Hobson's Choice: free fee

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           Wide receiver Marvin Jones figures to be a top priority in free agency.

hey Geoff, so what are your insights on the players who's contracts are up this offseason, who do you think they're likely to keep and who might enter free agency? also, depending on who they do and don't resign, where do you think they'll go in the draft? (besides best guy available). Andrew Todd, Medford, OR

ANDREW:  I think they believe they've got special players in the two Joneses (wide receiver Marvin and cornerback Adam) and they'll make a run at them before free agency opens March 9 with the only caveats that they're already paying wide receiver A.J. Green elite money and Adam Jones is going to be 33 in the third week of the season. We'll see how those affect negotiations, but I think they make them priorities and know they need them.

They'd like to get most of these guys back but, for instance, they've got a number in mind for niche players like slot cornerback Leon Hall and slot receiver Mohamed Sanu. If they get bigger than a niche number on market, they probably won't match.

Their most intriguing decision lies at safety,

Take in the sights of the Pro Bowl including the Draft and the first practice.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Stewart/NFL

where both starters, Reggie Nelson and George Iloka, are free agents. It's hard to see them losing both. In Shawn Williams they've got a guy that's a year younger than Iloka and played well when Iloka was hurt. Iloka is going to get a good number and they've got Williams for another year. Nelson is coming off a career-year, but he turns 33 early next season and Iloka turns just 26 next month and has been very productive. That's going to be an interesting call but I would think at least one of them is back.

Given their lack of depth at linebacker, I would also think they'll make a run at keeping Vincent Rey as a backup/special teamer, unless some other team surprises them with numbers they're not prepared to match.

The big question is if they can keep both Marvin and slot receiver Mohamed Sanu. They love Sanu and you figure he's got a good shot at being ticketed to Cleveland where they would dread having to play him twice a year.

And I could see them making a run at couple of guys not up until next year, such as running back Giovani Bernard and fullback Ryan Hewitt. Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert could also be in that mix, but his injury history makes it a more complex exercise.

As far as the draft, I think, like last year, the first round is wide open if they re-sign both Joneses. If they don't, they have work to do at receiver and cornerback. Even if they sign Jones, corner is a possibility at No. 24. We know they've carved out only a couple of spots for the first round: corners, defensive linemen, and offensive tackles. Can't see them taking a receiver at No. 24, but I could see WR, LB, S, and RB later in the draft.  

I know Mario Alford is on deck, but with Tate an FA, would Darrin Simmons cast a wide net for returners next year? I'd like to see some guys on the roster given a shot. Peerman always does well when getting a chance as up man, Derron Smith returned in college, etc. Would like "open auditions" to identity new KR and PR options. Matt Kramer, West Chester, OH

MATT: Simmons, the Bengals special teams coordinator, is always casting a wide net for returners, never mind who he has. He's just trying to get everyone else on board when the draft comes.

As solid as Tate has been, he's been trying to find a more spectacular guy to team with Adam Jones for a while. And not just last year. Alford is still a huge question mark because he just hasn't done punt returns and is he good enough at receiver to be active on Sunday? We don't know.

 Peerman has been here six years and they seem to like him better as a blocker than a returner and Derron Smith doesn't seem to figure in the return game.  Gio has always been an interesting guy there, but they're trying to protect him from taking shots so he never seems to return. So, I'm not sure they've got enough guys for auditions, but, you're right, Alford is the next man up and he'll have a shot to won the job in the preseason and he should if he's the guy they think he is heading  into his second training camp.

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Productive George Iloka, another 2012 fifth-rounder like Marvin Jones, is looking at his second contract.

Mr Hobson, love your insight every week Iam a life long Bengal fan from Las Vegas NV. Still hurting from the playoff loss,but my thought or question is I think it's a must that the Bengals have to do everything they can to get Marvin Jones, Adam Jones, and George Ilokaback into the fold when free agency begins.Dont let them get away.Once again thank you for all you do. George Bailey, Las Vegas, NV

GEORGE: Thanks for the kind words and glad you are rebounding. Love the name. I can only wonder how Uncle Billy is doing with the eight grand out there. ("Comes in pretty handy down here, bub.")

We seem to be on the same page, here. Iloka is an intriguing call. He's played a lot of good football and he figures to get some very good run on the market, but the Bengals aren't known for paying safeties and guards. Yet they re-signed left guard Clint Boling last year in time to keep him off the market and they could go that way again with George, a guy they like. But they also like Williams. Interesting call.

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Reggie Nelson is coming off his first Pro Bowl selection.

So, which key free agents are the Bengals focusing on re-signing, and who might not be wearing Bengal stripes next season? I'm thinking some team will throw crazy money at Reggie Nelson, and he's the glue in our secondary; would Mike Brown ever match a big offer for Reggie? Troy Yount, Eminence, KY

TROY: How crazy is the money going to be with Nelson turning 33 early in the season? I would think Iloka gets the crazier money. Mike Brown already matched a big offer on Nelson after the 2011 season when he kept him away from the Jets and it turned out to be a hell of a move.

I think the Bengals think Nelson has something left and, like you, have high regard for his impact on the chemistry of the group. It also helps that Kevin Coyle, Nelson's first secondary coach here in those 2010 and 2011 seasons when he turned his career around, is back in Cincy. I don't know if that means crazy money, but it sounds logical for both sides to get a deal here.   

Geoff, With some of the Bengals secondary getting a little long in the tooth, do you foresee them making Safeties and Corners a priority in this year's draft? Also, who are some of the more prominent DB's available? John Belanger, Fairfield, OH

JOHN:  It's a good question who the most prominent secondary guys are in free agency because that impacts the market and there's not a lot there. Just by pure talent, when it comes to the two best corners , the Bengals have the best in Adam Jones and Leon Hall, but are they too old to get big money? It only takes one team. You figure when it comes to age and talent Sean Smith and Jerraud Powers, both 28, as well as 26-year-old Prince Amukamara get some run at corner. Nelson is in a safety class with 27-year-old Eric Berry and 31-year-old Eric Weddle.  

They won't chase them, of course. They prefer their own free agents but, you're right, as we've noted Adam Jones and Nelson aren't spring chickens. But I can see them re-signing them, as well as drafting a corner and a safety pretty high. 

Geoff, Your updates are great, it's tough to realize we are in another off season and no play-off win. Wih that said KUDOs to the team and coaches for making the play-offs and to AJ for stepping up. My question is about the draft. I have heard a lot about us needing to take a WR with our first pick. But when I look at the roster I see young talent at WR from last years draft and I don't see us losing both Sanu and Jones. I see us have more need at CB, were age is creeping up and not as much talent on the roster, so I say it is time to go CB again. What are you thoughts? Lou Petrofes, Jupiter, FL

LOU: Thank you for the note. I tend to agree with you. Taking a wide receiver low in the first round isn't their M.O. and they're more likely to re-sign Marvin than use the No. 24 pick on a wideout. I do think there's a distinct possibility, even if they re-sign Adam Jones, they take a corner No. 1 for the third time in five years. Their rise as a solid defense in the last decade can be directly traced to the decision to draft first-round corners as well as the ability to coach them and use them in the scheme. Take a bow Mike Zimmer, Paul Guenther, Kevin Coyle, and Vance Joseph.

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Cedric Ogbuehi (left, with offensive line coach Paul Alexander) is in the wings if right tackle Andre Smith departs in free agency.

Geoff: I am finally over the shock from a couple of weeks ago and can start to look forward to the new season. As it seems like our OL had trouble opening holes and really dominating the run game, could this be the year that Whit moves inside to guard and the top two draft picks claim their spots? It appears to me that the interior is what struggled or do we try and address it in the draft? Thanks Pete Zimmer, West Chester, OH

PETE: Here's an interesting back story to keep an eye on. The Bengals have an $8 million option on right guard Kevin Zeitler. Zeitler is a very nice player, but are they going to pay a guard that much?

They could move Boling to right guard, slide Whit inside to left guard, and go with last year's rookies at tackle, first-rounder Cedric Ogbuehi on the left and second-rounder Jake Fisher on the right. I know, I know. Go back to when Boling got hurt in the last month of the 2013 season and they murdered people in the run game with Whit at left guard.

But, they really like Boling and Zeitler where they are and certainly profootballfocus.com does. I think they'll make it work with Zeitler. And if they don't re-sign right tackle Andre Smith, they can put Ogbuehi over there.

I know that doesn't address the interior question, but my sense is they think they can improve the run game structurally rather than by changing personnel. That is, maybe cutting down on the number of runs and becoming proficient running just a few. That, and letting Jeremy Hill know that he doesn't have to be Le'Veon Bell and being so patient while bouncing everything outside. In 2014, Jeremy Hill himself had a good enough down-hill-make-the-safety-miss style that made him their MVP and a Rookie of the Year candidate.

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Paul Guenther's defense came up big down the stretch.     

Hey Geoff, I love your columns. Keep it up! I'm not at all concerned about the new coaches that we brought in on defense. What I am concerned about is: Why did so many of them leave? Do folks not like Guenther's style? Was there not enough discipline on the defensive side of things? When there's smoke, there's usually fire...Whatever the fire is, do you think we can put it out in time for next season? Thanks! Chris S., Cincinnati, OH

CHRIS: Thank you. It's an interesting theory, but from what I can see, the whole discipline thing leading to a coaching exodus is unfounded.

OK, the defense faltered on the last play of the season.  But so did everybody else that night on both sidelines, as well as the officials. You can't look at one play, and even that one can be debated.

But look at the body of work of that defense. For one thing they shut down a high-flying Steelers offense in the playoffs on 18 points. They gave up 17 points in regulation on the road in Denver two weeks before that in a playoff-like game. And, the long view? They set the club scoring record.

Lack of discipline?

Secondary coach Vance Joseph got the coordinator's job in Miami, so that's a legit move. Defensive line coach Jay Hayes had been with boyhood friend Marvin Lewis for all 13 seasons so things were fine there, but he'd like a shot at being a coordinator at some point and Paul Guenther is in place here. Linebackers coach Matt Burke moved with Joseph to the Dolphins and with Joseph already being talked about as a head coaching candidate, he's got a shot to be his coordinator down the line.

So I think the moves were more about each coach's personal situation rather than anything nefarious going on.

Please consider Ken Stabler for the Hall of Fame. thank u Lin Butler, Rome, GA

 LIN: I'm voting for Stabler this Saturday and here's why: because he's a senior candidate. And that means he's already been vetted by the estimable senior committee made up of nine of the 46 Pro Football Hall of Fame voting members. That committee makes their recommendations based on, among other things, sitting down with Hall-of-Famers from that era of 25 years ago and beyond. Those voters have been around, know their football, and their recommendation is good enough for me.  

Although he's young, Russel Bodine struggled last year and (along with the likely departing Andre Smith) has clearly been the offensive line's weak link. In an effort to get our best 5 linemen on the field, has there been thought given to converting Boling to center and playing Jake Fiseher at guard? Who Dey!!! Shane Smith, Vandalia, OH

SHANE: Bodine didn't have the sophomore year he had as a rookie, no question, but they're not ready to close the door on him and they shouldn't be. He's big, smart, has played well against good players at times, and let's not panic. Boling can get them through a game at center in an emergency, but physically I don't think they see him as potential long-term answer at center.

 There are those that think Fisher would be a better guard than tackle, but the way it's shaping up it looks like he's going to be a tackle here but I don't see him starting ahead of Ogbuehi at right tackle this season if Andre Smith leaves. But Fisher does give you versatility that gives you flexibility at guard.

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