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Is Reggie Nelson’s Time with the Bengals Over in 2016?

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Nov 30, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Cincinnati Bengals free safety Reggie Nelson (20) puts his gloves on as he looks on against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14-13. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Reggie Nelson has been a stalwart for the Bengals in the secondary.  Over the past five seasons Nelson has played at a very high level for Cincinnati and may have had his finest season to date in 2014 despite being repeatedly overlooked for honors such as a Pro Bowl or All-Pro selection.

When the Bengals hit Week Two of the coming season, Nelson will be just about 32 years old.  32-year-olds are considered to be on the down side of their respective careers and it seems the Bengals may be preparing themselves for such a “downside” in spite of the fact that Nelson just had a fantastic season.

During this year’s draft, the Bengals selected not one, but two potential safeties of the future.  USC defensive back Josh Shaw was selected for his versatility in the secondary, but presents like a safety and played the position often during his Southern California days.  He offers much promise at the position going forward.

In the sixth round, Cincinnati scored quite the steal when Fresno State safety Derron Smith remained available.  Based on his build, play style and knowledge of the game, Smith can’t help but conjure thoughts of Nelson.

The combination of these two players along with current reserve safety Shawn Williams–who the Bengals hold in high regard–and starting strong safety George Iloka means the safety room just became awfully full.  With so much talent just waiting to get on the field is it reasonable to assume that 2015 is Reggie Nelson’s curtain call in the Queen City?

The basic premises for this argument are twofold: Nelson’s age and his contract.  Again, Nelson turns 32 on September 21 of this year.  This means when the 2016 seasons rolls around he’ll be just about 33.  Most NFL defensive backs don’t play this long and the few that do see a sharp decline in their effectiveness typically.

In addition to this reality, it just so happens that Reggie Nelson’s contract runs out after this season.  He’ll obviously make the team this season, which means he’ll have earned the entirety of his four-year/$18 million deal.  But will Cincinnati want to re-sign him at 33 years old and likely commanding a salary similar to his current one ($4.5M per season average)?  More to the point, will the Bengals want to do so with all that safety talent sitting behind him?

The way things stand currently, and though it pains me to say so, the answer is likely no. The Bengals will have the opportunity to train Shaw and Smith for a year while Williams continues to prepare for his big moment.  The Bengals have a high opinion of Williams, which alone could be damning for Nelson, especially given how versatile Iloka has become.  But with Shaw and Smith potentially becoming solid players, the outlook for Nelson in Cincinnati is bleak.

Also worth noting, with so many players needing to be re-signed following the upcoming season, that Nelson money becomes awfully valuable.

Reggie Nelson has become a great player for the Bengals, and likely one of the most unheralded, yet deserving of it, players in the NFL.  He’s commanded the secondary for years while helping lead it in becoming one of the NFL’s most effective units.  But time has no counterforce and Nelson’s time in Cincinnati may be coming to a close.

Next: Derron Smith Could Prove to Be Steal of this Year's Draft

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