<
>

Here's why the Bengals' compensatory-pick haul is important

When this year's NFL draft reaches the middle rounds, the Cincinnati Bengals will have two additional draft picks they can use however they see fit.

That's because the team learned Monday night that in addition to the standard seven draft picks it already anticipated having, it also will have extra picks in the third and fourth rounds, thanks to the compensatory picks that were just doled out to individual teams.

It isn't so much the fact the Bengals have two picks that's important. The most impressive part about the two-pick haul was where in the draft they were awarded -- the third and fourth rounds. The past two years the Bengals had compensatory picks, they came in the sixth and seven rounds.

For several weeks, the Bengals expected to at least have one compensatory draft pick based on last year's free-agency process. They believed it would be a third-round selection. That alone was quite an achievement. But to be awarded another pick just one round later gives them more flexibility with the other moves they can make late next month, and it gives them the comfort of knowing their extra picks likely are going toward selecting good players who could quickly be key contributors.

Center Russell Bodine, for instance, was a fourth-round pick last May. He started every game for the Bengals last season, taking every snap but one.

Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Thompson and Clint Boling are other recent third- and fourth-round picks who have contributed regularly in the early stages of their Bengals' careers.

Combine the compensatory picks with the fact the Bengals have nearly completely addressed their most pressing needs via free agency, and the pressure of picking perfect players the first four rounds likely has been lessened. Cincinnati doesn't have to, for instance, draft a pass-rusher in the first round if there's a better player available at a different position. In theory, the pass-rush problem was solved when Michael Johnson was signed two weeks ago.

Don't be surprised if one or more of the six picks the Bengals have in the first four rounds go toward drafting receivers. This year's receiver pool is deep, and there are many potential targets who could be part of that mid-round tier of selections.

There's also a chance the Bengals could take a tight end with one of their first six picks. The additional draft slots also allow them to potentially draft late a quarterback, per comments team president Mike Brown made to reporters Sunday. With the possibility that AJ McCarron could be the No. 2 quarterback behind Andy Dalton and Jason Campbell will go un-signed, the Bengals will need a third signal-caller.

Next year ought to be interesting when it comes to Bengals' compensatory draft picks and free agency. Since the process is based on how many good free agents a team loses versus how many it signs from the outside, there's a chance the Bengals won't have any next March. A big part of it depends upon what happens with still free-floating unrestricted free agents like Jermaine Gresham and Terence Newman. Neither has signed with another team and it could be a while before they do.

The Bengals have otherwise lost only one player to free agency, offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse.

While Newhouse signed earlier this month with the Giants, the Bengals have so far retained all their other free-agent targets and signed from the outside Johnson (whose departure last offseason helped give the Bengals one of the two compensatory picks this year) and linebacker A.J. Hawk.