Updated: 8/23/11, 10:45 a.m.
Monday was the day the Bengals were supposed to acquire a size-speed athlete with raw football skills.
They did, but it turned out to be a trade for 49ers safety Taylor Mays instead of a supplemental draft pick for Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor. The deal for what is believed to be a late-round draft pick was announced Tuesday after he passed his physical on the heels of Monday night's redeye flight from San Francisco.
Before practice Tuesday the Bengals also cut four rookies and first-year players (running back Jonathan Williams, wide receivers Landon Cox and Bart Johnson, tackle Andrew Gardner) and a veteran (wide receiver John Standeford) to get to 86 players. They have another seven days to get to 80.
The Bengals traded for the 6-3, 235-pound Mays nearly three weeks after the Niners put him on the trading block and Bills safety Donte Whitner reneged on a three-deal with Cincinnati.
And it came down less than 24 hours after the young backup Bengals safeties struggled for the second straight game in Sunday's 27-7 loss to the Jets.
The Bengals are hoping they can revive Mays' career like they have with starting safety Reggie Nelson, a former first-round pick of the Jaguars they traded for last Cutdown day. Nelson has emerged as one of the team's top players this preseason and has teamed with Chris Crocker to form a solid safety tandem.
The problem at the spot has been depth. Veteran Girbil Wilson hasn't played in a game yet as he recovers from an ACL injury and rookie Robert Sands has struggled making the transition to the NFL. Rico Murray and Jeromy Miles, a pair of second-year college free agents, have played in just a combined 14 NFL games, although Murray has played pretty well and Miles is a good special-teamer.
The Bengals also like the size and athleticism of the 6-5, 210-pound Sands, a fifth-rounder out of West Virginia who has impressed with his speed, range and willingness to get into the playbook. But his struggles to adjust to the pro game surfaced late in the first half Sunday when he appeared to be a factor in Jets tight Dustin Keller getting wide open for a 43-yard completion when his team was backed up on its 1-yard line.
The Bengals could be thinking Sands is more of a project, which is how the Niners apparently saw Mays at the end. They took him with the 49th pick in the second round of the 2010 draft on a day the Bengals coveted him but didn't get him at No. 54.
As it turned out, if the Bengals had wanted to trade up to get Mays, they probably would have lost one or maybe two of their most productive rookie class of all-time: second-rounder Carlos Dunlap, third-rounder Jordan Shipley, fourth-rounder Geno Atkins.
Now they have all four. Mays' run in Frisco was brief. He started six games, but very early on the Niners moved third-year third-rounder Reggie Smith into his spot and eventually relegated him to special teams for the final seven games.
Mays ran a blistering, and controversial 40-yard dash at his combine that was somewhere between 4.2 and 4.4 seconds. Whatever it was, it was amazing for a guy his size. But after he had two passes defensed and a forced fumble along with 26 tackles in 16 games last year, the Niners decided his football abilities, particularly in coverage, didn't match the physical abilities.
Niners defensive coordinator Vic Fangio outlined his team's safety position to the local media Monday before the trade. With Smith, Whitner, former Bengal Madieu Williams, Dashon Goldson, and C.J. Spillman ahead of Mays on the depth chart, Fangio said one of them may have to go even though all can play in the league.
But Mays fits a Bengals defense that needs its safeties to be able to play both strong and free. The Bengals find a guy that roamed centerfield at USC with a big body intriguing and it's believed they'll try to get him out there for Thursday's game at Paul Brown Stadium against the Panthers after what would be only two practices.
And on Monday night his former USC teammate, Bengals middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, offered three years of testimony.
"I was an eyewitness that the guy did it many times on the field," Maualuga said. "He's everything you want in a safety. He's big, he's fast and he really brings the wood. He'll hit you. He's a freak in the weight room. He's one of these guys who stays late and works hard."
Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and secondary coach Kevin Coyle have had a knack for rebuilding the careers of veteran safeties cut loose with Nelson and Crocker proof and in Mays the Bengals have a top physical talent. Pending the physical, Mays would give them five first- or second-rounders in the secondary and 10 on defense.
"You see it all the time in the league," Maualuga said. "It doesn't work out for a guy one place and he goes someplace else and they find the way to use him. He'a a great fit for Cincinnati."
It's believed the Bengals passed on Pryor, in part, because they weren't comfortable with his learning curve in a new offense that is already stocked with young players. Indications are they didn't even put in a bid.