October 21, 2014

Focus On: Cornerbacks

Sometimes in sports, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I would say that was the case with the Bengals’ corners this year. Largely a group of cast-offs from other teams, the team ended up ranked 7th in passing defense for the season. Who would have guessed that to start the season?

Leon Hall: signed through 2015
Coming off of an Achilles injury, there was no way to know what to expect from Hall this year. He got torched frequently to start the year, but as his play improved–along with the return of Pat Sims–the defense became the tough unit we are used to seeing. Hall’s salary more than triples to $6M this season. With the Bengals leading the league in cap space, however, there is no chance of him being a cap casualty.

Adam Jones: unrestricted free agent
It took him a long time to stay healthy for a full season, but he proved to be a valuable commodity once he could stay on the field. Currently atop PFF’s ratings for CBs at +11.1, he will generate interest. I would like to think that both he and the team are happy enough with each other to work out a respectable 2 or 3 year deal. Three legit corners is a working minimum in the league now.

Terence Newman: unrestricted free agent
What a pleasant surprise Newman turned out to be, much like Nate Clements in 2011. His resurgence under Mike Zimmer ought to be enough to get him to want to return. Another deal makes sense for the team, too, as depth at corner is something the teams hasn’t had in a while.

Jason Allen: signed through 2013
If Newman is the thrill of victory, then Allen was the agony of defeat. He only got into 4 games, making a grand total of 3 tackles all season. Due $3M for 2013, can he survive past June 1 unless the position is ravaged by injury again? Few will be shocked, or disappointed, if he doesn’t.

Dre Kirkpatrick: signed through 2015
He didn’t make it very far through the rookie learning curve. An off-season without crutches will do him a world of good, but he has a long way to go before he starts opposite Leon Hall. Re-signing Jones and Newman buys the time they need until Dre is ready to take over.

Brandon Ghee: signed through 2013
Time is running short on Ghee, who was drafted as insurance in case the team could not keep Johnathan Joseph. Full of promise, he has not been able to stay on the field. He missed all of 2012 on IR with a wrist injury. If he can stay healthy in 2013, he could make a good fifth corner. Right now, that’s a big “if”.

Shaun Prater: signed through 2015
Ditto Ghee, only he has a longer leash. If both he and Ghee are healthy and playing well when the season starts, I could see Ghee making the team while Prater waits on the practice squad, since he is eligible and Ghee is not. But Prater will not make that an easy decision for coaches. A long, hard-fought camp battle between Ghee and Prater will be a good thing for the team.

Chris Lewis-Harris: signed through 2014
You probably only remember the college free agent for his 15-yard penalty for interfering with a fair catch in the playoff game in Houston. He is likely to find himself on the practice squad again in 2013, if he is employed by the Bengals at all come September.

Taveon Rogers: signed through 2014
Rogers could not stick as a receiver, so he flipped to defense in an attempt to make the team. A pre-season shoulder injury derailed those plans. If he has speed and hands, perhaps he could be a dark horse to challenge for a spot during camp. Perhaps.

Free Agent Wish List
Of course, this discussion has to begin with Darrelle Revis. What’s not to like? He would be the ideal counter to Torrey Smith and Sheldon Brown, noticeably shifting the balance of power in the AFC North. Despite the Bengals having plenty of cashm to sign him, the idea has all of the earmarks of a pipe dream.

The Jets won’t get what they hope to receive (multiple firsts to a 1st & a 3rd) for a guy coming off a significant knee injury. But the Bengals do not surrender high draft picks easily if at all. While they can afford his salary this year, they are unlikely to want to pay him the $10M-$11M/year that he wants for his next deal. And as someone who has proven he will hold out to get what he wants, would he dare to begin angling for that money this year? By my Bengals math, High Picks + Major Money + Injury Questions = No Deal.

A name that intrigues me is Keenan Lewis. The Steelers surely want him back since he emerged as a quality defender this year. So what not weaken a rival and strength yourself at the same time? Leodis McKelvin is another guy who, like Lewis, could be a solid addition at a reasonable price. Same for Michael Adams of the Cardinals, who are tight on cash and will be looking to re-sign Greg Toler first.

Draft Options
My spider senses tell me that the Bengals will not target a CB until the third day of the draft. The needs at LB, S and on offense simply outweigh any need at this spot. Unless they let both Jones and Newman sign elsewhere. With Hall and Kirkpatrick signed for another 3 years, and with Ghee and Prater for depth, keeping Jones and Newman is the key to keeping a strong unit. And giving Allen’s money to a guy like Lewis makes them all the better.