With the offseason here, we've been spending the last several days taking a position-by-position review of the Cincinnati Bengals' 2013 season and give a sneak peek at what may lie ahead in 2014.
2014 free agents: Brandon Ghee.
The good: Like nearly every Bengals defensive position group, the highlight of 2013 for their cornerbacks was the fact they overcame an onslaught of injuries in order to help the overall unit enjoy a No. 3 ranking and a reputation for being unstoppable at home during the regular season. Before Cincinnati's 27-10 loss in the opening round of the AFC playoffs, the Bengals went 8-0 at Paul Brown Stadium. Several of their wins there were primarily a product of the way their defense played, particularly late in those contests. Terence Newman's scoop and score with four minutes to go against Green Bay helped win that game. Adam Jones' interception in a driving rainstorm sealed a win over Tom Brady and the Patriots. Dre Kirkpatrick's back-to-back fourth-quarter pickoffs capped the 8-0 mark with a victory over Baltimore in the regular-season finale.
The bad: As much of a highlight as Kirkpatrick's two interceptions were against the Ravens, he also had his hand in several touchdowns, including one in the playoff loss to the Chargers. On occasion, the second-year player got turned around by double moves and was yards behind receivers who caught deep passes for touchdowns. Veteran Leon Hall's injury could be considered a bad highlight from the year, too. When he was lost for the season to an Achilles tear at Detroit in Week 7, the Bengals had to shuffle around fellow vets Newman, Jones and Chris Crocker into their top three cornerback positions -- the third being the nickel cornerback, slot position. By the end of the season, the Bengals officially started calling Crocker a safety, as his obligations had been modified. Although the Bengals were able to manage it, the cornerbacks went through their share of change all year.
The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Hall ($8.7 million), Kirkpatrick ($2.4 million), Newman ($2 million), Jones ($1.8 million), Chris Lewis-Harris ($495,000). Hall expects to be at full health in time for the start of training camp. Even if he isn't 100 percent by the start of August, he should be completely back in time for the season opener. With Hall in the mix, look for him to join Newman and Jones in the starting rotation. Hall played the nickel more than the other two, although he often lined up outside, covering a team's top receiver. That was the case at Detroit, when he was paired with Calvin Johnson on the play that tore his Achilles. The money likely won't change for any of those three this offseason, but Jones did tweet a couple of weeks ago that while happy in Cincinnati, he wanted to restructure his deal. He's signed through 2015, as are Hall and Kirkpatrick. Newman's contract expires after next season. It will be interesting to track what happens to the 35-year-old after 2014. He might begin thinking retirement. Lewis-Harris has been a serviceable backup, used primarily on special teams when active.
Draft priority: Very high. This might be the Bengals' highest draft priority this season. With so many veterans coming up on expiring contracts, and a general lack of depth at the position, it has to be atop the team's draft concerns. It's likely Kirkpatrick's addition in 2012 was the first step in the Bengals' preparations for the future. This year, don't be surprised if they land two cornerbacks who can be groomed in the coming season or two to eventually take over for the likes of Newman, Hall and Jones. A cornerback who has experience playing in the slot would be a bonus.