Additions in free agency give Bengals more flexibility in upcoming draft

MIAMI, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 22: Head coach Zac Taylor of the Cincinnati Bengals reacts against the Miami Dolphins during the second quarter at Hard Rock Stadium on December 22, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 22: Head coach Zac Taylor of the Cincinnati Bengals reacts against the Miami Dolphins during the second quarter at Hard Rock Stadium on December 22, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The Cincinnati Bengals were able to upgrade the defense through free agency. Now, they have more flexibility entering the draft next week.

Cincinnati already was in a good position with the No. 1 overall pick and holding potential trade value at No. 33 to start off Day 2 of the draft, but the “needs” list has narrowed down to where the Bengals can now focus on a few specific pieces.

Thanks to scoring big in free agency with the likes of nose tackle D.J. Reader, linebacker Josh Bynes and safety Vonn Bell, second-year coach Zac Taylor likes where the team is at heading into the NFL Draft, which will take place remotely April 23-25.

»NFL DRAFT: Projecting the Bengals picks in all 7 rounds

“I think it allows you to be a little more flexible with the best players that are available at each position,” Taylor said. “ … We feel good about the needs that we addressed in free agency. We feel like it really put us in a good position here, come late April, to make the best decisions for our team throughout the course of the draft.”

Getting Bynes and Bell especially could impact what the Bengals do on Day 2.

The linebacker spot was a big need this offseason, but now Bynes fills a spot vacated by the departure of Nick Vigil and Bell’s arrival allows defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo flexibility to potentially slide Shawn Williams into a linebacker role he essentially was playing much of last year. The Bengals still need linebackers, but the pressure to select one early is off and they can pick based on best value.

“It does take the stress of the draft a little bit, because now you can go get the player you deem is the best player and not pigeonhole yourself into having to pick a particular position,” Taylor said, speaking in general about scoring in free agency. “We really felt like we helped ourselves there and took the pressure off of us.”

»RELATED: Bengals get an ‘A’ in free agency

Cornerback was another area that was going to need addressed through the draft, if not in free agency, but the Bengals went out and got three newcomers at that position with former Vikings Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander and former Titan LeShaun Sims.

Waynes replaces veteran cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who was released, and joins William Jackson III on the outside, while Alexander will slide into the slot role previously filled by Darqueze Dennard and B.W. Webb.

“What (Waynes) brings to the table is toughness, he’s a really solid tackler, he’s got good long speed, he can make plays on the ball, he seems like he has a really high football IQ and has played, to an extent, in a similar system,” Taylor said when asked specifically about Waynes. “… So we just felt like he was a really good fit for us.”

Taylor downplayed how well the depth of the draft pool at certain positions matches up well with the team’s needs, but it should help that the wide receiver and offensive line spots appear to have plenty of solid options.

»RELATED: Despite free agent haul, Bengals still have work to do

The Bengals added former Cowboys guard Xavier Su’a-Filo and former L.A. Rams receiver Mike Thomas in free agency but still have needs at those positions. At wide receiver, A.J. Green was franchise-tagged last month and will have a hard time securing a long-term deal without first proving he’s healthy, and John Ross has yet to play close to a full season.

The offensive line struggled has struggled with consistency the past few years and remains the biggest question mark, especially if the Bengals take Joe Burrow or another quarterback at No. 1, but Taylor said there should be good competition at right guard in particular.

“Bringing in Xavier (Su’a-Filo), the games he played in Dallas, we think he’s a good fit with what we want to do schematically,” Taylor said. “We’ll get Alex Redmond back coming off of injury (and) Billy Price. There are a lot of good options there up front. We feel good. A lot of guys have to come along as well. Fred Johnson, Mike Jordan’s got to improve, Jonah (Williams) is going to be a rookie out there playing left tackle. Certainly, a lot of guys who have high ceilings and we feel like have a lot of potential. We are counting on them making a big jump from last season to this next season.”

In terms of being able to hit needs in the draft, Taylor said everybody is going to view prospects differently.

“Some people may think one position is stronger than we feel it is or vice versa,” Taylor said. “I think this draft is maybe trickier than ones I’ve been with in the past. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder a little bit on some of the prospects that fall in certain areas. It’s exciting to see how it all unfolds on draft night.”

NFL DRAFT

April 23: Round 1, 8-11:30 p.m., ABC, ESPN, NFL

April 23, Rounds 2-3, 7-11:30 p.m., ABC, ESPN, NFL

April 24: Rounds 4-7, 12-7 p.m., ABC, ESPN, NFL