Cincy's underrated early-offseason move

CINCINNATI -- When free agency begins two weeks from Tuesday, the Cincinnati Bengals will be allowed to start wheeling and dealing on player contracts as much as they'd like.

If they want to spend big bucks to hold on to as many of their unrestricted and restricted free agents as possible, they can do that. If they want to throw down veteran minimum cash on a certain tailback who has spent his six-year career in Oakland, they can do that, too.

While the Bengals will be looking to make meaningful moves once free agency begins, they actually have already made a quality personnel addition this offseason. It's arguably the most underrated of the few moves the Bengals have made.

Back on Jan. 21, Vance Joseph was hired to serve as a co-defensive backs coach, after a regime change forced him to be booted from a similar post in Houston. As soon as word trickled around the league that the Bengals had snatched Joseph out of the AFC South, staffs on other teams grew a little jealous.

"We left a lot of clubs with their pockets picked a little bit by getting Vance," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said last week at the NFL combine.

One secondary coach from an NFC team who I spoke to over the weekend applauded Lewis and his staff for bringing Joseph to Cincinnati. He said he believed the Bengals were getting a sharp, smart assistant who several others had coveted.

"I couldn't tell you how many different people said, 'Oh my gosh, you hired him?'" Lewis continued. "That kind of reaction. From the time they got let go of in Houston, he was going to be my No. 1 target if we could hire him."

Joseph comes to Cincinnati after having spent the past three seasons with the Texans. Eight of his nine years in the league have been spent working with defensive backs in some capacity. He's spent the bulk of coaching career in San Francisco.

Lewis confirmed last Friday that Joseph will be coaching cornerbacks while the incumbent defensive backs coach, Mark Carrier, will specialize in the safeties. They share the title of co-defensive backs coach.

"Vance has done a great job of being a man [defense] technician, coaching man-to-man technique," Lewis said. "He's been able to go in and understand the game plan and see how best to attack an offense and defend receivers and be a great resource for [defensive coordinator] Paul Guenther. That's the twofold thing I had to get done -- another technician on the back end and a guy who could help give input to Paul from another point of view."

Cincinnati's cornerbacks earned a reputation for being physical and downfield bumpers in former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's aggressive man scheme. When Zimmer left to become the Vikings' new head coach, the Bengals were in need of back-end help. Zimmer's son Adam, who had been Carrier's assistant defensive backs coach, also left for Minnesota. Adam Zimmer was known for his relationships with the Bengals' cornerbacks and safeties.

That's why it was important for Lewis to quickly bring in an additional secondary assistant who not only had an understanding of Mike Zimmer's coaching philosophy, but who had a level of respect before he stepped foot inside Paul Brown Stadium.

"Mike Zimmer had such an influence on our back end," Lewis said. "By hiring Vance, we were able to upgrade our coaching staff."

While it was important to promote Hue Jackson and Guenther from within to their posts as offensive and defensive coordinator, respectively, it was perhaps more important they got a coach with Joseph's qualifications, despite having to go outside of the organization to get him.

Time will tell if the move to bring along Joseph was the right one, but for now it appears to be.