CINCINNATI -- Part 2 of this weekend's Cincinnati Bengals mailbag continues the theme of exploring the free-agency class.
Saturday's portion of the mailbag revolved, in part, around the decisions to bring back receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Both are eligible for free agency next year, along with Pro Bowl wideout A.J. Green. Will the Bengals re-sign all three of them? Will they make a move this offseason to retain any of them?
For the Sunday portion of the mailbag, we turn attention to the secondary, where cornerbacks Adam Jones and Leon Hall and safeties Reggie Nelson and George Iloka are due to hit the market in 2016. We begin by breaking down the two safeties:
@ColeyHarvey Do you see the Bengals resigning Iloka before the start of the season?
— Mike Benedikovic (@benny44ca) March 6, 2015
@ColeyHarvey: I don't yet have any insight into whether this will happen or not, Mike, but it most certainly should. Although Iloka was one of two Bengals to receive playing time-based escalators to their 2015 contracts (Sanu was the other; both are scheduled to have cap values around $1.6 million this year), it probably isn't enough. The raises were based on provisions in the latest collective bargaining agreement that permitted players taken in Rounds 3-7 of the 2012 draft to earn raises of about $1 million if they played in 35 percent of their team's offensive or defensive snaps in two of the last three years.
Yes, Iloka earned that playing time, but his performance in 2014 was invaluable. Fully healthy, he had a career-high three interceptions and led all NFL safeties in Pro Football Focus' coverage snaps-per-reception metric. For about every 52 snaps Iloka was in coverage, a receiver caught a pass. The next closest safety to Iloka allowed a reception roughly every 43 passes thrown his way. Iloka was deserving of the Pro Bowl, but didn't get it. His play last season alone, particularly in clutch situations -- intercepting passes in the end zone, playing the role of enforcer on top tight ends and drawing a key last-second interference call in a win over Baltimore -- warranted a deal to be done this offseason. We'll see if he's among the first of the 17 free agents needing new deals to get one.
@ColeyHarvey are we looking at safety in the draft or FA since Nelson is turning 32 this yr?
— Keith Watters (@keithwatters) March 6, 2015
@ColeyHarvey: All appears quiet on the safety front as it pertains to this draft class, Keith. But I understand why you ask. Yes, Nelson is getting older and Iloka could be lost if the Bengals let him test the market next March. But the Bengals also are confident in Shawn Williams ' development as a backup. Much like Darqueze Dennard at corner, Williams has had trouble getting on the field because of more talented players at the position ahead of him. It will be interesting to see what the Bengals do with fellow reserve Taylor Mays, who is an unrestricted free agent this year. If the Bengals pull of the shock and decide against re-signing him, then there would be a need to address his departure, perhaps late in the draft or with a college free agent. Next offseason will be more telling with respect to Nelson.
@ColeyHarvey with Mauluga signing and Lamar tender, are Bengals out of the AJ Hawk sweepatakes?
— Ron/MLXFL Commish (@mlxfl) March 6, 2015
@ColeyHarvey: That's a question I've asked myself the last couple of days, Ron. It appears like a safe assumption that A.J. Hawk would be out of the Bengals' free agency plans now that Rey Maualuga is re-signed and Emmanuel Lamur has been extended the second-round restricted free agent tender. I don't foresee any team forking over a second-round pick to the Bengals for Lamur, so count him among the returnees at linebacker, too. It's Maualuga's signing that does make it less likely that the Bengals would want to add another interior linebacker, particularly with Hawk's comparative advanced age (he's 31; Maualuga is 28), but you never know. Cincinnati's depth at the position was tested by injuries last year, meaning they're looking to add quality backups. It's hard seeing Hawk agreeing to being a backup, though, particularly seeing as how the Bengals are committed to Maualuga starting at middle linebacker.
@ColeyHarvey any word/chance that the bengals might trade up or down?
— Rohan_WhoDey55 (@rohankkohli6) March 6, 2015
@ColeyHarvey: It's still early in the draft process, so anything could happen, Rohan. But for now, I can't see a trade-up or trade-down scenario for the Bengals. They have done it sparingly in the past, but pulling off draft-day trades isn't really part of the organization's formula. Maybe if there's an earlier-than-expected run on offensive tackles or defensive ends, perhaps the Bengals try to leap over a couple of teams and make a move. At No. 21, though, they seem to be in good enough real estate to get some of the picks that are anticipated to be there when they make their selection.
@ColeyHarvey why do you think Collins and Johnson struggled in Tampa last year. Expectations too high?
— Ryan Marchand (@ryanlmarchand) March 6, 2015
@ColeyHarvey: Because I wasn't in Tampa this past year, it's hard to truly say, Ryan. From what I've been told by people down there, though, lack of comfort might have explained the issues of former Bengals Anthony Collins and Michael Johnson with the Buccaneers. Johnson never could get fully settled after battling injuries all year. Collins appeared to have problems getting adjusted to being a starter for the first time in his career. And yes, perhaps the pressure of their mega-contracts was a little too much to live up to in their first years. I'm definitely curious to see what happens to them this offseason.
— Justin Cox (@BigCox98) March 6, 2015
@ColeyHarvey: It wouldn't be a pre-free agency Bengals mailbag without this question. Justin, you won't be seeing any news along those lines this year. Sorry to disappoint. From something I wrote a few days ago, here's a little more on why.