Updated: 3-9-10, 8:35 a.m.
With Tank Johnson in the fold and Antonio Bryant on campus, this could be a very brief free-agent season for the Bengals. For now, at least, it is on hold.
Bryant, the Tampa Bay wide receiver who celebrates his 29th birthday Tuesday as the first Bengals free-agent visit, could be their last if the two sides reach a multi-year deal. Johnson's deal that solidifies the defensive tackle spot, as well as a potential big contact for Bryant, could take the Bengals out of the running for even many of their own free agents.
Also in the mix is Bills wide receiver Terrell Owens. It's believed that Owens is headed to Cincinnati from the West Coast and won't be in town until Tuesday night, but in time to meet with some coaches for dinner. The conventional wisdom is that Owens is a one-year option.
But beyond that, that's it. The Bengals game plan looks to hinge on which receiver they get.
Everything else, from kicker Shayne Graham to right guard Bobbie Williams to safety Roy Williams, appears to be dependent on what happens next.
The Hail Mary scenario looks to be Denver's Brandon Marshall. At the moment, he is not an option this week. Such reported interest in cornerback Phillip Buchanon and guard Chester Pitts looks to be overplayed. At the very least, only the receiver position seems to be on the agenda.
Defensive tackle Tank Johnson tweeted late Monday afternoon, "THANKYOU WHO DEY NATION!!... Cinci we got a deal! Very greatfull to The Browns and all the Who Dey Nation!!! I'm Baaaaaaaack!!!! Now let's win some more."
On Friday's first day of free agency, agent Drew Rosenhaus tweeted for Johnson to get ready to "pack your bags" for some free-agent travels. But the Bengals looked to have what he wanted: Some security and a starting job in a deal that was undisclosed. During a one-year deal last year, Johnson proved he could play hurt and stand up to the run.
Despite a painful case of plantar fasciitis, Johnson played in the last 12 games and with the AFC North on the line Dec. 27 against Kansas City he led the line with his season-high seven tackles that included two for a loss.
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer expected more of pass rush from him, yet he also said last week, "But everything else was probably better than I thought. For what everybody said about him, he played pretty well for us."
It's believed that while the Bengals have been kicking tires on free-agent wide receivers, they have also taken the pulse of restricted free agent Brandon Marshall's camp with some conversations. His agent, Kennard McGuire, offered no comment via text over the weekend but McGuire's client, along with Owens and Bryant, are the most alluring receivers left on the market.
After the first weekend of free agency is when the Bengals usually get more involved in the process and there were indications that they are ready to take the next step and invite Bryant or Owens or both to Cincinnati for a visit. Hours later, ESPN.com reported Bryant is coming in town Monday night to visit Tuesday.
Carson Palmer said over the weekend that he has been talking to Bryant, the former second-round pick out of Pittsburgh that turns 29 Tuesday and is the youngest unrestricted free agent receiver with the most skins on the wall. Palmer is also supportive of the look at a 36-year-old future Hall of Famer in Owens, noting his "big plays and production."
One of McGuire's other receiver clients, former Bengal T.J. Houshmandzadeh, believes a trade with Cincinnati and Denver makes sense. The Broncos have tendered Marshall for first-round compensation but there is no question that the team that ends up with him this year is going to have to sign him to a multi-year deal.
But for how much? That's what McGuire and Marshall have to find out. It appears Denver would take a first-round pick.
"You've got a kid 26 years old with one of the top quarterbacks (Palmer) and you get a proven guy as opposed to the 21st pick and we all know that's a crapshoot," Houshmandzadeh said Sunday night from Los Angeles. "The stumbling block is going to be the contact that comes with it. For anybody. I have no idea if they've talked to Kennard, but Cincinnati makes sense."
The team that gets Marshall is probably looking at something like five years, $50 million, a formidable figure for any team staring at an empty 2011. Plus, the Bengals have the potential big deals looming for cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall. But Marshall would also mark a smooth transition to six-time Pro Bowl receiver Chad Ochocinco, whose option year is also 2011.
Houshmandzadeh's Seahawks were the first team to host Marshall in the process over the weekend and while he was back in L.A., Houshmandzadeh was on the horn with Marshall. But with new Seattle coach Pete Carroll plucking some of Denver's offensive staff, Houshmandzadeh said Marshall may know more about the Seahawks coaches than he does.
"We've got a good relationship. I've talked to him about a lot of different things. I would have no problem if we get him," Houshmandzadeh said. "I told him maybe he'll be able to help me get to know the coaches better. We'd almost be in the same position because I'm still getting to know the city a little bit."