Evaluating Bengals' free agents

CINCINNATI -- The start of free agency is still a month away, but it still appears to be as good a time as any to evaluate the Cincinnati Bengals' free agents and break down the odds each will be back next season.


WR/KR/PR Brandon Tate

The money (2013 season cap value): $966,000

The stats (2013 stats): 35 kick returners, 26.1 yards per kick return (ninth among players with at least 20 returns), 36 punt returns, 9.3 yards per punt return.

The skinny: The Bengals benefited all season from THE strong field position that Tate's kick returns provided. He also had a 29-yard punt return in overtime that helped set up Cincinnati's game-winning field goal at Buffalo. With cornerback Adam Jones the only other returning specialist with significant experience, the Bengals should want to keep Tate.

The odds: High.

TE Alex Smith

The money: $620,000

The stats: 3 catches, 12 yards, 1 TD, 1 fumble.

The skinny: Smith was the third tight end in an offense that ended the year with five (including offensive tackle Dennis Roland and H-back Orson Charles in that mix). With Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert emerging as a solid two-man tight end rotation, Smith likely will be on the outside looking in again. The Bengals don't need to re-sign him, but they don't have to let him go, either.

The odds: Push.

OT Anthony Collins

The money: $2.1 million

The skinny: Arguably the Bengals' second-most valuable offensive lineman, Collins was a flexible and versatile edge protector this season. In addition to starting at left tackle late in the year after injuries forced the Bengals to shake up their lineup, Collins also came off the bench and performed adequately in relief. Pro Football Focus credited him with not allowing a sack all season. As he stands to earn a significant pay increase, Collins might be too expensive to be brought back to the Bengals.

The odds: Low.

OG Mike Pollak

The money: $620,000

The skinny: His knee injury aside, Pollak provided the Bengals with great value on the offensive line. Like Collins, he was asked to come in off the bench when injuries slowed starting right guard Kevin Zeitler. Even when Zeitler was healthy enough to play, Pollak remained in his spot, starting five of the last six regular-season games. Pollak also can play center if need be.

The odds: High.

OT Dennis Roland

The money: $130,588

The skinny: Roland wasn't on the roster at one point in the season, released as the Bengals tried to address other deficient areas on their roster. But when o-line injuries popped up late in the season, he was brought back. Most of his playing time came in the regular-season finale, when he served as an extra blocker with Gresham and Eifert hurt.

The odds: Push.

DE Michael Johnson

The money: $11.2 million

The stats: Career-high 56 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 8 batted passes, 1 interception.

The skinny: Johnson will be one of the most coveted players of this free-agency cycle. Whatever overtures Johnson receives, the Bengals probably won't be able to compensate him everything he's worth. While the batted passes were a point of pride for the Bengals, there was a concern that Johnson didn't get to the quarterback often enough this season.

The odds: Very low.

LB Michael Boley

The money: $642,353

The stats: Eight tackles, 10 games played.

The skinny: Brought to Cincinnati to help address lacking depth and linebacker coverage concerns, the Bengals added Boley during the 2013 season. He probably won't return as the Bengals try to add a younger cover linebacker through the draft.

The odds: Low.

CB Brandon Ghee

The money: $630,000

The stats: Six tackles, 10 games played.

The skinny: 2013 was supposed to be the year Ghee finally began playing regularly in the Bengals' secondary rotation. A preseason concussion was a major setback, though, and he never did quite get back to where he was before the injury. Still, with cornerback depth and age an issue for the Bengals, there is a chance they keep him in the mix.

The odds: Push.

DB Taylor Mays

The money: $645,000

The stats: 17 tackles in eight games.

The skinny: Mays ended the year on injured reserve after suffering a shoulder injury in the Week 9 blowout win over the Jets. It was poor timing, too, because just before the injury, he was in the middle of arguably the best season of his four-year career. He had already played some linebacker, helping fill a serious need that arose following Emmanuel Lamur's late-preseason injury.

The odds: High.

S Chris Crocker

The money: $457,059

The stats: 37 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 interceptions.

The skinny: Like Boley, Crocker was signed to a year contract in the middle of the season to address depth issues. The 33-year-old who was called out of retirement mostly played well and was a vocal leader in the locker room. He came back mostly because of previous defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's presence on the team. With Zimmer now Minnesota's head coach, it's likely Crocker is gone, too.

The odds: Very low.


WR Dane Sanzenbacher

The money: $555,000

The stats: Six catches, 61 yards in 10 games played.

The skinny: Sanzenbacher was a favorite of former offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's. He gave the Bengals an extra possession receiver.

The odds: Push.

WR Andrew Hawkins

The money: $560,425

The stats: 12 catches, 199 yards, 8 first downs in eight games played.

The skinny: A preseason injury placed Hawkins under IR/designated-to-return status until the middle of the season. When he came back, he showed just how potent Cincinnati's offense can be with another player with his stature, speed and athleticism.

The odds: High.

LB Vincent Rey

The money: $630,000

The stats: Career-high 47 tackles, career-high 4 sacks, career-high 2 interceptions.

The skinny: Rey was one of the Bengals' unsung defensive heroes, filling in admirably when Rey Maualuga was lost in the middle of the season to a knee injury. The career Bengal is well-liked in Cincinnati and could see his star rise with former linebackers coach Paul Guenther as the team's new defensive coordinator.

The odds: High.