As NFL free agency approaches its third week, the Cincinnati Bengals ledger shows seven signings and six departures with three players from the 2016 roster still unsigned.
The departures are tackle Andrew Whitworth (Los Angeles), guard Kevin Zeitler (Cleveland), running back Rex Burkhead (New England), defensive tackle Domata Peko (Denver), linebacker Karlos Dansby (Arizona) and defensive end Margus Hunt (Indianapolis).
›› RELATED: Kirkpatrick happy to return to Bengals
The signings include five players who were on the Bengals roster for all or part of 2016 – cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, wide receiver Brandon LaFell, kicker Randy Bullock, offensive lineman T.J. Johnson and tackle Eric Winston – along two newcomers in offensive lineman Andre Smith (Minnesota) and linebacker Kevin Minter (Arizona) .
Of the three remaining free agents from the 2016 roster – defensive end Wallace Gilbery, running back and Pro Bowl special teams player Cedric Peerman and cornerback Chykie Brown – it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team bring back Gilberry and Peerman given the value they provide at a relatively low cost.
There also is a chance the Bengals could sign another player or two off the open market, given that they meet that same value-to-cost parameter at a position where the team would like to add depth.
Here are five positions the Bengals could target with additional free agent signings ahead of the next month’s NFL Draft:
The Bengals have a great need for more pass rushers, and they likely will address it early in the draft. But there still are two dozen defensive ends available. A few, such as Jared Odrick and Mario Williams, don’t fit the Bengals budget. But there are plenty of other options, such as Dwight Freeney, whom the Bengals showed interest in last year.
Brandon Thompson and Andrew Billings missed all of last year with knee injuries, and while both are expecting to participate in OTAs, there are obvious questions about whether they can return to full form. No position is more in need of depth, and there are two available free agents who have experience in the Bengals system and should come with a reasonable price tag – Gilberry, who can play end or tackle, and Devon Still.
The addition of Smith and listing him as a guard/tackle could create a camp battle between him and Johnson. But Smith is inexperienced as an interior lineman and has injury issues, and while it’s been impressive that Johnson has stuck around five years as a seventh-round pick, he’s still largely unproven, as is Christian Westerman, last year’s fifth-round pick.
The Bengals have made clear their desire for more speed at the wide receiver position, but they are most likely to get it in the draft. They don’t lack for depth at the position, just top-end talent, and that will come much cheaper in the draft than it will in free agency. Still, there are some receivers available who have had success in the league (Michael Floyd, Stevie Johnson and Cecil Shorts among others) and waiting one out until the price falls into a reasonable range could be an option.
With Burkhead off to New England, Peerman a free agent and Giovani Bernard recovering from a Nov. 20 ACL injury, the Bengals have one healthy back on the roster in Jeremy Hill, and he’s coming off back-to-back subpar seasons.
They’ll target back in the draft, possibly early and likely often, but the team still needs to bolster its depth there simply to have enough bodies to fill out the reps during spring drills.
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