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If Bengals sign Jacoby Jones, is there room for Brandon Tate?

3/2/2015

CINCINNATI -- Let's stress this at the very beginning: it's only a visit.

Free-agent visits don't always lead to a signing.

Still, the fact that, according to reports, former Ravens receiver Jacoby Jones was meeting Monday with the Cincinnati Bengals ahead of a stop in Tennessee is something that can't easily be dismissed. Especially considering the Bengals just released one wide out, have another two set to hit free agency next week, and are expected to make multiple moves at the position later this offseason.

Jones' trip to Cincinnati can be read any number of ways. Perhaps the most obvious is this: it's a sign Brandon Tate's time in the Queen City will soon end.

Tate is one of two Bengals receivers expected to hit unrestricted free agency next week. As Cincinnati pushes to revitalize a receiving unit that was decimated by injuries this past season, it's hard to see him and Dane Sanzenbacher returning for new deals. Bengals coaches have already expressed their desire to enhance the position's speed and return ability through the draft. With a deep pool of fast wide outs with return experience coming out of college this year, it makes sense to go that direction.

But what if there is a veteran who can provide all of those things, too, and who can contribute without needing to get acclimated to the league first? Do you go after him?

We Ted Ginn Jr. or Jacoby Jones?" href="http://espn.go.com/blog/cincinnati-bengals/post/_/id/15826/cincinnati-bengals-jacoby-jones-ted-ginn-free-agency-add-sign" target="_blank">sought to answer those questions last week when Jones was cut by Baltimore, just after the Arizona Cardinals did the same with Ohio State product Ted Ginn. At the time it seemed to make more sense for the Bengals to take a peek at Ginn, whose size made him a bit of a better fit for the style wideout they are interested in adding through the draft.

Both releases, though, came before Greg Little was cut by Cincinnati last Friday.

With Little, a larger-bodied boundary receiver now off the roster, the Bengals have a spot for a player of Jones' stature. At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, Jones is about the same size as Little, and would be a natural fit in the rotation behind bigger receivers A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, and Mohamed Sanu. It's worth pointing out that all of Cincinnati's wideouts eventually end up in the slot. But some get there more often than others.

As for Tate, his days appear numbered because visits like this one are a sign the Bengals are identifying and targeting players who can do exactly what he can.

The Bengals paid the 27-year-old Tate about $1.02 million in 2014 to primarily be a backup receiver and to return kickoffs and occasional punts. Used more than in his previous seasons as a Bengal because of the numerous injuries, he caught 17 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown. He also returned 18 kicks for an average 22.1 yards, and 18 punts for an average 9.7 yards.

Jacoby Jones, now four months shy of turning 31, had a cap value of about $1.9 million this past season. He caught nine passes for 131 yards for the Ravens, and also had four drops. As a returner, he averaged 30.6 yards per kick and had a touchdown. Only Cincinnati's Adam Jones had a higher kick-return average of players with more than 20 returns.

Sure, Jacoby Jones' drop numbers are high and his age is up, too. Maybe that combination will prevent it from working out for him and the Bengals.

Even if that happens, this visit shows Cincinnati is looking for Tate's replacement.