In the weeks since the completion of the NFL draft, I have been looking at the various position groups in an effort to shed light on where the team currently stands with their personnel and to foreshadow needed moves once free agency begins. You can see the history of these articles in my archives. Today, I focus on the cornerbacks.
The Bengals cornerback tandem of Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall has been one of the NFL’s best the past two seasons, with Hall intercepting 10 passes and Joseph chipping in 9 with two returned for touchdowns. Joseph is expected to be an unrestricted free agent when the NFL offseason resumes, as he will be entering his sixth season in the NFL. Hall, who was one of the most friendly players I met at training camp last season, will be an unrestricted free agent in 2012. Hall has been squeaky clean since being drafted while Joseph had a marijuana arrest back in 2007. All indications are that the team won’t keep both players. It appears that Joseph will cash in elsewhere and the team will attempt, as usual, to extend Hall as he heads into the final season under contract.
While Hall and Joseph have been the most notable of our corners, a man once unable to stay out of the press has quietly done his job since his arrival last spring. Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones has managed to stay out of trouble and even had some big moments during the 2010 campaign before an injury cut his season short, including a memorable play against the Falcons where he stripped Roddy White of the ball and ran it back for the go-ahead touchdown after trailing 24-3 to the Atlanta Falcons. The team also returns 2010 3rd round compensatory pick Brandon Ghee, who played in six games before ending the season on IR, and 2011 7th round pick Kory Lindsey of Southern Illinois. They will compete for a roster spot with 2009 6th round pick Morgan Trent and practice squad veteran Rico Murray. When injuries mounted late in the season, the team signed an assortment of replacement parts such as former Bengal 2rd round pick Keiwan Ratliff and street free agents David Pender, Jonathan Wade, and Fred Bennett. Of the four, Pender may have a shot to make the team after signing a three year deal in December.
Best case scenario: If the Bengals could convince Joseph to stay instead of pursuing big money, then the Hall – Joseph tandem could be one of the best in the league. Should Joseph leave, Ghee will be counted on to show a lot more in his second season than he did in the injury shortened 2010 campaign. Jones was productive as a kick returner and nickel corner, and if he makes it back from the neck injury he should be the starter alongside Hall.
Worst case scenario: Injuries ravaged the team in 2011, and another season of bad luck could derail things quickly. I really wanted Patrick Peterson in the 2011 draft, but the team opted to go for the offensive player, AJ Green of Georgia, in typical Mike Brown fashion. With the likely departure of Joseph on day one of free agency, we won’t have as much depth as we did last season. Hall is entering a contract year, so the future of the position is up in the air beyond this season. Nice planning, Mikey!
Another Possibility: If a CBA deal isn’t agreed to and the NFL loses their appeal to keep the lockout going indefinitely, Judge Susan Nelson could compel the league to start work immediately under 2010 rules. If that is the case, then Joseph would be a restricted free agent and the Bengals would get draft pick compensation and the right to match any offer he signs since they gave him the ‘just in case’ tender offer in February. I don’t think that will happen at this point, but it is possible.
Outlook: I understand the desire to not want to pay two guys like they are ‘shut down corners’, but Joseph and Hall are among the better corners to have played in the Queen City for a long time. If given the choice of the two, I would keep Hall and let Joseph walk, and that appears what we are planning to do. Letting Joseph sign elsewhere makes keeping Hall a major priority, which may lead to him driving up his asking price beyond the team’s shallow pockets. Should we lose both, a position of strength instantly becomes a massive liability. We have seen it before under Mike Brown, and we will surely see it again, just hopefully not anytime soon.