Talks to re-sign Clint Boling heated up enough the past few days that it appears the Bengals are nearing a contract with their left guard.
With indications that they are nearing a deal that brings left guard Clint Boling back to Cincinnati, the Bengals appeared to cap off one of their busiest first days of free agency in recent memory that encompassed lining up a visit with monstrous free-agent defensive tackle Nick Fairley.
If the Boling deal comes off, and it is expected to be announced Wednesday, that would be their fifth deal of the offseason for a combined total nearing $50 million in contracts. Also Tuesday, the Bengals agreed in principle on a two-year deal with former Packers linebacker A.J Hawk, according to his agent, and what is believed to be a one-year deal with tackle Eric Winston after he started the last three games of the season for them.
That came on the heels of two more re-signings before free agency started Tuesday, a three-year contract for middle linebacker Rey Maualuga on Friday and two-year contract for kicker Mike Nugent on Monday.
But the most intriguing news of the day might have been reports that the Bengals are hosting Fairley on Wednesday. The 6-4, 308-pound Fairley, the 13th player taken in the 2011 draft, has been plagued by injury and off-field problems since he arrived in Detroit.
But he has been acquitted of a DUI charge and has had a possession of marijuana charge dropped. Although he got benched this past August and had 14 tackles and a sack in eight games before he hurt his knee, Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin told the Lions' web site via NFL.com he was impressed with the 27-year-old Fairley. He said Fairley was in good enough shape to return to the lineup if the Lions beat Dallas in the playoffs.
"As a player you could say, 'I'm going to play hard or I'm going to get in shape' and sometimes when things don't go well you go right back into your old habits," Austin said. "He got injured and he didn't. He kept himself in good shape. He kept his weight down, he worked really hard and if we were fortunate enough to win at Dallas he would have been ready to play a little bit in the next game and so that shows me that he's turned the corner."
Fairley wouldn't be the first guy on defense to turn around his career in Cincinnati. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther can introduce him to cornerback and All-Pro returner Adam Jones, safety Reggie Nelson and Pro Bowl WILL backer Vontaze Burfict.
The re-signing of Boling and Winston solidifies an offensive line that helped the running game into the No. 6 ranking in NFL rushing, its highest run ranking since a No. 2 finish in 2000. Boling has started 47 games since he was drafted in the fourth round out of Georgia in 2011 and his athleticism has proven to be a boon on the Bengals power running plays. He also started two games at right tackle when Andre Smith went down and before Winston signed late last season.
Boling, who turns 26 in the spring camps, impressed the club when he missed the last four games of the 2013 with a torn ACL and after his New Year's Eve surgery he was back on the field for the first practice of training camp last season.
The Bengals went in with about $15 million to spend under the salary cap and this tightens up things. But apparently they are still looking for a veteran defensive lineman at either end or tackle, judging by the Fairley visit. The five deals could mean there's only a couple left to do and it apparently precludes a veteran tight end.
Winston looked at the roster, looked at the coaches and thought it was an easy decision to re-join the Bengals in his first stint as a backup tackle.
"We haven't had a lot of discussion about it, but I imagine that's what it would be and I'm ready to do whatever role where I can help the team," Winston said Tuesday. "It's a talented group and enough where you think you can build on 10 wins to get to 12 wins and a couple of wins in the playoffs and keep on going."
Winston, a veteran of 121 NFL starts, was on the street last season when the Bengals pursued him after Smith suffered a season-ending triceps tear in the Nov. 23 win in Houston. Ironically, Winston, a long-time Texan, lives in Houston and wasn't surprised to get a call on Dec. 1 and the Bengals signed him the next day. He ended up playing right away, started the last three games, including the Wild Card Game, and the Bengals thought he offered a big lift.
Winston, 31, replaces free-agent Marshall Newhouse as the first tackle off the bench behind Smith and left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Among Tuesday's reports were that Newhouse took a two-year deal with the Giants after the Bengals didn't pursue him.
Winston feels like it's a good fit at this stage of his career and after sitting out most of last season, he's got the bug to play.
"I've gone to a new team before and it's tough," he said. "New home, new coaches, new scheme, and it's a long grind. With this, you can just kind of fit in."
On Tuesday the Bengals also officially tendered starting SAM backer Emmanuel Lamur a one-year, $2.4 million deal in restricted free agency. That means he's virtually off the table because a club would have to give up a second-round draft pick as compensation if the Bengals didn't match an offer.
The Bengals chose not to tender defensive tackle Devon Still, making him an unrestricted free agent instead of a restricted free agent, but they offered him a one-year contract. Still, who was cut after training camp, ended up playing in 12 games after the coaches sat him for the last three. The Bengals, taking note of daughter Leah Still's battle with cancer, said he'll consider the deal based on his family's circumstances.
Also Tuesday, the Bengals tendered backup cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris an offer that assures the Bengals of his exclusive NFL rights for the season, about half a million dollars. Lewis-Harris played in 10 games over the last two seasons, mostly on special teams, and has played in two of the last three post-season games.