As I wrote earlier, the news that Tampa Bay has signed Derrick Ward means that the options for the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency are closing down rapidly. They need to check off some needs before the draft, otherwise they will be faced with too many holes and not enough picks to fill them.
Going into free agency, I had four players on top of my “re-sign” list: Shayne Graham, Chris Crocker, Cedric Benson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. So far, the Bengals have retained Graham and Crocker, and lost Housh. OK, fine: they drafted two wide receivers in the second and third rounds last year, and one of them, Andre Caldwell, looks well-suited to replace T.J. Critics will point to injury problems Caldwell had last year, but T.J. had injury problems early, too. An opening day lineup of Chad Johnson, Caldwell, and Chris Henry doesn’t strike me as the worst in the NFL, y’know?
That isn’t to say I wouldn’t like Laveranues Coles. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Jets, I’m familiar with Coles, and I think he would be a great addition to the team. He’s had a hell of a career catching lots of balls from crappy QBs and I think it would be fun to see what he could do with Carson Palmer slinging the rock at him. (After all, this is the guy who said that the JUGS machine threw harder than Brett Favre.) But in the final analysis, the Bengals have options at wide receiver. At running back, they have Chris Perry.
Need I say more?
Pay Benson. Yes, it’s a risk. But he has talent — he wasn’t a first-round pick for nothing — and never really got a fair shake in Chicago. He’s kept his nose clean since the “boating” incident, which appears to have been bogus anyhow. And he played hard last season in Cincy. What are we talking about here? Derrick Ward got $17 million over four years. How about $15 million over three for Benson? Heck, be magnanimous and give him $20 million over four. You still have change left versus the T.J. offer.
Showing Cedric the money means the Bengals can spend the first three rounds of the April draft addressing the offensive line and the defensive front seven. Otherwise, they will be pushed into a running back in the first couple rounds. All their tries at that in recent years — Perry and Kenny Irons — have ended in disaster.
Roll the dice. Pay Benson.
Just my opinion.