CINCINNATI -- This is the time of year on the NFL calendar to look back on a season and to ask "what if?"
It's a question that's mostly associated with personnel moves that are or aren't made, or coaching decisions that either fell flat or were regarded positively.
In this week's Cincinnati Bengals mailbag, we open with a question involving one "what if" scenario that Bengals fans have been buzzing about this past week:
@ColeyHarvey if you could go back would you do the Percy Harvin trade & reconstruct it knowing how dynamic & explosive he is?
— Makaveli & Aaliyah (@LilMakaveli07) February 13, 2015
@ColeyHarvey. Thanks for the question, Aaliyah and Makaveli. I've seen similar questions posed to myself and other Bengals reporters throughout the week, and I can't lie, I'm still surprised every time I do. If I were in the Bengals' war room back in October, I can assure you I would not have entertained thoughts about executing a trade for Harvin. Would I sign him in free agency? Maybe I would think about it, but even that thought wouldn't last long in my mind. Each time I ponder the Bengals and the trade deadline or the Bengals and free agency, I'm reminded of what Marvin Lewis and others in charge of personnel decisions have said for years.
It is their contention that it's incredibly difficult to suddenly inject key players from the outside into key positions. In most cases, they would rather build with the players they've drafted and worked with for a while than to add men who they are unsure will get along with the rest of the locker room. Chemistry is real in the NFL. The Bengals believe that. If the reports about Harvin's troubles getting along with teammates in Seattle are true, then you don't touch him with a 50-foot pole if you're Cincinnati. It doesn't matter how dynamic and explosive he may be.
@ColeyHarvey if they move Hewitt to te. do they draft a fullback and one more te. also how many wr do they draft. harvin yes or no.
— 1stbaseman44 (@1stbaseman44) February 13, 2015
@ColeyHarvey. We'll start with Harvin, Mr. McCovey (please tell me you got the 1B - 44 reference there). Again, it's a no. For those who are wondering why so many are curious about whether Harvin could be a Bengal, peruse this from earlier in the week from my ESPN colleague, Jets reporter Rich Cimini. It's possible the Jets release Harvin next month, meaning teams like the Bengals could sign him. Couple that with comments Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has made this offseason about seeking fast receivers, and you understand why some in stripes are salivating. Again, I'm not sold on Harvin because of the potential locker room issues. Also, his numbers (from Seattle and New York combined) from last season aren't that far off from what running back Giovani Bernard had. As a receiver, Harvin caught just eight passes more than Bernard for 134 more yards. Bernard also had two touchdown catches while Harvin had one. Harvin also had three fumbles. Bernard had none.
As for the receiver part of your question, I can't give you a number, but I do believe drafting a wideout is in play for Cincinnati much more than signing Harvin would be. As for the Ryan Hewitt question, technically he's always been a tight end, they just liked what he gave them as a blocking H-back. My thought is that he'll remain in that role because he did so well with it. That means no fullback gets drafted, and it means that if Jermaine Gresham isn't re-signed next month, Cincinnati will have to look in free agency or the draft for another pass-catching tight end to pair with Tyler Eifert.
@ColeyHarvey Most realistic free agents targets to hope for?
— Adam (@JefferisAdam) February 13, 2015
@ColeyHarvey. It's really hard to provide names at this point since there's no way of predicting who will and won't be available. After all, other teams reserve the right to re-sign their own unrestricted free agents, too. But let's give it a shot. I would keep your eyes peeled for players who would command mid-tier contracts. That means, when it comes to pass-rushers, consider defensive linemen like Jerry Hughes and Terrance Knighton. Greg Hardy would be considered a top-tier earner, but he's likely to come at a massive discount from the $13.1 million cap value he had in 2014 following the domestic violence charges he had dismissed earlier this week. I'm still skeptical about him landing in Cincinnati, but I'd still keep your eyes peeled. At tight end, Jordan Cameron and Charles Clay could be options. At linebacker, former Bengal Dan Skuta might be one to have on your radar.
@ColeyHarvey I keep hearing changes are going to be made.. We the fans have heard this same song and dance before. Why should we believe ?
— stephenJES (@EhNam) February 13, 2015
@ColeyHarvey. It's good to be pessimistic, Stephen. Just because something gets said in January doesn't mean it'll be practiced in March. But I'm apt to believe it's true this time around. Specifically, you're referring to Lewis saying the Bengals would be more aggressive in free agency this year. With about $33 million potentially available, the Bengals have a fairly large amount of cap space. They could afford to spend a little more in free agency as a result, even if they also try extending A.J. Green's contract. Again, I'd expect the Bengals to bring in mid-tier free agents, but I wouldn't be surprised if the team was slightly more active than normal next month.