ANALYSIS: A look at the Bengals roster as the draft looms

Philadelphia Eagles' Miles Sanders (26) is tackled by New Orleans Saints' Malcolm Jenkins (27) and Trey Hendrickson (91) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Philadelphia Eagles' Miles Sanders (26) is tackled by New Orleans Saints' Malcolm Jenkins (27) and Trey Hendrickson (91) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Credit: Chris Szagola

Credit: Chris Szagola

Cincinnati active in free agency for second straight season

The Cincinnati Bengals have been active again in free agency, particularly on the defensive side for a second straight season.

Third-year coach Zac Taylor said their first five moves in free agency give the organization some flexibility with the draft (April 29 through May 1), where the Bengals have the No. 5 pick. With the 49ers trading with Miami for the No. 3 spot Friday, it looks like the Bengals will have plenty of options as three quarterbacks now are projected to go off the board before their pick.

Most mock drafts predict the Bengals select offensive tackle Penei Sewell out of Oregon or LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who played with Joe Burrow in 2018 and 2019.

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Here’s a look at where the roster stands through the early part of free agency and about a month before the draft.

Quarterbacks

The Bengals traded 2019 fourth-round pick Ryan Finley to Houston and re-signed Brandon Allen to a one-year contract, leaving Allen as the lone backup to Joe Burrow for now. Taylor said earlier this month he would want to take three or four quarterbacks into training camp, so they could use a late-round draft pick to add to the room.

Allen was a late addition going into camp last year as a free agent and knows Taylor’s system well enough to return for another season. For now, he would be the starter if Burrow isn’t ready for the opener – though Taylor said Burrow appears to be on track in his rehab from ACL and MCL surgery.

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Running backs

Joe Mixon has fully recovered from the foot injury that sidelined him for the final 10 games in 2020, and he will be surrounded by much the same cast in the running back room this season.

Samaje Perine re-signed on a two-year deal, and Giovani Bernard, for now, is set to return for a ninth year before his contract expires in 2022. Reports this week surfaced indicating the Bengals have talked to multiple teams about possibly trading the 2013 second-round draft pick.

Trayveon Williams heads into his third season, and Jacques Patrick signed a Reserves/Futures contract in January.

Wide receivers

Burrow can’t go wrong targeting Tyler Boyd or Tee Higgins, but Chase would make a fine addition to the group, which needs another big playmaker to replace A.J. Green after he left for Arizona in free agency.

Auden Tate is entering the final year of his rookie contract with something to prove after he was limited to nine games in 2020, and Mike Thomas is back on a one-year deal. Among the other departures are John Ross, the 2017 first-rounder who signed with the Giants, and Alex Erickson, who signed a one-year contract with Houston.

The Bengals were in the mix for former Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay, but signed a big contract from the New York Giants instead.

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Tight ends

C.J. Uzomah was poised for a big year before he tore his Achilles tendon in a Week 2 game at Cleveland, but Drew Sample stepped up as a pass-catching option for Burrow and showed tremendous improvement in his second season.

Now both return but the unit could still use another capable target, and some think Florida tight end Kyle Pitts would make for a unique mismatch weapon for Burrow.

Mason Schreck and Mitchell Wilcox are the other two tight ends on the roster.

Offensive line

The Bengals signed tackle Riley Reiff as their lone offensive addition so far, and he’s slated to play right tackle while Jonah Williams remains at left tackle.

Reiff, 32, said he could also play guard if asked to move inside, which some speculate would be possible if the team drafts an offensive tackle with one of its first two picks. Northwestern’s Reshawn Slater and Oregon’s Sewell seem to be the most likely options, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the team takes two offensive linemen in this draft.

The Bengals also reportedly were finalizing a deal to re-sign Quinton Spain, so he remains another guard option, along with Xavier Su’a-Filo, Michael Jordan and Billy Price and guard/tackle Hakeem Adeniji. Trey Hopkins is expected to return from an ACL injury at or near the start of the season.

Defensive line

Carl Lawson signed with the New York Jets, and the Bengals quickly replaced him with former Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson, then added defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi while releasing Geno Atkins.

Washington Football Team’s all-time sack leader in Ryan Kerrigan also visited this week, and if he signs, Cincinnati could be looking at a draft almost entirely consisting of offensive players.

Sam Hubbard and Khalid Kareem also return at the end spots, and D.J. Reader will be looking to bounce back from injury at the nose tackle position with Kahlil McKenzie currently the only other defensive tackle on the roster.

Linebackers

The Bengals seem fairly satisfied with the progress of their young linebackers. They drafted three of them last year with Akeem Davis-Gaither and Logan Wilson especially getting opportunities to grow in Year 1, along with Markus Bailey as a seventh-round surprise. Germaine Pratt was a third-round pick in 2019.

Josh Bynes was a valuable asset as a veteran free agent signing last year, and he remains an option to bring back as he has not yet signed elsewhere. Otherwise, not much has been said about the linebacker room this offseason, but they’ll need to do something to add to the group.

Secondary

After letting William Jackson go in free agency, the Bengals added Chidobe Awuzie, Mike Hilton and Eli Apple to the cornerback room. Hilton will fill the slot corner role previously held by Mackenzie Alexander, and Apple adds depth with Trae Waynes also returning from a season-long injury that kept him from making his Bengals debut in 2020. Darius Phillips, Jalen Davis and Tony Brown fill out the room.

At the safety position, Jessie Bates is back and potentially awaiting a contract extension, Vonn Bell returns for a second season and Brandon Wilson recently res-signed to a two-year contract. They are expected to be joined by former Falcons safety Ricardo Allen, who reportedly came to terms on a deal this week.

Special teams

Austin Seibert returns at kicker, punter Kevin Huber and long snapper Clark Harris both re-signed on one-year deals, and it seems as though Phillips and Wilson will be handling returns, unless the Bengals are able to find someone in the draft who can fill one of those roles.

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