Updated: 10:50 p.m.
According to NFL Network, Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph signed with the Texans on Thursday night and left Cincinnati looking for a starting left cornerback.
Also on the free-agent front, reports said the Bengals are close to signing free-agent outside linebacker Thomas Howard from Oakland, apparently in response to the status of injured starter Keith Rivers.
The Bengals are still talking to running back Cedric Benson as well as other backs, but they weren't ready enough to strike a deal with Packers running back Brandon Jackson on Thursday morning and bowed out of the talks before Jackson signed in Cleveland later in the day. They're looking for a starter and apparently didn't think Jackson fit the bill.
The Bengals may delve back into cornerback free agency for guys like a Carlos Rogers or a Kelly Jennings. But, as they are doing at wide receiver, they could also opt to go young. The top three options on the club include a pair of young guys—Morgan Trent and Brandon Ghee—as well as a journeyman in Jonathan Wade. It's believed that Adam Jones's injured neck isn't going to make him available early in the season.
Joaeph, the team's first-round draft pick in 2006, teamed with 2007 first-round pick Leon Hall to form one of the best duos in the NFL. Joseph started 58 games and his tremendous closing burst allowed him to get his hands on 85 pass deflections, as well as 14 interceptions.
"It's hard to lose a guy like J-Joe," said safety Chris Crocker. "Everyone knows he's a good player, but to lose that kind of guy, that kind of teammate, that's just going to hurt. You really don't get two corners like that. That's going to sting."
The Houston Chronicle reported Joseph's deal at five years, $48.5 million. That's the range the Bengals felt they were in after negotiations came to a head early Thursday afternoon.
The negotiatiions certainly seemed amicable.
"I want to thank the Brown family for all they've done for me," Joseph said. "I'm going to miss those guys that are like brothers to me. ... I want to thank everyone who helped me. Marvin, Zim, Brick, the equipment guys. End of day, you got to do what's best for family."
On Thursday night, former Bengals defensive tackle John Thornton tweeted, "Bengals will be fine w/o J Joe bc DC Mke Zimmer and DB coach Kevin Coyle are two of the best DB coaches in the biz. But they need more CBs."
The defense is mulling another change with indications Thursday that Rivers, the WILL backer, recently underwent wrist surgery and may not be available until October. In an apparent response, media reports have placed Howard close to signing in Cincinnati on Friday on a two-year deal.
The 6-3, 240-pound Howard, 28, is a six-year player who was a second-round pick out of UTEP. He lost his starting job at right outside linebacker last year in Oakland, the only season he hasn't started at least 15 games. He's seen as a smart, solid player who also plays special teams and brings seven interceptions, four sacks and 320 career tackles.
With SAM backer Rey Maualuga moving to the middle, Howard could end up starting at either outside spot. The Bengals have been in touch with Rivers's backup, free-agent Brandon Johnson. Another option down the road could be re-signing Dhani Jones.