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Bengals mail Part 1: What is the biggest draft need?

CINCINNATI -- Now that we're one week removed from the Super Bowl, the offseason transitions into a time in which teams are tasked with beginning to make personnel decisions.

For the Cincinnati Bengals, that means figuring out more definitively which players to target in the draft and free agency. Coach Marvin Lewis has already said the organization plans on being more active on the free-agent front this year. How will that affect the Bengals' approach the next few months? Time will tell.

For now, let's kick off this week's mailbag with questions about how free agency and the draft might look for Cincinnati:

@ColeyHarvey: I'm not sure there's a singular need the Bengals have over another, Erik. I will say, though, that they must address their pass rush this offseason. They also need to start looking toward the future as several key players have contracts expiring in upcoming years. Because of that, if I'm the Bengals, I'm using this draft to focus on positions like receiver, offensive tackle, and the secondary. At the very least, they can identify cheaper talent at those positions via the draft that can be signed as they start preparing for retirements and the possible loss of big-contract veterans in upcoming years. From my perspective, it seems more likely that they might use free agency to address the anemic pass rush. There are several potentially available veteran defensive tackles and ends who could help solve some of those woes. One thing I do know is that they won't be using a draft pick on a quarterback this year. They might sign one later this spring to add another training-camp arm, but they have made it clear they aren't in the business of starting a quarterback controversy. Andy Dalton is the starter, free-agent Jason Campbell might return as his No. 2, and AJ McCarron will back up once again.

@ColeyHarvey: This has been one of the questions I've gotten the most this offseason, and I'd venture to say that when Lewis promises to be more active, that's exactly what Cincinnati will be. As far as when those signings will come, that is anybody's guess at this point. A lot of it depends on how quickly the Bengals want to act, and how quickly other teams set up compelling offers for their unrestricted free agents. When you hear the word "aggressive," you do think that might mean making signings within the first few hours if not days of free agency's March 10 opening. For that to happen, though, the Bengals will have to be aggressive extending competitive offers in those first few hours that also won't deviate dramatically from the approach they have taken with contract negotiations in the past. I can assure you, the numbers have already been crunched. They will know what they're getting into once the free-for-all begins.

@ColeyHarvey: It all depends upon what the definition of "big" free-agent signing is. If we're talking about Terrance Knighton as being "big," then sure, from a financial standpoint that's the type of defensive lineman the Bengals would explore. Knighton will be an unrestricted free agent next month after eating $2.75 million of the Broncos' salary cap this past season. Of course, signing a player like Knighton hinges on what happens with his current team. The Broncos could make him competitive enough offers that the Bengals can't or don't want to contend with. The defensive tackle showcased his value this season. He's been fairly consistent from a numbers standpoint throughout his career, and has been a key figure in run-stop situations for the lines he's played for. As a result, Denver might think he's worth more than the $2.25 million it had averaged paying him the past two seasons. The Bengals will have to figure out exactly how competitive they will be with the free-agent targets they identify.

@ColeyHarvey: Betterman, beyond Knighton, whose presence might only clear up pass-rushing lanes for Geno Atkins and the Bengals' defensive ends, there are other possible linemen to consider. Some of the names you mentioned, Corey Peters, Jared Odrick and Pat Sims, could be worth consideration. So could Jerry Hughes, a player who would be a little more expensive to land, but one who might fall right into the "Tier 2" region you mentioned. The reason these linemen might be considered "Tier 2" is because they aren't like Ndamukong Suh, who could easily command more than $13 million a year on the open market. They will be given much less. Part of the Bengals' decisions also hinge on something I alluded to earlier in this answer: what kind of lineman do they want? Do they want to pay for another tackle who could play alongside Atkins and trade double-teams with him, opening rushing lanes? Or do they want a pure pass-rushing end? Given the dedication it appears the team has to interior lineman Domata Peko, my money is on the latter. The Bengals saw how much success they had with Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap as their top two ends and Wallace Gilberry as the No. 3 in a rotation. This past season, with Johnson gone, Gilberry -- who played more than he had in any other season of his career -- was effectively the No. 2. My thought is Cincinnati wants to get back closer to what it was instead of bringing in another interior lineman like Knighton, Peters, Odrick or Sims.

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