Bengals still looking to upgrade at receiver

Through the first stage of free agency, the Bengals have been able to rebuild depth in the secondary and on the defensive line. When it comes to finding a receiver to pair with A.J. Green, that remains a work in progress.

The market for a good veteran was wiped out in the first week of free agency, which means the draft might become the preferred option. One person though who is not fretting about it is head coach Marvin Lewis.

Said Lewis during the NFL annual meeting, “We feel better about it in house than people know. We have the draft. There’s still some other ways we are looking at and a lot of things in play.”

With players currently on the roster, the one who Lewis and the coaching staff has raved about the most is Armon Binns, who spent most of last season on the practice squad until being called up to the roster late in the year. Binns was inactive in those two games but Lewis has said a couple times that the coaching staff pushed him to get Binns on the field.

A darkhorse could be Bradon Tate, who had a steady season in New England two years ago, averaging 18.0 yards per catch. Tate was used mostly as a returner last season but that role could shift to cornerback Adam Jones, who was re-signed to a one-year deal.

When it comes to the draft, among those who could be available with the 17th or 21st pick in the first round are Baylor’s Kendall Wright, Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd and Rutgers’ Mohamed Sanu. Whether or not they would take a receiver in the first round for the second straight year remains to be seen especially with long-term needs at offensive guard, cornerback and defensive line.

There is also the possibility that the Bengals could re-sign Jerome Simpson, which Lewis did not rule out. Simpson’s sentencing to a drug-related felony charge is scheduled for April 5.

Simpson could receive a 60-day jail sentence, which is what prosecutors recommended, or opt for a more lenient sentence. Simpson is likely to be suspended four games by the league for a violation of the league’s drug policy.

Said Lewis of Simpson: “He’s got a lot of hurdles to go through. I think what you have to evaluate from our standpoint is what is the best thing for Jerome and us. We know the challenges on and off the field.”

Simpson did have 50 receptions for 725 yards and four touchdowns last season. He had three 100-yard games and a spectacular somersault in Week 16 against Arizona, but there were also seven games where he had two or less receptions. He was also held without a catch in both games against Pittsburgh.

The only two established veterans left on the market are Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery. Edwards would fit with the team’s penchant for trying to revive careers of former first-round picks while Cotchery is seeking a better opportunity. If Cotchery returns to Pittsburgh, he wouldn’t be higher than fourth on the Steelers depth chart.

Brown says there are too many fines in the NFL

–During the league meetings, the one thing owner Mike Brown did express his opinion about during a general session on Tuesday was that there were too many fines levied by the league office for things on and off the field. What has drawn Brown’s ire of late is that teams can be fined when their players rack up too many or go over a certain dollar limit.

“I know everyone thinks I am ultra conservative; sometimes you may be shocked to find out I’m probably more liberal,” Brown said. “I don’t believe in too much policing. Less of that is better in my mind. I think we have more of that than we need so I stood up and said something.”

–Discussions about a contract extension with coach Marvin Lewis remain in a holding pattern mostly because Lewis said he hasn’t had the time to sit down with Brown to discuss it. Lewis enters the season in the last year of a two-year extension signed at the end of the 2012 season.

Brown, as usual, didn’t want to get into too much depth about how things were going on that front.

“The way I would answer that is when we get to the point that we have something to announce we will announce it,” he said. “I’m not going into a blow by blow description of how we’re making sausage.”

–Defensive end Jamaal Anderson, who signed with the Bengals last week, is already familiar with defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s scheme. He was drafted in the first round by Atlanta in 2007 when Zimmer was there.

Much like Zimmer, Anderson does not have fond memories of the 2007 season in Atlanta, when Bobby Petrino suddenly resigned after 13 games and Zimmer clearly expressed his feelings about two years ago.

“It was great to catch up with Mike during my visit. One thing I can say about both of us is we’re well past what happened that season,” Anderson said.

–The Bengals had blackouts in six of their eight games last season, but the team is making progress toward trying to eliminate that this year as they had a season-ticket renewal rate of near 100 percent, which is the highest it has been in four years.

Executive vice president Katie Blackburn did say though that they still have a lot of work to do with new sales. The team did reduce prices for a substantial portion of the upper deck.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “As I sit here today I feel better about our football team than I did when we started the process. I think we have pushed ourselves a little bit toward improvement. It doesn’t mean we won every negotiation and got everyone back, but we responded in ways that improved our team on balance.” – Mike Brown on free agency so far.

Strategy And Personnel

After agreeing to terms with linebacker Manny Lawson, the Bengals will have the majority of their core starters under contract for the upcoming season. The only glaring position where that is not the case is at right guard. The team could look to re-sign Bobbie Williams after the draft but not before.

With last week’s signings, the Bengals have eight former first-round picks on their defense, but only two of those – cornerback Leon Hall and linebacker Keith Rivers – were originally selected by them.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Guard: The Bengals have never drafted a guard in the first round but with Bobbie Williams and Nate Livings being free agents (Livings signed with Dallas), they need to find someone who they can plug in there for the next five years and not worry about. It would be a similar situation to tackle, where they are set with Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith.

2. Wide receiver: A.J. Green can stretch the field and provide the big plays, but now the task is finding someone to pair with him. They also need to find a dependable option on short and medium routes.

3. Defensive line: With the losses of Jonathan Fanene (New England) and Frostee Rucker (New England), the Bengals are lacking depth on a line that had the deepest rotation in the league. The Bengals have added Jamaal Anderson and Derrick Harvey, but could continue to build depth through the draft.

MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: PK Mike Nugent (tendered at $2.654 million).

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

–RB Cedric Benson has three straight 1,000-yard seasons with the Bengals but offensive coordinator Jay Gruden wants to go more with a running back by committee approach which Benson has balked at. Expect both sides to have a mutual parting of the ways.

–CB Kelly Jennings was mainly the corner in nickel situations once Leon Hall went down due to injury. Considering the lack of depth in the secondary, they would like to re-sign him.

–LB Brandon Johnson has been a key backup at weak-side linebacker and has been one of the top players on special teams. He is looking for a multi-year deal after three straight seasons on one-year contracts.

–TE Donald Lee was plagued by injuries the second half of the season but was a good mentor to Jermaine Gresham and Colin Cochart. He could return on another one-year deal.

–OT Dennis Roland saw his snap counts go down this season and was mainly used as a blocking tight end. Not expected to return.

–TE Bo Scaife spent all of last season on injured reserve after injuring his neck. He is not expected to be back.

–WR Jerome Simpson has plenty of athletic potential and set career highs in catches (50), yards (725) and touchdowns (four), but he is also facing a four-game suspension stemming from pleading guilty to marijuana possession. Could be re-signed in May depending on the team’s activity in free agency.

–OG Bobbie Williams went into last season with the team’s longest streak of consecutive games but ended up serving four games for a violation of the league’s policy on performance enhancing substances then fractured his ankle late in the season and missed the last three games. Going into his 13th year despite being entrenched at right guard, he is not a priority to re-sign.

–S Gibril Wilson saw a mix of defensive and special teams snaps after missing 2010 due to a knee injury. Could be back on a one-year deal.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

–LS Clark Harris (tendered at $1.26M with seventh-round pick as compensation) has made 395 straight clean snaps.

–LB Dan Skuta (tendered at $1.26M with no compensation) started three games in the middle last season and could be looked upon more if Rey Maualuga begins the season on suspension.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

–S Jeromy Miles (tendered at $540,000) was used almost exclusively on special teams and led the team in tackles with 15.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

–OT Anthony Collins: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.

–DT Nick Hayden: Potential ERFA; $615,000/1 yr.

–CB Adam Jones: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

–LB Manny Lawson: UFA; terms unknown.

–S Reggie Nelson: UFA; $18M/4 yrs.

–RB Cedric Peerman: Potential ERFA; $615,000/1 yr, terms unknown.

–FB Chris Pressley: Potential RFA; $2.1M/2 yrs.

–LB Vincent Rey: Potential ERFA; $450,000/1 yr.

–DT Pat Sims: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

–CB Jason Allen: UFA Texans; $8.2M/2 yrs.

–DE Jamaal Anderson: UFA Colts; 2 yrs, terms unknown.

–RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis: UFA Patriots; $9M/3 yrs.

–DE Derrick Harvey: UFA Broncos; 1 yr, terms unknown.

–OG Travelle Wharton: FA Panthers; $10M/3 yrs, $3.2M guaranteed.

PLAYERS LOST

–WR Andre Caldwell: UFA Broncos; $1.8M/2 yrs.

–DE Jonathan Fanene: UFA Patriots; $12M/3 yrs, $3.85M guaranteed.

–OG Nate Livings: UFA Cowboys; $19M/5 yrs, $6.2M guaranteed.

–OG Mike McGlynn: UFA Colts; terms unknown.

–DE Frostee Rucker: UFA Browns; $21M/5 yrs, $8M guaranteed.