What's old is new again for the Bengals this offseason.
For the fourth time since free agency opened last month, the Bengals have re-signed a player who had left and gone away. On Thursday it was Josh Johnson, quarterback Andy Dalton's backup from 2013, after he signed a one-year deal that figures to be for near the minimum.
But all signs have been pointing to A.J. McCarron still getting dibs on the backup spot that has been manned by three different players under Dalton. The Bengals were thought to be interested in re-signing 2014 backup Jason Campbell, but there was talk he has been considering retirement and the Bengals moved back to Johnson, a seven-year veteran turning 29 next month.
Johnson and McCarron are two different sorts. Johnson, the vet, has a big arm but is more known for his excellent running ability and athleticism. McCarron, heading into his second season after an abbreviated rookie year, is a pocket passer who made his name at Alabama for leading the Crimson Tide to two national titles.
"There'll be a healthy competition, no question about that," said Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. "Josh is a guy we know and knows our system and the coaches are comfortable with him. He's obviously a guy that can run as well. A.J., we really don't know yet. We like the little bit that we saw, and we're hoping to see the things we liked when he was at Alabama."
McCarron, last year's fifth-rounder, appears to have the leg up on the competition. But after practicing with the Bengals for just three weeks after recovering from shoulder tendinitis that benched him most of his rookie year, McCarron is still a question mark and Johnson gives them a known entity who knows the system.
But he's thrown as many NFL passes in that system as McCarron. None. In fact, Johnson hasn't thrown a pass in the last three seasons in yearly stints in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and San Francisco. He didn't appear in a game last year with the 49ers.
While the Ravens spent $3 million per year on Matt Schaub to back up Joe Flacco, the Bengals have gone the other way at the No. 2 spot. Some of those factors figuring into that are probably the dozen starters and regulars heading into their contract years, Dalton has never missed a start in his four seasons, and the indication is they believe a fifth-round pick should be ready to assume the role.
Before Johnson, the Bengals also welcomed back former players in defensive end Michael Johnson, defensive tackle Pat Sims, and cornerback Brandon Ghee.
According to news reports, the Bengals may have another tight end as early as Friday, when Cardinals tight end Rob Housler is expected to visit. Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun has reported the Ravens have a deal on the table for the 6-5, 238-pound Housler, a third-round pick of the Cardinals in 2011.
He caught just nine balls last season after logging 45 and 39 catches the previous two seasons. He's not overly big, but if the Bengals are bringing him in to visit, they must be exploring his potential to block in-line opposite receiving tight end Tyler Eifert.
Profootballfocus.com rated Housler 53 out of 67 tight ends when it came to run blocking last season, the talent the Bengals need to replace if they're not going to re-sign Jermaine Gresham. But Housler was ranked 32nd the year before when he rated much higher than Gresham.
Also Thursday, there were various reports that Raiders wide receiver Denarius Moore visited the Bengals. Jackson was the head coach of the Raiders in Moore's rookie year when Oakland took him in the fifth round. The 6-0, 199-pound Moore had the most productive season of his career in Jackson's offense in 2011 when he used his speed to average 18.5 yards per 33 catches.
His most prolific season came in '12 with a career-high seven TDs and 51 catches before he had just 12 catches last season. Jackson has spent the offseason planning on adding speed to the receiving corps.
"He did a good for us as a rookie. He could run," Jackson said. "If we end up getting him we'll be looking to see if he can still go like that. You can never have too many good players."
The re-signing of wide receiver Brandon Tate and the potential addition of Moore doesn't figure to deter the Bengals from adding a speedy receiver early in the draft. The draft pick would go with the four leading veterans: A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and James Wright.