Cincinnati Bengals Free Agency: Which Safeties Could Be a Fit?

The Cincinnati Bengals experienced woeful growing pains at the safety position last year, so an affordable veteran free agent would add good value.

CINCINNATI — The growing pains the Cincinnati Bengals experienced last year after letting safeties Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell walk in free agency were expected, but the severity and duration of them is something the team thought it could avoid.

Miscommunication and explosive plays were the theme of the season for Lou Anarumo’s defense, due in large part to the inexperience the Bengals had on the back end.

Free Agent Safeties That Could Fit the Bengals

Dax Hill was in his first season as a starter after the 2022 first-round pick played just 17 defensive snaps as a rookie. Free agent signing Nick Scott was in his second season as a starter, and first in Cincinnati, and ended up losing his job to rookie third-round pick Jordan Battle by November.

Battle played well, but his insertion in the lineup only served to reset the clock on chemistry and communication in the secondary.

The Bengals hope the seven games Battle and Hill started together will provide a solid foundation rolling into the offseason program and eventually the 2024 regular season. But depth is still a concern. They shouldn’t feel comfortable turning to Scott if Hill or Battle has to miss significant time, and the only other safety on the roster is 2022 fifth-round pick Tycen Anderson, who has yet to play a defensive snap.

Signing a safety wouldn’t solely be for depth/injury insurance reasons. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo uses plenty of three-safety looks.

As is the case with all projections for how the team could approach free agency, it’s important to remember nothing happens in a vacuum. If they pay someone big dollars at one position, it’s going to lead to them looking for a bargain at other positions.

Or if they get shut out on their original plans, as was the case last year when they were left with enough money to land Orlando Brown Jr., they could spend more on a position than initially thought.

Safety could be one of those areas given the lack of any proven players on the roster. But for the purpose of these projections, let’s look at some of the best fits if the team spends in the range we expect them to:

Kamren Curl, Washington Commanders

Curl is a four-year starter after being selected in the seventh round in 2020. He played 100% of the defensive snaps for the Commanders in 2023, and those 1,089 were the most of any free-agent safety in the 2024 class.

In addition to his three career interceptions, Curl has five sacks. And he doesn’t turn 25 until next month.

The big question is what the market will look like for a seventh-rounder who worked his way into a starting role but doesn’t have huge numbers.

Pro Football Focus had Curl graded as the 36th best safety in 2023, which put him ahead of Micah Hyde (38th), Budda Baker (42nd), Bell (43rd), and Kyle Dugger (46th), among others.

Jordan Whitehead, New York Jets

The six-year vet has 89 career starts for the Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including a Super Bowl championship. He set career highs in interceptions (four), passes defended (nine), and tackles (97) last year.

He’s a free safety, but the Jets lined him up in the box 33% of the time, so that versatility would play well in Anarumo’s scheme.

MORE: State of the Cincinnati Bengals – Safety Room Short on Bodies, Sure Things

Whitehead, who will turn 27 in March, also could be a fit financially. He signed a one-year deal with the Jets last year for $5.2 million.

Jordan Fuller, Los Angeles Rams

Could the Bengals poach Sean McVay’s secondary for the second year in a row? Unlike Scott last year, Fuller has been a staple in the lineup, starting 45 games in his three healthy seasons.

He also set career highs in interceptions (three) and passes defended (eight) last year.

Fuller, who played two seasons with Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard at Ohio State, will turn 26 in March.

Jalen Mills, New England Patriots

A seventh-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2016, Mills’ first season as a starter was in 2017 when he helped lead the team to a Super Bowl title.

He’s amassed 83 starts in his eight-season career with the Eagles and Patriots. He has the versatility to step in at slot corner and the maturity and experience to help a young group of safeties who desperately need it — especially if veteran Mike Thomas, who spent all of 2023 on the Cincinnati practice squad, is not back.

KEEP READING: Cincinnati Bengals Free Agency: Which Cornerbacks Could Be a Fit?

Mills turns 30 in April, but an affordable one-year contract similar to the $3.8 million he made last year could bring plenty of value.

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