Even without an existing CBA, teams have been permitted to designate franchise players, and under the current rules, they can also designate up to 2 transition players. Many teams have tagged franchise players including all 3 divisional rivals. Cleveland tagged kicker Phil Dawson, Pittsburgh tagged LB Lamar Woodley, and Baltimore tagged DT Haloti Ngata.
We debated in this space who the Bengals might tag, with CB Johnathan Joseph and RB Cedric Benson looking like the only two players worthy of the tag. We argued for Benson. Word is coming out that for the second year in a row the Bengals will not tag anyone, leaving both Joseph and Benson to test the waters of free agency (whenever that may begin).
If true, it’s an interesting gamble by the team. Letting Joseph walk seems reasonable, considering the hefty pricetag for franchising cornerbacks (over 14 million/year), and the fact that their most steady CB, Leon Hall, is heading into the last year of his contract.
Benson, however, is a bit of a surprise. Why would the team not work to secure their bell-cow back? Especially when it has been widely reported by Marvin Lewis wants to return to a smash-mouth, run-based offense. Without Benson, the team will most certainly need to draft at least one runningback, and make a push for other veteran help.
I suppose the argument here is that runningbacks are relatively cheap and easy to replace, or so current wisdom would have us believe. I would argue against that line of thinking. After all, the Bengals have struggled in the past with poor runningbacks as recently has 2008, when Benson was called off the couch due to the failures of Chris Perry and Kenny Irons.
Perhaps the Bengals are balking at the pricetag for Benson as a franchise player (approximately 9 million) and think they can bring him back for less, or get a comparable alternative. There has been speculation in the past that the team would pursue Raiders RB Michael Bush of Louisville. Bush has good size at 6-1 and 245, but he never topped 1,000 yards and only started 10 games in three years in Oakland. Plus he got a DUI arrest early this month in Indiana.
Other backs to be had in a fairly deep free agent pool include DeAngelo Williams of Carolina, Ahmad Bradshaw of the Giants, BenJarvis Green-Ellis of New England, Mike Tolbert of San Diego, Ronnie Brown of Miami, Cadillac Williams of Tampa Bay, and Joseph Addai of Indianapolis.
Perhaps they feel the depth of this year’s class will drive down the prices. They may be right, but it’s a gamble for sure, and aruguably one they don’t have the depth, or political rope to make at this point.
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