Marcus Hardison is in the mix to back up defensive tackle.
As expected Wednesday backup nose tackle Pat Sims re-upped to give the Bengals some experience in the youth movement behind starting nose tackle Domata Peko and four-time Pro Bowl three technique Geno Atkins.
The next step in free agency appears to be casing wide receivers and backup linebackers before they resume taking a look at re-signing some of their own backups.
It's believed that the Bengals are in discussions and have made good progress to bring back safety Taylor Mays and reprise his role as a nickel linebacker to replace the departed Emmanuel Lamur. There are also indications the Bengals are bringing in former Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell for a visit. The 29-year-old LaFell is apparently among many veteran wideouts they're scouting.
Mays, 28, facing a four-game suspension, according to NFL Media, has a good rapport with defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and the Bengals valued his work ethic and approach to special teams after getting him in a 2011 pre-season trade with the 49ers. He played here for four seasons, 50 games, and four starts and made his mark as a big safety who can come down and play cover backer on passing downs.
Mike Zimmer, the Bengals' old defensive coordinator, scooped him up in free agency last year but Mays was cut by the Vikings and Lions before he played 14 games for the Raiders with five starts.
LaFell, a third-round pick of the Panthers in 2010, had a career year in 2014 when he first hooked up with Pats quarterback Tom Brady on 74 catches and 953 yards with seven touchdowns for the Super Bowl champs. But he had foot surgery after the season, began 2015 on the physically unable to perform list (PUP), dipped to 37 catches and no touchdowns in 11 games, and was cut before free agency.
Joining Sims in the depth chart scrum at D-tackle is a pair of sophomores coming off intriguing rookie training camps in fourth-rounder Marcus Hardison and college free agent DeShawn Williams.
That puts five tackles under contract, the number they kept last season for the Opening Day roster but they're still looking in to re-signing Brandon Thompson even though he may have to start the season on the physically unable to perform list (PUP).
Thompson is a balance to Sims' run-stopping abilities. They pretty much split spots on the game day rosters depending on the opponent. After playing in nine games last season, Thompson underwent ACL surgery following the Jan. 3 season finale. He's a free agent and reportedly has visited Seattle.
Wallace Gilberry, who backed up both end and tackle for the past four seasons, is also a free agent and could return but the Bengals have other needs first. Particularly if they opt for a veteran receiver that could command some space in the salary cap.
The Bengals are trying to young up their inside play. The 6-3, 315-pound Hardison, who has been projected as potentially a guy that can play both end and tackle, had eight tackles, a sack, a pass defensed, and a forced fumble in the preseason but never played in the regular season.
The 6-1, 295-pound Williams, who conjured up Atkins' style with his build and relentless play, had two pre-season sacks before spending the regular season on the practice squad. He was promoted to the roster when Thompson got hurt, but was inactive for the Wild Card Game.
Williams took Atkins' advice and headed to suburban Cincinnati's Ignition Sports to work out in the offseason. Clif Marshall, Ignition's director of performance, says Williams was the first NFL player to show up in early February.
Sims, 30, brings bulk and skins on the wall as a player they've always held in high regard against the run. A third-round pick of the Bengals in 2008, Sims returned last season after a two-year hiatus in Oakland, played in eight games, and stood up well in some big ones. He had four tackles in the win in in Pittsburgh and during the Wild Card Game comeback against the Steelers shared a sack with left end Carlos Dunlap in the fourth quarter. Sims is also a product of this defensive line's unique culture where vets and kids mix easily and well. And it has ever since John Thornton gave up his job to the rookie Sims in his last season. Now Thornton is Sims' agent.
"They like him. He likes it there. And all he does is make plays whenever he's in there," Thornton said. "It's a good group of guys that always gets along well and Pat likes being one of the guys. He's a good teammate and always has been."