide the "home run" threat that some were hoping for, but what he does provide is ball security and the ability to get the tough yards. Working in a rotation with Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard, Green-Ellis is a great complement to those two. This also means that the Bengals can now focus on using their top draft picks on upgrading another position. They will still likely draft a back later in the draft, but a day one selection is now unnecessary.
Cornerback was also an area of concern with Leon Hall's injury and Adam Jones and Kelly Jennings in free agency. Signing Jason Allen meets that need. Reports have also surfaced that the team is negotiating with Jones about returning. If that happens, look for them to be done with the cornerback position for the off season.
The third area of concern was the interior line. Getting Travelle Wharton represents a major upgrade there. This will still be a position, however, the Bengals will look to address with the draft. Because they've taken care of running back and cornerback, look for the Bengals' pick at 17 to be spent on either Stanford G David DeCastro, if he's there, or Georgia G/T Cordy Glenn. Both of these players have All Pro written all over them and combined with Wharton and an emerging Clint Boling, the interior of the Bengals' offensive line will be vastly improved.
There is still some work to do, however. The team was unsuccessful in retaining Frostee Rucker or Jonathan Fanene, so they'll need to add at least one more defensive lineman. Bringing back Pat Sims would be the first choice and former Colts DE Jamaal Anderson has also visited and would work well within Mike Zimmer's rotation.
Retaining Reggie Nelson was huge for the safety spot. Depending on how the team feels about Chris Crocker, Taylor Mays and Robert Sands, they could use a draft pick on that position.
The only obvious failure thus far in free agency is finding a veteran wide receiver to go opposite AJ Green. In the Bengals' defense, the wide receiver market moved first and many probably overpaid for some players who would have been Bengals' targets like Robert Meachem and Pierre Garcon. If the Bengals are to make a move in free agency, it will most likely now have to be a reclamation project like Braylon Edwards.
Another possibility is bringing back Jerome Simpson. He hasn't attracted a lot of attention on the market and certainly would welcome a return to Cincinnati. Andre Caldwell signed yesterday with Denver, so he's no longer an option. It's quite possible, now that the team won't have to draft a cornerback or running back with the first pick, that the Bengals could go with another rookie with their second first round pick. Baylor's Kendall Wright was very impressive at Baylor's pro day yesterday. There are a number of undervalued prospects there that the Bengals could snare.
Still on the radar is tight end, where the team continues to negotiate with Donald Lee and has had a visit from Houston's Joel Dreesen. That's strictly for a backup role, however, with Jermaine Gresham and Colin Cochart being entrenched.
LB Manny Lawson visited Cleveland this week, but there are reports that he would like to stay with Cincinnati as well. Linebacker is another position that the team can now possibly spend a day one draft pick on to shore up that unit.
They may have started slowly, but the Bengals have moved methodically and addressed almost all of their areas of need with free agency with plenty of cap space left over to to some long-term deals with players already on the roster.
It certainly appears that the team is following up the stellar off season of 2011 with another one in 2012. With the draft a little more than a month away, the pieces of the puzzle certainly seem to be coming together.
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