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Free agent wishlist: No. 1

Sign this man! Now!

Sign this man! Now!

With free agency set to begin March 11, BengalsGab’s part-time blogger (he knows not to quit his day job) Florida Bengal is counting down his top 10 targets the Bengals could realistically acquire and should look at once free agency officially opens up.

If you say to me “Florida Bengal, if you could have any free agent (within reason) join the Bengals this offseason, who would it be?” I would answer “Toby Gerhart” without a moment’s hesitation.

The Bengals haven’t had a top-level between-the-tackles back since Corey Dillon (sorry, Rudi Johnson and BJGE) but Gerhart has the potential to be just that in the smash-mouth AFC North.

Marvin Lewis is on record saying that the team doesn’t want Giovanni Bernard’s touches to significantly increase, but with Hue Jackson taking over the offense, the running game should become increasingly important for this team.

A season ago, BenJarvus Green-Ellis averaged a career-low 3.4 yards per carry on 220 attempts behind an offensive line that is perceived as a strong run-blocking unit. He’ll be 29 before the season starts and his claim to fame — his sure hands — have been anything but as he’s fumbled five times in two seasons in Cincinnati.

Gerhart will be 27 years old this month but my vote to win the 2009 Heisman Trophy has just 276 carries in his career with a 4.7 average. Hands are a concern as he’s fumbled seven times on 353 touches (he has 77 catches) but Gerhart’s claim to fame isn’t his hands, it’s his ability to run between the tackles combined with skill as a pass protector and pass catcher. He’s averaged nearly 20 catches per season even though his snaps have been limited because he’s played behind the league’s best running back.

I’ve been counting down to the expiration of Gerhart’s rookie contract and now that he’s on the market, the Bengals need to strike. Giving both Bernard and Gerhart 15-20 touches per game would be a great recipe for success, taking the pressure off Andy Dalton and the defense, and delivering the Bengals another division title and a long-awaited playoff victory (or more).

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