Which players could be good fit for Bengals in free agency?

Legal tampering period begins Monday

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The Cincinnati Bengals have several positions of need that could be addressed in free agency, and it’s almost time to go shopping.

Free agency officially opens at 4 p.m. Wednesday, but the “legal tampering” period starts Monday — when teams can enter preliminary contract negotiations with representation of players who will become unrestricted free agents.

According to OverTheCap.com, the Bengals have an estimated $49 million in cap space available, though that doesn’t necessarily account for all the expenses the organization would be budgeting for in that number. The top positions of need are defensive tackle, right tackle, safety and tight end.

Considering the holes that need filled, here are some players that could be a good fit for the Bengals:

Mekhi Becton, offensive tackle

The New York Jets’ former No. 11 overall pick of the 2020 draft struggled with injuries his first three seasons in the NFL but played more snaps in 2023 than all of those years combined and was effective despite the multitude of quarterbacks operating behind him. Becton has athleticism to compete at a high level even at his 6-foot-7, 363-pound stature, but the question is whether one solid season is enough to make believers of the Bengals.

ProFootballFocus.com projects him to sign a one-year, $5 million prove-it deal. Cincinnati wants a long-term solution at right tackle after now needing a fourth new starter in four years, but perhaps Becton could play his way into becoming that guy.

Jermaine Eluemunor, offensive tackle

Eluemunor has played both tackle positions, but spent last season on the right side with the Raiders after signing a one-year, $3 million contract in free agency. Now he could be looking for a new home, and the Bengals could be an option. He told Las Vegas media he just never would play for the Kansas City Chiefs, so Eluemunor would fit right in with Cincinnati.

In both 2022 and 2023, his pressure rates allowed percentage was below 5% each season.

Grover Stewart, defensive tackle

The Bengals struggled against the run last year, and with DJ Reader headed to free agency, that area needs addressed. Stewart is one of the top run-stopping defensive tackles in the league, earning the fifth-highest run defense grade among interior defensive linemen from ProFootballFocus.com in 2023 with the Indianapolis Colts. He did have a six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, which could be a red flag, but he was sorely missed in those games and his impact clear when on the field.

Stewart is 30 years old and seven years into his career, which seems on the older end of what Cincinnati typically looks for, but the Bengals might need to drift for their norm.

Teair Tart, defensive tackle

The Titans reportedly cut Tart because of effort issues in December, which seemed related to frustration over not getting a long-term deal done last summer, but the Bengals were one of three teams to place a waiver claim on him before he landed with Houston to finish 2023. Tart fits the mold of what Cincinnati needs in an interior defensive lineman, someone who can plug gaps in the run defense and impact the pass rush.

The 27-year-old, 304-pounder finished the season with a career-best eight TFLs, and in 2022, he finished with the 17th highest PFF.com pass-rushing grade (75.9) among interior defenders. Projected to get a three-year, $21 million contract, according to PFF, he seems to fit in the range of what Cincinnati could be looking to spend there.

Justin Simmons, safety

Simmons was the highest paid safety in the league just a couple of years ago, but the Broncos released him to create $14.5 million in salary cap space. He’ll likely have his pick of teams, but at age 30 and in a free agent market that will have a plethora of safeties available, the price tag should be much lower now. Simmons is a guy that could fill a leadership role that was missing last year after the departure of Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell, and if Cincinnati could land him for the right price, the two-time Pro Bowler would be a clear upgrade after the failed Nick Scott experiment.

Geno Stone, safety

The former Baltimore safety would be a younger and cheaper option than Simmons, but he brings some big pros and cons to the table. In his first season playing a full-time role in the Ravens’ defense, Stone earned an 84.9 PFF coverage grade that ranked seventh at the position during the 2023 regular season and he had seven interceptions. However, he struggled in the run defense, which is an area the Bengals need to improve. Stone missed 19 percent of tackle opportunities this past season.

Noah Fant, tight end

Cincinnati could need to bring in multiple tight ends this offseason with none on the roster currently. Drew Sample and Tanner Hudson had solid 2023 seasons but could get better offers elsewhere. Fant is another one worth taking a look at. The former Broncos’ first-round pick went to Seattle as part of the Russell Wilson trade and saw his receiving yards decline each of the last four seasons but still has potential for more production. Joe Burrow could be the one to give him those opportunities.

Hayden Hurst, tight end

Hurst enjoyed his time in Cincinnati in 2022 but moved on for greener pastures with the Panthers giving him a three-year, $21.8 million contract, including $13 million guaranteed, and he might have regretted that decision in the end. His playing time dropped off in Carolina, and then he suffered post-traumatic amnesia following a concussion. His health could be a concern, but if all checks out on that end, a reunion with the Bengals could make sense, especially if he’s willing to take a similar deal to the one he had in 2022. Hurst can block and catch (he had 52 receptions for 414 yards in 2022) and the familiarity with the system could benefit all parties.

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