Bengals looking to keep D-line rotation intact


Wallace Gilberry

Updated: 10:15 p.m.

With the franchising of right end Michael Johnson last week and the three-year deal with backup right end Wallace Gilberry agreed to Sunday night, the Bengals are apparently trying to return their top six linemen as far as snaps played in the rotation that produced the bulk of last season's club-record 51 sacks and the engine of the NFL's seventh-best defense.

As free agency deals are set to be announced beginning Tuesday at 4 p.m., it's believed the Bengals would also like to strike a deal with the one remaining of the six not wrapped up for this year, veteran left end Robert Geathers. That would be fitting since the Bengals are dedicating this free agency period to keeping their own, and he is their longest serving player with 134 games dating back to 2004.  

Also among Cincinnati's biggest priorities as the new league year opens is re-signing right tackle Andre Smith and two of the club's top three cornerbacks, Terence Newman and Adam Jones, after doling out an estimated $40 million in total deals since tendering the $11.1 million franchise offer to Johnson on March 1.

And as the free agency period unfolds, the Bengals would no doubt like to find a way to keep that seventh D-lineman, run-stopping tackle Pat Sims. In the 13 games he's missed the past two years, the Bengals have allowed 4.5 yards per rush. In the 19 games Sims has played, they've allowed 3.6.

That's a bit more of a problematic fit since the Bengals drafted two tackles, Devon Still and Brandon Thompson, in last year's draft in the second and third rounds, respectively. But when Sims came off the physically unable to perform list (PUP), Still and Thompson didn't play and the Bengals stiffened against the run. 

Smith, the sixth overall pick in the 2009 draft, is on everyone's top 10 list of free agents. But what no one knows is if anyone is going to give him the $9 million per year left tackle average he is said to be seeking, modeled on the six-year extension Texans Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown signed with Houston before last season, according to the National Football Post.

And what no one doubts after a rough start to his career in which he played just 13 games in his first two seasons after breaking the same foot twice, is that Smith had his best season in 2012. The grading Web site ranked him the league's top right tackle.

The only Bengals on the free agent tracker as Monday moved to Tuesday were those that had signed to stay in Cincinnati. But names and names of teams figure to be unleashed Tuesday.

The Bengals say they are looking to sign their own first, but it wouldn't be a huge surprise if they looked into some veteran safeties that can get people lined up before they figure to draft one next month. And with the Bengals lacking a signed kick returner (wide receiver Brandon Tate looks headed to markett), Seattle shopping Leon Washington could catch their eye. 

But the other big question as free agency looms besides Smith is the status of linebacker Rey Maualuga. He has started in the middle for the past two seasons and while the Bengals have made the playoffs each year he has fought inconsistency as well as showing flashes. Despite the emergence of Vontaze Burfict last year and the assumption  he will move to his natural position in the middle, Maualuga's coaches say they want him back. Maualuga can fill the SAM backer spot they seek but if another club offers him its middle backer job, that could be a telling factor. The Bengals will probably look for a veteran SAM and could also draft one.

Maualuga is a tough one to gauge since he's all over the board. Pro Football Talk has him ranked No. 81 on their hot 100 free agents, he's rated his uniform number on the site (No. 58) and puts him No. 88 on its top 100.

Along with franchising Johnson in the past 10 days, the Bengals have also tendered restricted free agent safety Jeromy Miles and two exclusive rights free agents in wide receiver Andrew Hawkins and linebacker Vincent Rey. They've also agreed on a new deal for Gilberry, as well kicker Mike Nugent, punter Kevin Huber, long snapper Clark Harris and running back Cedric Peerman in a series of signings that count about $23 million against the salary cap for this year and leave about $17 million to spend as free agency dawns.

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