Print and Go Back ESPN.com: AFC North [Print without images]

Monday, March 12, 2012
AFC North team needs: Bengals

By Jamison Hensley

Free agent officially kicks off at 4 p.m. Tuesday, so let's take a look at the three biggest needs for the Bengals:

1. Guard: The Bengals need to significantly upgrade both guard positions if they want to improve their running game. Both starters from last season -- Nate Livings and Bobbie Williams -- are free agents, along with backup Mike McGlynn. The best route for the Bengals to take is to find one starter in free agency and another in the draft. The Ravens' Ben Grubbs would be a great fit, but he will be expensive (but not as pricey as the Saints' Carl Nicks). A cheaper alternative (but a much more short-term option) is Steve Hutchinson, who was released by the Vikings on Saturday. The second-tier guards like the Panthers' Geoff Schwartz, the Titans' Jake Scott and the Texans' Mike Brisiel all have major question marks.

2. Wide receiver: Cincinnati found its big-play receiver in the draft last season, taking A.J. Green with the fourth overall pick. Now, the Bengals need to add a consistent No. 2 wide receiver, and they will look to free agency for that complimentary target to Green. Last season, Andy Dalton couldn't depend on Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell, who ran bad routes and dropped too many passes. Simpson and Caldwell are free agents and aren't high on the team's priority list. The Colts' Reggie Wayne would be the best choice because of his consistency and experience, but he is looking to go to an established championship contender. The Saints' Robert Meachem might be the top option with his speed and red-zone prowess. If the Bengals want a veteran possession-type receiver, they could try to lure the Patriots' Deion Branch to Cincinnati.

3. Cornerback: The Bengals will likely draft a cornerback in the early rounds as the eventual replacement to Nate Clements, but they need to address their depth at this position in free agency. Leon Hall is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury, and it's uncertain whether he will be ready when the regular season begins. As far as their own free-agent cornerbacks, the Bengals are not expected to re-sign Adam Jones, and have to make a decision on whether to bring back Kelly Jennings. A veteran backup like the Ravens' Chris Carr might interest the Bengals.