Q: Since we are coming up on the NFL combine and then the draft in April, can you give us Bengals fans any insight on the possible number of compensation picks that the Bengals will pick up? With the losses of DE Justin Smith, LB Landon Johnson and S Madieu Williams, what kind of compensation picks can we expect?
--Aaron, Willoughby, OH
AARON: If I could tell you the formula for figuring free-agent compensation, I'd have been nominated for Secretary of the Treasury. Of course, I wouldn't have made it because I paid my taxes. It's complicated, but it looks like they'll get at least two draft picks.
First, after his season with a new team, a free agent has to qualify for the formula, and then he has to qualify for a certain tier through a series of byzantine milestones involving pay, playing time and honors.
It looks like the lone free agent that the Bengals signed that qualifies for the formula is right end Antwan Odom. Smith, Williams and Johnson all qualify, which leaves the Bengals with two draft picks (three lost, one gained).
Center Alex Stepanovich could also qualify, which would give them three picks.
Because Odom got hurt and didn't make as much as Smith, he'll probably fall into the fourth- or fifth-round category with Williams, and they would cancel each other out.
Smith most likely would bring a pick at the end of the third round (where the Bengals got wide receiver Andre Caldwell last year for Eric Steinbach) and Johnson around a sixth. Stepanovich would probably bring a seventh-rounder if he qualifies.
The Bengals will know officially some time between March 22-25 during the NFL annual league meeting.
Q: Just wondering what your take is on the Bengals at running back next year? Do we take a stand with Benson and possibly look for a running back in later rounds at the draft? Or do we let Benson walk, go with what we have, and try and sign a second-tier guy? I was impressed with how most of the rookie running backs turned out in the NFL this year (Stewart, Forte, K. Smith, Rice, Slaton, Chris Johnson). I think the Bengals should look at drafting a RB come the second or third round.
--Chris P., Denver, CO
CHRIS: If Benson leaves, you really can't go with what you have because what you have are only question marks in the form of the injured DeDe Dorsey and Kenny Watson and struggling Chris Perry.
(Is it going out on a limb to say the first move they'll make after signing Benson is to cut one, if not two of them?)
They've got to draft a running back no matter what and they've got to sign a veteran running back no matter what.
If it's not Benson, it's not exactly a deep free-agent field. There are guys like Kevin Jones, LaMont Jordan, Dominic Rhodes and DeShaun Foster on a list where J.J. Arrington and Darren Sproles might be a little pricey. Their best bet is to go with the guy they know and Benson, at 26, is younger than Rhodes (29), Jordan (30) and Foster (28), and the same age as Jones.
As for the draft, it doesn't look as deep as it was last year at running back. It's doubtful they would take a running back in the first round (the Beanie Wells haters can take a chill pill as he slides to the middle of the first round), but would they go as high as the second round? It is where they got Harold Green, Corey Dillon and Ickey Woods, but they also got Rudi Johnson in the fourth round and this looks more like a Rudi kind of draft.
Given that there's a bit of a dropoff between projected first-rounders like Wells, Georgia's Knowshon Moreno, and Pitt's LeSean McCoy, do they leap in the second round or wait?
The big backs like Colorado State's Gartrell Johnson and Liberty's Rashad Jennings, guys that could be there in the fourth, aren't seen as particularly fast. But then, West Virginia's Steve Slaton, a third-round pick of the Texans last year, was supposed to be too small at a 5-9, 197 and he ended up leading all rookie rushers with 268 carries for 1,282 yards for 4.8 per bolt.
But yeah, they've got to draft a guy as well as sign a vet, preferably Benson.