Feb 2, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Seattle Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith (53) hoists the Lombardi trophy after being selected as the most valuable player of Super Bowl XLVIII against the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium. The Seahawks defeated the Broncos 43-8. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Next Sunday is Super Bowl XLIX and for two teams worth of players, it’s an opportunity to perform on the sport’s biggest stage. For a specific group of players, this opportunity will be especially important, as they’ll be facing free agency come this March.
The game also provides teams around the league to analyze these players and possibly establish an interest in signing them. Despite the Bengals’ history within free agency, they may be watching this year more closely than they have in the past. Marvin Lewis recently had this to say regarding free agency.
"“Oh yeah, (Mike Brown) is the one leading the charge. He doesn’t want to hear, ‘We will be better when we get these guys back.’ No, we need to get better. He knows we need to get better. He’s pushing people to identify players that will make us a better football team in free agency.”"
With Brown supposedly on board, the Bengals approach to free agency may actually be changing this year. With a new approach potentially coming this March, here’s some players the Bengals should be watching come next Sunday.
Last year’s Super Bowl MVP could make a difference this year also. Being the athletic linebacker that he is, Malcolm Smith may find himself matching up with Patriots’ All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Dec 28, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith (53) against the St. Louis Rams at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks defeated the Rams 20-6 to clinch the NFC West division title. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Last year, Smith played a career game in the Super Bowl gaining recognition despite his reserve role on the defense.
The Bengals have struggled to cover tight ends in the past and have lacked athleticism within their linebackers. Smith could provide that for the Bengals while also being a reasonably priced free agent. His exit from Seattle is far from a given, but if Smith was offered a larger role in a defense–he was involved in only 27.9% of defensive snaps this year–he could be lured away.
As an aside, even if the Bengals choose not to pursue Smith, they could learn a lot from the Seahawks. Taylor Mays‘ size and athleticism is very comparable Smith’s. Due to Mays’ struggle to establish himself as an NFL safety, he was used as a linebacker at times over the past couple of seasons. With the Bengals lacking depth at linebacker, maybe they should begin employing Mays as a full-time linebacker, emulating the Seahawks in this way.