Updated: 7:45 p.m.
PALM BEACH, Fla. — In the wake of the Bengals signings since free agency opened last week, head coach Marvin Lewis says the Bengals have "all options" available in next month's NFL Draft.
Speaking here at The Breakers Sunday a day before the NFL annual meetings opened, Lewis said he's "jacked" about the bevy of moves. "I'm real excited about what we've done. We basically were able to go out and sign pretty much the guys we hoped to sign," Lewis said. "I think our people have done a great job of getting the guys signed so far. We've built the depth back up that we lost. We still have ways to continue that with the draft and we did it without handcuffing ourselves or pushing us one way or the other when the draft comes around."
With Saturday's announcement that the Bengals had re-signed defensive tackle Pat Sims and signed Colts defensive linemen Jamaal Anderson, it's believed the Bengals have spent about $20 million in salary cap room in the 12 days of free agency. Lewis said they still want to re-sign outside linebacker Manny Lawson and are still looking at such free agents as defensive end Matt Roth, a visitor to Paul Brown Stadium this weekend, according to reports.
Lewis is particularly pleased with the signing of Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, more indications that Bears running back Michael Bush was more popular outside PBS than inside.
"A month ago if you told me we were going to sign BenJarvus I would have taken it and said, 'Great.' I feel good about that. Really good," Lewis said. "And after meeting him you feel even better. When you looked at the available backs and the guys we expected to get franchised got franchised and then this is the guy we really wanted to get."
Here is why:
"His versatility. His ability to catch. To protect. When you sit and meet him, his knowledge of the game of football as a runner," Lewis said. "Knowing where the unblocked guys are, why they are unblocked and understanding it, the discipline it takes to play the spot. He does it all. He makes people miss. He's shown the versatility to do all the things you're looking for in that guy and he can be a three-down player if he needs to be."
That doesn't mean the Bengals still won't draft a Lamar Miller in the first round or an Isaiah Pead the next day. But it does mean they don't have to reach for one. Or, any other position.
Lewis didn't seem too worried that the club may be in the market for a starting outside linebacker with Lawson a very popular recruit, according to reports. He made a recruiting pitch ("Manny progressed a lot. I think his second year with us he would be an even more productive player."), but he also said the Bengals have special teams ace Dan Skuta and 2011 third-round pick Dontay Moch on deck. Skuta has played little from scrimmage and Moch didn't play at all last year after he broke his ankle in the preseason opener and was then saddled with recurring headaches.
"That's going to be an issue; hopefully it resolved last year," Lewis said. "Those are something that has been generally brought upon by exertion. We have to see. It's something he's dealt with throughout his playing career a little bit. But last year he had some rough patches. Hopefully they've got things under control.
"We drafted a guy last year we feel really good about who didn't get to play. We drafted Dontay to have that opportunity."
The rest of the defense has numbers on paper. The re-signings of safety Reggie Nelson and cornerback Adam Jones along with the signing of Texans cornerback Jason Allen has stocked the secondary and the re-signing of tackle Pat Sims and the signing of ends Jamaal Anderson and Derrick Harvey shored up a D-line depth chart hit by the losses of end Frostee Rucker and end/tackle Jon Fanene.
Whether the production matches the numbers is the question and Anderson and Harvey have a long way to go to match the 10 sacks that Fanene and Rucker combined to ring up last season. Between the two of them Anderson and Harvey, the eighth overall picks in the 2007 and 2008 drafts, respectively, have 15.5 career sacks.
But Lewis thinks they've got enough athleticism to deserve a second chance. Or, in their case, a third. Anderson and Harvey are each working on their third teams.
"I think both guys are very athletically talented; they have a chance to come in to our guys and make us better," Lewis said. "If they can play at the level and restart their careers and bring them to the level of athleticism. We were looking to get younger and add depth (for backups) and we did that."
Lewis said look for the Bengals to put Anderson, 26, in the same role as Fanene, 30, in rotating between tackle and end "but he is a first-round pick." He also compared Harvey, 25, to Nelson, a young player that began his career playing a couple of different positions and revived it when the Bengals had him focus on playing safety and not worrying about cornerback. Lewis said he told Harvey all he'd have to worry about is being a rush end on passing downs.
"He was excited about that," Lewis said. "We were going to sign him before training camp (last year) and he went to Denver and things didn't work out like he thought they would."
Harvey played just 92 snaps for the Broncos and had no sacks and the Bengals are selling the idea of the rotation that worked so well last year. One of the reasons it did was Sims, a 2008 third-round pick whose return punches up the run defense behind starters Domata Peko and Geno Atkins.
Sims's injured ankle knocked him out of last season's final six games, a scenario that has bogged down his career and the Bengals seem to do better against the run when he's playing. When Sims broke his forearm in the '09 regular-season finale the Bengals gave up 428 yards rushing in that game and the Wild Card game, and last year in the last six games they allowed an average of 140 without him.
Lewis has said Sims is one of the players hurt the most by last year's lockout because how it negatively impacted his rehab from a knee problem. Now the Bengals are excited what he can do healthy in his fifth season and he doesn't turn 27 until November.
"Pat has played a lot of great football for us," Lewis said. "He played through injury two years ago. Last year we ended up losing him. In the playoff season ('09) he fought through it with the elbow. The year after that he fought through a thing with the knee and last year he hurt his ankle. He's had a good offseason so far. He's got a lot to play for. He can establish himself as a starting player in the NFL and have more opportunity ahead. Hopefully it's in Cincinnati."
While many thought the Bengals would address the A.J. Green running mate situation in free agency, Lewis thinks the No. 2 receiver may already be on the roster. Jerome Simpson, last year's No. 2, isn't because he's unsigned and the expected draft pick won't be here for another month.
For now, Lewis is not only looking at Armon Binns with zero NFL catches but also return man Brandon Tate. Tate, a fourth-year player who has 24 catches for an 18-yard average, didn't have time to get immersed in the offense when the Bengals picked him up off waivers a few days before Opening Day. The Bengals were already trying to get a receiver corps ready that had two rookies, one second-year-player, and a starter that had fewer catches than Tate in Simpson.
"I think both guys have great opportunity; we have opportunity for these young guys," Lewis said. "Brandon played lot of snaps in New England as a receiver. He didn't play as many last year for us. I think he caught (24) balls in 2010 up there. He's chomping at the bit to show he can be a starting wide receiver in the NFL.
"Things worked out that we stayed fairly healthy with the other guys and when we did lose Andre (Caldwell) to injury, (rookie Ryan) Whalen had come on. It was a good fit. So Brandon didn't get as many opportunities. He was learning something new coming in without training camp. That's difficult for a player because of the adjustments a receiver has to make."
Lewis said even though there isn't a crying need, that doesn't mean the Nos. 17 and 21 picks in the draft won't start. Just look at Green and Andy Dalton.
"If they're good enough to start, so be it. I don't think we've been afraid of putting guys out there in their rookie year as long as they were able to go through it," Lewis said, alluding to last year's rookies that led the Bengals to one of the AFC Wild Cards.
"I think it's a compliment to the coaches and what they did. And the kids. As we get into this process, that's important. To make sure we get a guy we can count on like that. These guys that you pick No. 1, you're talking about the face of the franchise moving forward and so you have to make sure they're able to hold up their entire end of that bargain."