With multiple free agent additions and a heavy draft class, the Cincinnati Bengals enjoyed a very active off-season last year that forced them to endure plenty of player turnover. Continuity is an important aspect of team-building, but it isn’t always necessary if your coaching staff is able to adapt quickly and players buy into the team’s philosophies. Last off-season, Marvin Lewis and his staff proved capable of adapting, while the franchise proved itself capable of finding the right fits with the franchise. For that reason, the Bengals aren’t tied to their current free agents this off-season.
In particular, the Bengals shouldn’t feel forced to re-sign Terence Newman, Nate Clements, Chris Crocker or Adam Jones. Each of those defensive backs had a relatively impressive season last year, but each are now without a contract. Newman arrived as part of that turnover last off-season and became the starter across from veteran Leon Hall. Considering the Dallas Cowboys were more than happy to let Newman leave and a market never really developed to acquire his services, the Bengals should feel confident if they must identify a diamond in the rough this year to replace him.
The Bengals will definitely want to bring back Newman and Jones, but Crocker and Clements are expendable above a minimum deal. None of the quartet are worth breaking the bank for, so if any competition develops for their signatures the Bengals would likely move onto their next target. It’s a good year to be searching for alternative defensive backs in free agency. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Brent Grimes, Stanford Routt, Sean Smith, Antoine Cason, Quentin Jammer, Rashean Mathis, Derek Cox, Aqib Talib, Sam Shields, Leodis McKelvin and Keenan Lewis lead this year’s class.
Unless the Bengals want to make a big splash at the position, Lewis, Talib, Shields, Cox, Smith, Grimes and Rodgers-Cromartie are very unlikely to sign on in Cincinnati. That leaves Routt, Jammer, Cason, Mathis and McKelvin as the top options. On paper, each player has glaring flaws that will quell interest on the open market. However, much like Newman last year, in the right situation with the right coaching and attitude each could represent massive value.
Routt had a rough season last year. He was cut by the Oakland Raiders just one year into a long-term contract, before signing with the Kansas City Chiefs to start the regular season. He finished the regular season with the Houston Texans however, after the Chiefs also cut him. For all of Routt’s issues, he did earn a big contract with the Raiders after excelling playing in a difficult scheme. Routt was expected to replace Nnamdi Asomugha after he left in free agency, because he had an excellent season during Asomugha’s final year in Oakland. Routt is an aggressive, physical cornerback who specializes in man coverage. He would fit Mike Zimmer’s defense.
Jammer and Cason played on the same team, the San Diego Chargers, but offer different properties on the open market. Much like Newman was, Jammer is a 33-year-old veteran who has played his whole career with one team. He is very talented and still performed relatively well this past year, but most are expecting him to fall off at this point in his career. Cason is significantly younger, 26, but has severely struggled with his consistency over his five year career. Cason should draw more interest because of his potential, but he appears to be an even greater risk.
Mathis is some distance from his prime at this point. At 32 years of age, he hasn’t been a prominent figure for the Jacksonville Jaguars over the past few years. In his prime, Mathis was a dangerous cornerback who could bait quarterbacks into throwing the ball to him. Although he always gave up some big plays to counter those turnovers, he hasn’t had the turnovers in recent years to off-set his risk-taking. For that reason, Mathis is a long-shot to sign with the Bengals, but depending on what Mike Zimmer sees, he could find his way to the team on a minimal contract.
Should Jones leave, the Bengals will likely be looking for a cornerback who can contribute to both special teams and as a bit-part defender. Fortunately, the Buffalo Bills‘ Leodis McKelvin perfectly fits that role. Depending on each team’s needs, McKelvin and Jones will be the two top targets for anyone looking for a kick returner/defensive back. Jones is a better defender, but McKelvin offers more versatility in the return game. Both should have similar price tags, which gives the Bengals an opportunity to compete for both players.
The Bengals have no reason to be worried if they lose one or two of their defensive back free agents. Even though the secondary was a strength of the team last year, their talent at the position is not irreplaceable.