The Cincinnati Bengals are coming off back-to-back playoff appearances. They are loaded with young, talented players. It seems they are a team ready to contend and still on the rise.
The Bengals have already started bringing back some of their numerous free agents before they're gobbled up by other teams. The special teams unit is pretty much intact with the signings of punter Huber, kicker Nugent, long snapper Harris, and running back Peerman. Cincinnati also tendered line backer Rey, safety Miles and slot receiver Hawkins. All these players were key in the Bengals top ranked special teams group in 2012.
Cincinnati is also working on keeping the league's most dominant defensive line rotation intact. They have placed the franchise tag on defensive end Michael Johnson and have re-signed Wallace Gillberry, the back up defensive end who finished the season with six-and-a-half sacks.
There are a lot of signings yet to take place if the Bengals' coaches get back everyone they want, but the top priority, pointed out by most analysts, is the big, right tackle, Andre Smith.
Smith began his career in Cincinnati as a first round pick, but quickly fell 'victim' to a hold out, followed by injury. His career didn't take off the next year, either, as he was injured again. Finally overcoming these early career set backs, Smith has now put together a couple of very good seasons. This past season, some called him the number one right tackle in the entire league.
Now, Smith is ready to be paid like one of the top tackles in the league. The problem lies in the fact that he is the Bengals' right tackle. Right tackles usually don't get paid left tackle money. While other teams may want to start Smith at left tackle, Cincinnati has to weigh its options carefully. They do not need a left tackle since that spot is already filled by Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth, and for less money than Smith wants as a right tackle.
Also Cincinnati can't lose sight of the big contracts they will have to hand out next year to players the likes of Pro Bowlers Andy Dalton, and A. J. Green, among others.
There is also the fact that this years draft class is loaded with talent at the offensive tackle position, including four tackles projected, by some, to be Pro Bowl caliber players early in their careers. Two of these players are likely to still be on the board when the Bengals make their first selection at 21st overall. A starting caliber, rookie tackle would be a bargain compared to the $9 million price tag that comes with Smith.
Anthony Collins is yet another factor in the mix at tackle for the Bengals. Already on the roster and a veteran in the system, any rookie may struggle to beat him out of a starting job, especially considering Collins' pass protection ability.
I like Smith. I'd like to see him back in Cincinnati next season. He is the best, surest bet at right tackle for the Bengals in 2013. But, he's not the only game in town. It would be nice to see him back with a long term deal at about $6.75 million per year. This doesn't seem likely to happen, but I think the team holds a better hand than Smith this particular off-season.