The NFL's free agency period officially begins in 35 days.
Expect rumors, predictions and speculation regarding those free agents who are up for new contracts to dominate the airwaves, newsprint and blogosphere until then.
We're doing our part right now by posing the following question about the Cincinnati Bengals and their free agency situation:
Who is the Bengals' most important free agent this offseason?
Namely, the question is imploring you to vote for the player who you believe the Bengals absolutely, positively have to sign. As is always the case with free agency, there won't be enough money this spring for Cincinnati to bring back each of the players whose contracts expire March 11. That's why we want to know which player you believe they have to make a strong pitch for re-signing.
The Bengals have 13 players from the 2013 team up for free agency. Ten are unrestricted free agents. The other three are restricted free agents who could be retained by Cincinnati even if they sign offer sheets with another team. If that happens, the Bengals would have an opportunity to match that offer.
The list of unrestricted free agents includes receiver Brandon Tate, tight end Alex Smith, offensive guard Mike Pollak, linebacker Michael Boley, defensive end Michael Johnson, safety Chris Crocker, cornerback Brandon Ghee, defensive back Taylor Mays, and offensive tackles Anthony Collins and Dennis Roland. The three restricted free agents are linebacker Vincent Rey, and receivers Andrew Hawkins and Dane Sanzenbacher.
Johnson and Collins are the two dominating headlines so far, and both are expected to be expensive to retain. Johnson played under the franchise tag last season and could cost more that $13 million to keep. After signing fellow defensive linemen Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap to multiyear deals last season, there doesn't appear to be enough money to go around for Johnson.
If the NFL had an award that was the equivalent of the NBA's sixth man, Collins would have been in the running this season. As the first offensive lineman off the bench, he factored heavily into their rotation at right and left tackle. When Pro Bowl starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth was injured at times during the season, Collins took his place. Then, when Whitworth was moved inside following left guard Clint Boling's ACL tear in Week 13, Collins was added to the starting rotation at Whitworth's old spot for the rest of the season.
As a reserve who would start on many other teams, Collins is expected to receive a significant increase this offseason.
Since Collins and Johnson have been career Bengals, the organization would like to keep one of them if it could. But which one? That, for now, is up to you to decide in our SportsNation poll.