Offseason activities have wrapped up around the league and teams have begun to get a feel for how their prospective rosters will fill out. It’s a time for preparation and reflection as the dog days of Summer bleed into training camp.
This is the premier window for an organization like the Cincinnati Bengals to fly under the radar and add one more piece to help solve the Super Bowl puzzle. With roughly $7 million left in cap space this late in the summer, Cincinnati can offer an enticing one-year payday to any of the big names left on the market without hindering their long-term finances.
This could all be for naught if Carlos Dunlap or Geno Atkins are extended, but of the roughly 25 notable free agents still available, there are really only four I envision in a Bengals uniform this Fall:
It never feels like a good idea to sign a guy the Indianapolis Colts don’t want but that’s exactly what I’m advocating for in the case of defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins.
Ranked the third best run stopper in the league by Pro Football Focus last year, Hankins is a two-down defensive lineman that can really fill out the Bengals depth in the trenches. The two biggest reasons Indianapolis moved on from him was a change in the defensive scheme under new coordinator Matt Eberflus, and they were able to save $8.6 million by letting him go.
Hankins, a top-twenty interior defender, could immediately form a potent inside combination with All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins and give some peace of mind to fans sick of seeing Andrew Billings get pushed around week after week. Fifth-round pick Andrew Brown was drafted to essentially replace Billings, but who knows how ready he is to contribute. Hankins is a savvy veteran who could immediately make his presence felt as a run stopper.
He is likely still on the market because of salary disagreements, but at the age of 26, guys like Hankins would rather take a small pay cut than sit on their couch.
This one is more of a band-aid than a concrete fix.
NaVorro Bowman is now on the wrong side of 30 and has lost some lateral agility over the past two seasons. He is no longer the dominant all-around linebacker he once was but he’s still more than competent and would be a welcome addition to the Bengals linebacking corps.
The Raiders moved on from the Penn State product to sign Derrick Johnson, even though Bowman was ranked #11 amongst linebackers last year by Pro Football Focus. He can clearly still produce at a high level, especially against the run. The Nick Vigil experiment hasn’t gone according to plan in Cincinnati and signing Bowman would confirm that in the eyes of the Bengals brass.
With Vontaze Burfict sidelined for a quarter of the season, Bowman could be the string that ties a questionable position group together with his leadership, on and off the field.
Call me crazy but I’m still not convinced Dre Kirkpatrick is the Yin to William Jackson’s Yang.
Maybe he finds consistency in one-one-one coverage this year and proves me wrong but why not bring in a little veteran competition to up the stakes. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is coming off his worst season since 2012 but was still graded as a fringe starter in 2017. The Giants wanted him to take a pay cut, then move to safety and that’s how we arrived in late-June without DRC on a roster.
At the ripe age of 32 I still think DRC can be a solid contributor as the second corner on an NFL team and with question marks surrounding the crop of rookie corners and veterans like Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard, a one-year flyer might be the best option for Rodgers-Cromartie.
The type of contract Breeland wants could make this the biggest long shot out of the group, but like I just mentioned with DRC, Breeland would represent an upgrade over every Bengals cornerback outside of William Jackson.
He didn’t perform insanely well across the board last season, but Breeland was an absolute force defending slot receivers in 2016. That is presumably where the Bengals would utilize him should he sign with Cincinnati over the next few weeks. He would represent a significant performance boost over current nickel corners, KeiVare Russell and Dennard.
The crazy thing with Breeland has been his medical situation, which kept him from signing a three year, $24 million deal with the Panthers earlier in the offseason. He cut his heel while on vacation in the Dominican Republic, leading to a failed physical in the first week of free agency.
The injury might be too serious for the Bengals to consider bringing Breeland into the fold, but with right around $7 million in cap space and a defined win-now mentality, there is no reason why the Orange and Black can’t bring in one more piece to solidify their hopes of lifting the Lombardi Trophy in February.
A prediction for Sunday, plus thoughts on Mayfield and the AFC North
I give a prediction for Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers, plus I react to the Browns’ win last night, discuss Baker Mayfield’s performance and more on today’s podcast. Listen and subscribe below.
Mark Walton is Ready for the Challenge
This Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals will look for production out of their rookie running back they selected in the fourth round. Some expressed concern over the pick, but make no mistake, Mark Walton is ready to showcase his talent.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you saw his performance in the preseason, and you may have had some questions. Let me enlighten you as to why I am looking forward to…no…excited to see Walton get some plays in.
Walton saw his junior season cut short due to an ankle injury, but before that happened, he compiled a pair of impressive games. He became just the fifth Miami Hurricane to ever rush for 200+ yards in a game, and he did it on 11 carries! Here are some highlights from that game:
His last full season of college football, 2016, he was the starter, as a sophomore, for the Hurricanes. He rushed for 1,117 yards and 14 touchdowns. He made it on to the third team, All-ACC, according to the ACSMA and ACC coaches, and that was in a year that guys like Dalvin Cook, James Conner, and Wayne Gallman all made All-Conference in the ACC. Here are a few highlights from his sophomore campaign:
Walton was touted as a steal by some national writers (the same who have dogged the Bengals this year). He’s got winning pedigree, because he won a state title with Booker T. Washington high school, in Miami, and he ran a 4.6 40-yd dash. He profiles, according to NFL.com, as a third-down back with speed on the outside and decent hands. Look for him to spell Gio on some passing downs and, maybe, even see them in, together, if Bill Lazor decides to get creative. I mean, come on, if he’s this good in shorts, he’s a shoe-in to turn some heads when he puts on the pads:
Make sure you’ve got your subscription to the podcast, you’ve rated it five stars, and you keep your Twitter feed tuned in to @lockedonBengals, @jamesrapien, and @jefffcarr for all your daily Bengals content, throughout the season.
The offense should survive without Price and Mixon
I discuss the Bengals’ offense, why they should survive without Billy Price and Joe Mixon, plus I chat with Darqueze Dennard on today’s podcast. Listen and subscribe below.
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