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Three Remaining Free Agents for the Bengals to Acquire Before the Draft
Unlike most of their recent offseasons, the Cincinnati Bengals entered the spring intending to “reload” rather than “rebuild.”
After nearly capturing their first Super Bowl in franchise history, the Bengals had an aggressive offseason to ensure their Lombardi Trophy run was no fluke. Cincinnati spent most of its efforts and resources on adding to the offensive line, signing OT La’el Collins, OG Alex Cappa, and C Ted Karras.
Although they’ve added three new starters to their weakest position group, free agency isn’t over for the defending AFC champions. With a promising amount of cap space to play with, there are three players the Bengals should explore signing before next week’s NFL Draft in Las Vegas.
CB Joe Haden
With the offensive line in much better shape, Cincy’s cornerback room should become the next priority.
The Bengals revamped their CB group last offseason, acquiring Chidobe Awuzie, Eli Apple, and Mike Hilton. Both Awuzie and Hilton served as crucial members of the team’s improved defense. Meanwhile, Apple was the subject of mockery and ridicule due to his on-field mistakes and off-field trash talk.
Cincinnati re-upped with Apple this offseason on a one-year deal. But that shouldn’t force the Bengals to enter the 2022 season with the controversial corner starting again.
At 33 years old, Joe Haden isn’t the Pro Bowler he once was. But the former Cleveland Brown and Pittsburgh Steeler provides a level of veteran maturity Apple doesn’t offer. Not to mention, his 12 seasons within the AFC North could be an asset for the reigning division champs.
Although Haden didn’t register a single interception in 2021, he’s still good enough to land a starting role somewhere on a one-year deal. That somewhere could be in western Ohio with the resurgent Bengals.
DL Sheldon Richardson
Cincinnati’s defensive line took a hit with the departure of DT Larry Ogunjobi. While the 27-year-old is still available after his three-year megadeal with the Chicago Bears fell through, his big 2021 season should price him out of the Bengals’ budget.
Currently, B.J. Hill and D.J. Reader occupy the D-line’s two interior spots. Both are capable starters, notably the surprising Hill. However, Cincy would be wise to look at a proven veteran capable of upgrading the unit.
In 2021, the Minnesota Vikings took a flier on Sheldon Richardson. The nine-year veteran landed 13 quarterback hits and 2.5 sacks before hitting free agency again this spring.
Richardson offers a trait seen less and less in today’s NFL: Durability. The 2013 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year hasn’t missed a game in four years and has suited up for 15 or more games in eight of his nine seasons.
Even if the Bengals aren’t 100 percent convinced he’s an upgrade over Reader (although he very well could be), Richardson would be a smart depth signing to bolster their pass rush and offer comfort in the event of an injury.
OG Ereck Flowers
To Cincy’s credit, the club wasted little time bolstering the O-line. Collins, Cappa, and Karras should play a significant role in protecting franchise signal-caller Joe Burrow in 2022 and beyond. That said, there’s still one weakness worth addressing.
Second-year guard Jackson Carman didn’t exactly deliver on his lofty second-round selection in 2021. The former Clemson Tiger made six starts last season, totaling five penalties and earning a 56.3 grade from Pro Football Focus. With Quinton Spain unlikely to return in free agency, Carman is now starting alongside LT Jonah Williams.
Considering the Bengals passed on OT Penei Sewell in the ‘21 first-round and addressed their line with Carman, the franchise holds him in high regard. But that shouldn’t keep them from adding a veteran who can give the 22-year-old some serious competition.
A former top-10 pick, Ereck Flowers has revitalized his career since switching from tackle to guard. The seven-year vet has made 46 of a possible 49 starts since 2019, most recently starting for the Washington Commanders (formerly Football Team).
Flowers isn’t a star by any means. But he would be an upgrade over Carman for the time being, giving the Bengals five tried and true veterans protecting Burrow.
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