Greg DePalma’s take on the Bengal’s free agency outlook. Hear Greg & Ourlads’ Dan Shonka weekly on Thursdays on the Prime Sports Network: http://primesportsnetwork.com/category/pro-football/
Top free agents
-WR Brandon Lafell
-OT Andrew Whitworth
-OG Kevin Zeitler
-NT Domata Peko
-CB Dre Kirkpatrick
-RB…The Bengals appear to have lost faith in Jeremy Hill and they can’t expect the diminutive Giovani Bernard to carry the load coming off a torn ACL. Since both Hill and Bernard were drafted in the second round maybe that’s where the Bengals will look again this April.
-TE…Tyler Eifert is a top player who hasn’t been able to stay healthy since his rookie season. He was placed on IR after back surgery in late December. The Bengals can wait and see if he finally regains his health with one more year left on his rookie deal. But with a class of quality players available in this year’s draft, President Mike Brown and company could address it sooner rather than later.
-OL…Since their top two picks in 2015, tackles Cedric Ogbuehi (first pick) and Jake Fisher (second pick) have yet to blossom into reliable starters, it appears the Bengals will re-sign Whitworth even though he is nine years older than Zeitler. No matter, Brown will need to add at least two new players here.
-DL…The Bengals have two elite players on the line (DT Geno Atkins/DE Carlos Dunlap) and two major holes. Peko has been overrated for years and should be junked while Michael Johnson was awful last season and could be a cap casualty. If tackles Marcus Hardison and Andrew Billings can return from season-ending injuries the Bengals can concentrate early on the outside. 2013 second-round pick Margus Hunt never grew into a starter and won’t be missed.
-MLB…Speaking of overrated payers, the Bengals can add more cap space by cutting Rey Maualuga and drafting his replacement in the second round.
-CB…This is a major need with Adam Jones’ recent arrest, the lack of talent progression from 2014 first-round pick Darqueze Dennard and the season-ending injury last August to last year’s first-round pick William Jackson (torn pectoral muscle). Re-signing Kirkpatrick should be a no-brainer, but even if that happens the Bengals need to add another top-tier player here.
Key Injuries/games missed
Rookies Jackson and Billings (torn meniscus in camp) missed all season and were expected to be key contributors on defense last season.
On offense the Bengals ended the season without three of their top playmakers in WR A.J. Green (hamstring), TE Tyler Eifert (back) and RB Giovani Bernard (knee). All three are expected to return.
The offensive line is below average even if they bring back Whitworth and the defense has some big holes. Brown stays away from signing big deals from outside the organization which means most of their issues will have to be addressed through the draft.
Knowing how the Bengals enjoy taking chances on players with questionable characters and the fact they’ll be looking for a running back early, I would keep an eye on Leonard Fournette if he were still available at nine. If he’s not, Dalvin Cook would be a great consolation.
Other players they could target if they go defensive with that first pick include lineman like Solomon Thomas, DeMarcus Walker and Taco Charlton. If they opt to take a corner first they could grab local boy Marshon Lattimore from Cleveland.